“Yaar Chaudhary, Himalayas chalein phir se?”
“Kaun se wale trek pe chalna hai? Main soch rahi thi wo Sikkim wala karein…”
I smiled. She had been making these plans for a long time, I could tell. After all, I had been too. And so, just like that, we sat, Harsha and I, making plans for our next trek in the Himalayas. A week later, we had an answer: Rupin pass, a high-altitude Himalayan trek that starts in Dhaula, Uttarakhand and ends in Sangla in Himachal Pradesh. Three weeks later, there was a change in plan. At least for one of us.
“America? Achanak se! Kyun?”
“Pooch mat,” I sighed.
“So you aren’t coming? What the hell! How can you do this to me!” she overreacted as always.
“Pata nahi kya soong ke baithi rehti hai hamesha,” I muttered under my breath as she continued her rant.
A month later, I was in Bellagio, Las Vegas, watching my mum try her luck at a slot machine when I received a call.
“Hello Harsha,” I said distractedly.
“Hi! I called to tell you that I am leaving tomorrow.”
“I am nervous…”
The rest of her sentence was drowned in a bout of frenzied celebration that my brother had just launched into. Mum had won a hundred dollars.
“Are you listening to me?” asked Harsha.
“Yeah, yeah…don’t forget to write in your journal, I will read it once you are back, ok? Bye!”
(A volley of curses followed, most inappropriate for a blog such as this.)
Day 1: Dhaula to Sewa
By the end of the trek today, I could feel all the extra cheese toppings on pizzas that I’ve been hogging for several weeks now, clogging my arteries. And this is just day one…at least I didn’t end up shooting vomit projectiles on the face of the mountains like I did the last time, on the first day of the KGL(Kashmir Great Lakes) trek.
Sewa, our camp site, is like any other Garhwali village in Uttarakhand: all signs of modern life, including electricity, are missing. Not that I am complaining. It does get a little tiring keeping pace with life in the city. I love the simplicity of people and life here. They aren’t in a rush. They aren’t putting up a show. They live life as it is meant to be—simply.
The houses look like slightly larger versions of toys that children would play with. With their low roofs and small doors, and scattered as they are across lush green meadows, surrounded by coniferous trees, weighing down even the mighty mountains with the sheer strength of their numbers, one would expect Hobbits to step out of them.
Although I don’t think I would have been any more pleased to meet a Hobbit than I was to meet little Rohan and his grandfather Jaindra Singh.
“Aap school jaate ho?”
“Haan,” said Rohan, nodding vigorously.
“Aap apna naam likhoge yahan par?” I asked him, giving him my notebook and pen.
“Haan,” he said and scribbled his name in my book in neat letters.
“Arrey wah! Aap to bahut achcha likhte ho! Aap mujhe mera naam likhna sikhaoge?”
“Haan,” he said his favourite four-letter word a third time, then went on to rechristen me as Harisha, and finally ran away abruptly, perhaps in anticipation of a full-blown, lethal round of elementary dictation.
I started scribbling in my notebook once more. After about five minutes, I was distracted by the sound of approaching footsteps. Maybe Rohan had changed his mind. I turned around. There he stood, sixty years older, the twinkle in those brown eyes still the same. I could swear it was Rohan. He was a spitting image of his grandfather Jaindra Singh, discounting the wrinkles of course.
“Aap kahan se ho?” he asked.
“Pune, Maharastra se…”
“Mumbai suna hoga apne…”
“Haan haan bilkul! Jahaan filme banti hain!”
No matter which part of India I travel to, however remote and oblivious to the rest of the country, if I’m ever struggling to find a common ground of discussion, talking about movies(/Mumbai, the place that churns them) always does the trick.
I don’t remember at which point the conversation steered from ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’, a movie that he claimed to have watched over a dozen times, to his trips to Dehradun to sell apples from his orchard, but I was glad that it did, after all, nothing beats the charm of apple orchards, not even Madhuri Dixit.
He talked about sending his children to school, about cold winters, and harsher than the cold winter summers in the mountains, about the symptoms of his existence, about everything that made his life everything that it was.
The ease and generosity with which he let me take a peek into his life, astounded me. There he was, talking to me like we were long lost friends, seeking solace in the fact that his life, however mundane to him, was extraordinary to me, that his struggles made sense, even if just to a stranger he had barely known for a couple of minutes.
It is this candid attitude, fresh like the air and the water up here, that made me want to meet more people in Sewa. And I did. And they all treated me like I was family. And they all posed for me like ‘they do in the movies’. I have never seen happiness as I saw on their faces. While most of us spend our lives pursuing happiness, these people, somehow, seem to be born right into it.
I know that I will fade in their minds faster than the seconds hand changes places on a clock, but the people of Sewa will forever hold a special place in my heart. Especially Rohan and his grandfather.
Jaindra Singh was thrilled when I took his photograph.
“Humne aaj tak photo nahi khinchai apni. Zaroorat hi nahi padi…”
I promised to send him a print of the photograph. I know for a fact that I will. Even though I know that it is highly unlikely that it will ever reach him, to this place lost in time, with no postal code…if it does, I hope that it finds a place in that hole in the wall of their house that they hold sacred, where Rohan’s books rest, and the spiders spin their webs next to the tiny clay statue of the local deity Shakudiya Maharaj, and loose change finds a place to hide…maybe then, even if only in someone’s memories, I will find a way to live here in the mountains after all.