This annual incantation is more than one man’s act of madcap devotion. It is also a peephole into the love affair with Western music that goes on every day in this pine-wooded outpost in India’s northeast. Shillong, a British-era hill town that is now home to dozens of boarding schools and colleges, is its hub, especially when it comes to rock.
On Mr. Dylan’s birthday weekend a visitor could drive down a narrow, rain-soaked road and hear young men with guitars serenading, or stumble upon thousands gathered under a Christian revival tent, singing modern gospel in their native Khasi. On a football field, at twilight, you might be pulled into a mosh pit of teenagers dancing to a Naga tribal blues guitarist, or on a Sunday morning find schoolchildren in a chorus of 19th-century hymns in a prim Presbyterian church.
“God has given us a special gift — the gift of singing,” marveled the Rev. J. Fortis Jyrwa of the Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly here.
Many theories are offered for Shillong’s fascination with rock and the blues. Some argue that the area’s indigenous Khasi traditions are deeply rooted in song and rhyme. Some credit the 19th-century Christian missionaries who came from Britain and the United States, introduced the English language, hymns and gospel music and in turn made the heart ripe for rock. Some say the northeast, remote and in many pockets, gripped by anti-Indian separatist movements, has not been as saturated by Hindi film music as the rest of India.