Union executive WhatsApp group is buzzing. Someone has shared a YouTube link. Foreigner. Yes, a foreigner is in raptures about Shillong Street food.

It was night amidst the lock down. Rumours. Hunger. Even a story of suicide.

“There was no money to buy the mobile phone for children,” S sadly tells me.

Administration is talking to businessmen about unlocking the shops and malls. But no talk of the hawkers.

“They don’t let us live in peace.”

Union responds.

And cameras, loudspeakers, sticks and guns are out.

What is a city that does not erect barriers…

Last night we dream of starving city. Guns smacked their lips. Houses with mirrors smelt a freshness that was not sweat and swallowed the three women fat malls clothed in empty streets where they can drive and taste air-conditioned street

And we dream.

Some are still angry about the YouTube which now exists on government tourism tweet.

“Saala, what about us? We who cook are not hot and tasty?”

Romance of the local food. Nostalgia for the spicy street. Instagram it.

Morning #Jadoh @ Laitumkhrah | Vegetables from #Garo Hills @ Secretariat Hills | #Doh Thang @ Khyndailad
#Putharo, #Pu Khlein, Pu doh @ Rynjah | #Pork momo @ Lumpyngngad | #Snails from Garo Hills @ Polo Market
Soh Ïong @ GS Road | Kharang/Smoked Fish @ Iewduh | Doh Snam/Blood #Sausage @ Smit

We nostalgise our occupation.


Meghalaya government is out in full force.

And cameras, loudspeakers, sticks and guns are out.

They bring on even the SOT, the SPECIAL (I call it secrets) OPERATIONS TEAM.

What is Northeast if not some SOT?

Why is Shillong dirty?

How many hawkers are there?

Is their food safe?

Court asks.

And the streets are empty.


Police Act they call it when they arrest Kong Pdiangsuk Wahlang from Jail Road. They even seize her momo steamer and a rickety table.

The placards read: Name Bidi Sh Marak, I have been sitting here for 10 years. I am Pdiangsuk Wahlang. I sell momos. I have been sitting here selling momos for 10 years 1 pm to 8-9 pm. N. M. Sangma Momo Shop, three years.
Name Chanda, item sold: roasted nuts, since 20 years. I am Padon Swer, I sell grilled meat here for 35 years in Police Bazar. Name Abina Pyngrope, sell rice and tea place, Police Bazar, I want my rights, thank you for four years. Name Jolene Wahlang, sell grilled meat, how many years, five years. Government should listen to our demands soon. Anisweety Shabong, I have been selling rice here for five years in Police Bazar, I am standing here demanding my space. Name, Kynti Thabah, sell Kwai Place Police Bazar 10 years Thank you Name Narida Sohphoh Sell Kwai, sitting here for three years. Elvereen Shabong, I have been selling rice here for two years, I am standing here to demand my rights. I am Kong Ifilda Nongdhar, I have been selling Kwai for 10 years.
L Kharshiing from Mawiong, I sell vegetables, I have been here for 12 years 03/12/16. Nedarlin Warjri, I live in Mawiong, I sell vegetable, I have been here for 15 years. Mary Warjri, I live in Mawiong, I sell Kwai, I have been in this place for 13 years. Khamti Ryntathiang, I live in Wahingdoh, I sell vegetables, here for 12 years. Name Bonesty M Umlong, I have been selling Chinese food for the past three years from 5 pm to 12 pm. Name L Nongrum, I have been selling Chinese food in vehicle (van) for thre years from 5 pm to 12. Name K L Lyngkhoi, selling Khasi food, timing 5 pm to 12 midnight. Name Simon P Thabah, I have been selling Khasi Food in Van for three years from 5 pm to 12 midnight.
Name S L Mairang, I sell vegetables, I have been here for one year. Name R Nongpluh, sell vegetable and fruit, please help us, we who are daily wage earning poor. Please help us, We Street Vendors. Name Rose Sharing, sell: vegetables and fruit, I have selling here for four years. C L Marwein, I sell Kwai for 34 years. Me Hilda Rumba, I sell nuts and momo. Jerina Khongwar, this is my land and country, I sell Kwai and newspaper, I work to feed myself, I have this shop for 20 years. Where would I go? Name Probing Jana, I Sell Kwai, newspaper, biri, cigarette, I have been here from 2005.
Name Smt Lashmery Arengh, items vegetables rice, sticky rice, dry fish, dry meat since 2002 in Polo Garo Bazar. Name Regina A Sangma, item sold vegetable, business since 2002, Polo Garo Bazar. I stay in Lumshyiap, Smt Chimbera Sangma, item sold vegetable business since 2002, Polo Garo Bazar. Me Umesh Prasad, I sell pokodi for 14 years, this is the only work I have. Satender Sha, I sell alumuri, I am here from 1994.
Nodial Kyllang, I sell potato and vegetable from 2012. Hawker name T Marwein, venue Jail Road, I have [been] selling here for 18 years, timing 5pm onwards. Name Shining Khyriem, business betel nut-cum-vegetables, we are giving fresh to you all, we are below poverty line, please help us, thank you. Shing Khyriem and Pidolis Jana, venue polo shop, betel nut-cum-vegetables, Nongmynsong Shillong, we are below poverty line, please help us, yours faithfully.
Name Banrilin Warjri, address Mawlai Mawroh, age 26, I have had this shop for three years. Name Saralin Lyngdoh, sell Kwai and fruit juice, I have been selling here for 20 years, SURVEY.
Name Berit Thabah, item sold fruit shop, since 1992, Polo Market. E Sohtun, I sell local fruits I have been selling here in Polo for 16 years from 2000.
My name is Karuna Rabha, I have owned this street food for 15 years, the menu and price list are as follows: 1. Fried Chow 2. Egg Roll 3. Fried Rice, therefore I kindly hope you will see to the matter and appreciate, yours sincerely, Karuna Rabha, address A C Lane Shillong, Meghalaya. Aklu Shah, thirty years ago I open my shop in footpath, I sell pakoda.
Name Aidralin Syiemiong, I have been selling here for 10 years, I sell tea and rice, please come and survey us. Name F Kharjana, I sell fruits, I have been selling for one month.
Name D Lyngdoh, I have [been] running this shop for 15 years. Name Poonam Sahani, selling puri, sabji, tea, year: 2008 to 2016.
Name Plin Morgnar, from 2005 I have been selling vegetables here 11 years.
Roi Sohtun Mawphu Sohra, I have been in Motphran since 2009, I sell fruits and vegetables. Sbon Sohtun, I have been in Motphran since 2009, I sell fruits and vegetables, Soon Sohtun.
Aiborlan, I sell alu muri, six years

I remember the notes I took that day amidst photomaking and looking for police and bulldozer

“She is from West Khasi Hills, who started as a daily wage labourer/carpenter. But irregularity of work and low wages meant that he chose to become self employed. He sells vegetables near Petrol Pump, Jail Road. Work which gives him freedom as well as dignity. SHE comes from Lumparing everyday at around 2 pm to sell vegetables. Before she used to work as a domestic help. It was her previous employer who helped her with some capital to start her vegetable vending business when she expressed that she needed to stand on her own two feet and try to earn more as her family’s needs grew. She says this business gives her more freedom as she begins work at 2pm allowing her to care for her children and also gives her dignity because earlier as a domestic help even when she is ill she feels worried that she can’t go to her place of work. But this being her own enterprise she can make alternate arrangements. HE is from Mawlai – young father – he tried hard not to break down, how could he in front of his child. SHE sells local fruits and nuts. She has been troubled by Shillong Municipal Board/Police for years, but more intensely so in the past few years. After the recent evictions, the Non Tribal dairy owner near by provided her with a small ledge so that she can continue to sell her fruits to support her family. She is grateful to the shop owner even though what she can sell now from there is far less than what she would in her spot near the footpath. SHE had to drop out from BA in her third year because of financial situation. Now in the shadows of an incomplete five-star hotel, she sells vegetables. As she told us I am doing what our Chief Minister said that be self employed, don’t wait for a government job. SHE comes from Mawphu. If you would read your food history, you would know that they say oranges went around the world from the slopes of Khasi Hills. Mawphu (before it gets submerged by an ill thought dam) produces one of the best oranges. What angers me is that elites of Shillong have a made a business out of selling this indigenous/organic/farm to table and all the rest NGO speak to the highest bidder. This old lady does all that without getting her trip to international conferences. She is no face on a poster or a tourist brochure. This is a face of class warfare the local elite is waging on the tribal poor of the state. HIS drop out son wrote out the chart paper. “Thirty year ago I open my shop in Footpath. I sell Pakora etc.” Municipal took away his table and utensils thrice, they burnt it , they told him. Thirty years ago, a FAMILY of fishmongers started in fish vending at Polo Bridge after gaining skills as labourers in the fish market in Iewduh. Their goods were recently stolen from the place where they store them in the name of eviction by authorities, who took away not only many thousand rupees worth of fish but also their capital investment of weighing scales and measure and chopping knives. HE brought out his empty cooking table and stuck his menu and his name to it. A friend asks HER where is she from – she replies – POOR HAVE NO COUNTRY. And then this Bihari puri seller shares her concern about her Khasi comrades. ‘Forget about me, government has been treating even Khasi hawkers as criminals’.”

I ask S, how many photos did we take. He has no idea. “I was full of fear and excitement,” he says.

“But we survived didn’t we?”

All the images were made with Meghalaya and Greater Shillong Progressive Hawkers and Street Vendors Association between 2016–’21. I am an invitee member in the Association.

Tarun Bhartiya is a picturemaker, poet and political activist based in Shillong. This article first appeared on his blog. A version of this will appear in the forthcoming book edited by Dolly Kikon and Joel Rodrigues From the Heart: Food Stories and Recipes from Northeast India, Zubaan, 2022.