Shillong, Sep 24 (IANS) The hills of Meghalaya were on song until Sunday midnight, but it all went out of tune when local singing sensation Amit Paul was edged out by Darjeeling cop Prashant Tamang in the hugely popular television contest Indian Idol.
Thousands of people had been singing and dancing to the accompaniment of drums and guitars in the streets of Shillong and most parts of Meghalaya since dusk Sunday, eagerly waiting for Amit to win the Indian Idol title.
But when Bollywood macho star John Abraham raised the hand of Prashant declaring him the Indian Idol - based on 70 million votes received on SMS or over the phone lines - the music was abruptly stilled.
The Meghalaya fans rallied fast, however.
'We are really taken aback by the result, but for us Amit is the winner, having won the hearts of millions of fans and more importantly, uniting the ethnically polarized northeast through music,' John F. Kharshiing, spokesperson of the Federation of Khasi States, the apex body campaigning for legal status for the durbars in Meghalaya, told IANS.
It was pure hysteria in the whole of Meghalaya in the run-up to the grand finale Sunday night telecast on Sony TV with Amit and Prashant vying for the coveted crown.
'Let's accept the reality, don't cry for me. I am soon coming back to Shillong. I really thank and love you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting me throughout my musical journey on Indian Idol,' Amit told IANS by telephone from New Delhi, the venue of the finals.
But people back home were in tears - hundreds of people, both young and old who remained awake to celebrate a possible victory broke down, some of them even wailing, unable to accept the verdict.
'For us Amit is the new role model, some sort of a youth icon for generation next to emulate that music is one medium that unites the hearts cutting across cultural and ethnic barriers,' Meghalaya Education Minister R.G. Lyngdoh said.
Amit, 24, is a Bengali-speaking youth born and brought up in Shillong - a city that was witness to a string of bloody ethnic riots in the mid-80s between tribals and non-tribals. The growing schism in the northeast between the indigenous population and 'outsiders', a term broadly used for people speaking other Indian languages, has become a matter of concern.
In this context, the euphoria and the support from people across the northeast for Amit is heartening.
'We have conferred him the honorary title of Meghalaya's Brand Ambassador to foster peace, communal harmony, and excellence,' Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang said.
Lapang personally spearheaded the campaign to drum up support for Amit.
From government offices to the tribal king's durbars, the chief minister's secretariat to the Raj Bhawan, and schools and colleges - the only topic of discussion in the past few weeks in the northeastern state of Meghalaya was the Indian Idol contest.
'The Amit phenomenon could very well unite the northeast, especially in states like Nagaland and Manipur where the ethnic divide is so huge. We want more such talents from the region to come up so that we can stand united without any bloodshed,' said Kishore Singh, a young college student in Manipur's capital Imphal.
'The topic of discussion for the next few days would surely be Amit. Maybe Prashant got lot of votes from Nepal because he is a Nepali boy. Maybe Nepal came in the way of Amit's victory,' said a dejected Paul Marbaniang, a college student.