Neil: How do we bid goodbye to a legend?

By Patricia Mukhim

SHILLONG, Jan 5: Born to Aubrey H Scott Lyngdoh and Elvirial Nongkynrih in 1970, Neil Nongkynrih was the youngest of five siblings with a special gift for music which he first learnt from his elder sister Pauline. Not cut out for the typical classroom learning Neil left for London early in life to study music and was fortunate to have won the affection of music aficionados who sponsored his stay in the UK and this helped expose Neil to the best of classical, operatic, jazz, pop and later even Hindustani music as well.
Neil returned to Shillong in 2000 and in 2001 put together the Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC), a band of young singers and musicians. The first public performance of the SCC at Hotel Pinewood left the audience spellbound. Known to be a perfectionist in every sense of the term, when Neil schedules a concert at 3pm then at 3 sharp the doors to the auditorium would be closed. “People who love music concerts should learn to respect the singers and not move around while the show is on.”
Neil had that subtle touch of British discipline and perfection, having imbibed it during his stay in England.
Neil performed for prime ministers, presidents, ambassadors and corporate honchos and royalty across countries and left an indelible imprint in every heart. So taken by Neil’s simplicity and candour, they would offer to take him and the Choir on a holiday in a private jet. But Neil never got carried away by glamour.
Those who know him intimately also know that he fed and clothed many destitute since the pandemic hit the country and Meghalaya in 2020. He first started the Uncle’s Ark home delivery service and the Choir members who could no longer travel to perform at different venues across India and the world reinvented themselves into smart business entrepreneurs knowing where to source products from. Some baked savories and pastries; others packed and sent off stuff through young delivery boys who found employment in those dark days. Uncle’s Ark’s products were a class apart and this service continues. That is Neil’s forte; to keep reinventing himself and the Choir so much so they can sing in different languages and genres.
Neil has a very soft spot for the poor and employed some of the young people from coal mines of Jaintia Hills who he treated to a grand party last year on his birthday. He dressed them up and gave them a jolly good time. That was Neil, at home with dignitaries and with the lowly of this earth.
This time the SCC were in Mumbai to complete their Gospel album which is Neil’s last big project and one that he was in a hurry to complete. But there is that one song that Neil wanted recorded…his much loved composition, “The Great Indian Train Journey.” The day the recording was done, an excited Neil called up to say, “You must watch this video but there’s a surprise waiting for you.”
When prodded, Neil confided sheepishly that he danced in the video. “Some people who were watching me said, “Sir, are you a film star?” and he guffawed in the typical Neil style more like an excited kid than the debonair Director of a world famous choir. That video will be a prized possession of those who valued Neil’s versatility and genius.
When news arrived on Tuesday night that Neil was going in for a difficult operation at the Kokilaben Hospital Mumbai, many prayed fervently for his healing but God had other plans for this 51 year old man who lived a completely selfless life – he lived for others and was happiest when others were happy.
Au revoir Neil you will be deeply missed but that mischievous smile of the 10-year old with dimples who found school a boring place because his heart yearned for the freedom to create music will remain etched in our memories.
You were born to conquer hearts and that’s what you have done….

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