Friday, June 25, 2010
scraps from the hills.
Okay enough said, it’s time to divert the traffic of thoughts to this narrow lane in McLeodganj. Inside the honey brown ambience of café Oogo’s. The waitress just came by to collect the order I’d left on the table and happened to peer into my notepad. And, with a broad smile she said, “your handwriting is very beautiful”. Without a thought I replied, “Thankyou. So is your café.”
You see my point is that I’m really good at changing topics. See earlier we were talking about the golden theory and now just a few lines ago I brought up the waitress. And now, we’re discussing ‘topics’. By now I’ve thought of so many random things to diverge, that I can now look forward to my doctorate on this subject.
Fluorescent makes me happy. It’s got this distinct energy of colours that is easy to spread. And considering the choice of colours on the monasteries, this town seems to have that in abundance. Soon after being here, I realise that the Tibetan religion confuses me (like any other religion). Their god’s seem to contradict their emotions. On one side the Buddha sits high, with a striking contrast of frowning eyebrows, angry eyes and a repressed smile. What mood he really is in, is beyond us to decipher.
Inside the temple of the Dalai Lama this afternoon, I felt a mix of vibes. A particular goddess grabbed my attention as she stared angrily at innocent spectators, from her high throne. Adorned in a crown of silver skulls (people she may have devoured for dinner the night before) she gaped downward without a change in emotion. I slowly felt my optimism diminish. She wasn’t going to break into a warm smile and invite me over for tea or to share her assorted goodies (Pringles, Oreo cookies, juice and candied fruits) that her devotees had placed at her foot. I had to move on quickly as it can get a bit unnerving to be stared at by a ferocious woman, with multiple ferocious faces and angry eyes bulging from her socket.
From Dharamshala, we went to McLeodganj. It was almost as through the hills had been sliced to make way for a winding road that would allow for people to take complimentary joy-rides. The kinds that the biggest of fete cannot offer. Mainly because it’s not everyday that you hang on to dear life while the metal box that you are seated in, makes its way through narrow lanes that are just about as wide as an elephant’s backside. I’m pretty sure, Jumbo the circus hero would’ve reconsidered his trip to the hills and opted for a Hawaian holiday instead.
Anyhow, so as we went along, I was starting to realise that apart from the idea of a highway, even the idea of a traffic jam here, differs drastically. This realisation dawned up on me when I saw the bus conductor pleading a black mule that had blocked our way. Refusing to let us pass by, the mule was one arrogant donkey who was probably abandoned by his folks and was angry at that. After repeated honking and much commotion that it managed to cause effortlessly, it stepped on the edge. Finally, that swine will know what it’s like to be in that spot.
As the metal box speeds further with a potential to win an F1 race, I feel my stomach tighten and my head going dizzy. But a zephyr distracts me as it hits my face like a refreshing splash of clear water. It indicates a bent. A very steep bent.
Further ahead, there are a bunch of cows grazing at the side of what they call a ‘road’ here. They’re pretending to be serious like the traffic cops in the city. But as we can all see, they are just as idle.
They look back at me and I get a feeling that later at a cow’s tea party, my horrified face will be a topic for them to laugh at.
We are finally at McLeod and my conclusion is that the hills are that they are like life. You can guess, assume what’s on the other side of the bend. But you can never be too sure.
Before the metal box that we are in, halts, I see a man dressed in a uniform attending to his first offender of the day. It is a disobedient buffalo.
McLeod has a cheery happiness. I decide to remove my rose-tinted glass to confirm. The tint remains. It’s a masterpiece of a landscape, painted by the greatest artist of them all.
The aged-but-functional tape finally stops. Welcome, I whisper to myself.
We’re sitting in a rooftop restaurant. The sun is seeping through the wrought iron roof overhead and falling on us. Because it’s mellow and doesn’t touch me too much, I am comfortable. Nasar however, is going to feel the heat in a while, I predict.
We turn our faces and conversation toward the monastery across. It is under construction. On going there earlier, we had discovered that it has been under construction since 9 years. It’s covered in ice-cream colours. Imagine those serene colours holding their cause in the middle of the violent hammering of nails.
An old painter who looked like he’s meticulously working on his final masterpiece, decided to play teacher. He had been there since 5 years and was now much too familiar with the Buddha. As I looked up at the humungous golden statue of the Buddha, he almost seemed to look down upon us. Our man, went on in awe about the natural paints he’s been using on the statue and credited the beauty of the Buddha to the golden plated head on the idol.
I bring myself back to where we are. This rooftop café. Sunshine has finally started to hurt. With a big gulp of our beverage, Nasar and me pretending to be philosophers, invent the ‘Yolk’ theory.
It goes like this. We are but particles of a yolk. It’s golden and all alright, but it’s also the most cholesterol-filled part. In short, it’s unhealthy. And we are fat with all things unimportant and unhealthy. We need to swim to the whiter side. Of life.
After these cryptic discussions, I say something that I find difficult to understand later. McLeodganj is like my new, blue overflowing pajamas. You don’t feel a thing until you sit down and rest a while. And when your mind is devoid of all things, you feel its silky smoothness and delicate softness.
I realise how scraps of paper become so important to me. It’s like I’ve subconsciously predicted their use and have saved them for a later day. Writing on this food bill from last year, I just reinforce its preciousness.
The ‘No problem’ shop and the ‘Chocolate log’. Where the shop names are such as these, you know you are amidst a crowd very different from your city folk. It’s another thing that you may get into problems of bargaining inside the ‘No problem’ shop. But then again, atleast the owner envisioned a shop where he doesn’t permit problems. And dogs. So I walked inside and came out within 15 mins. With a hefty bill.
The town seems to be engulfed by silence a long time ago. The faint resonance of trance from a neighbouring room tries to break this pattern of serenity that we are slowly getting habituated to. Or rather, getting inducted into. But the music only propels us further and acts like a catalyst to make us creatures of this lovely habit. This metamorphosis of restlessness and tiredness into tranquility and imagination comes easily. Our room is a fluorescent shade of sea. I use this comparison loosely because I think I can get away with it here. After all, one can’t refute the fact that the sea wears the garb of many kinds of blues and greens and goldens.
Getting accustomed to this room that is reminiscent of the sea and overlooks the hills, is not much of an effort.
As I work my pen limitlessly and Nasar absorbs the words of his novel with exactly the same spirit.
This place is clearly meant for writers, readers, artists, chocolate shop owners, singers, weed smokers, farmers and people.
I just looked up to stretch my neck and saw an Israeli father walking by, carrying one kid over his back, and three alongside. A thought crosses my mind. Maybe they’re holidaying here or maybe they are a part of the drug mafia. All four of them.
This room is not furnished with a television. There’s a bit of electricity and a notepad. What else did you expect from me? A tap dance performance, maybe, had a chance. But because there isn’t a mirror here either, I shall continue to write. I mean how good is a tap dance performance if you can’t see it, right?
Over the last couple of days I’ve noticed that I’ve been waking up on the shy side of noon. Something about this place discourages me to sleep away. The air is pure and crisp, the landscape is resplendent with mellow sunshine and the birds are playing my favourite kind of music. Ideally this would encourage me to dive deeper and deeper into a good slumber. But I am compelled to lie awake and Nasar teases me with muffled snores. I just want to be awake to made sure I don’t miss out on what the birds outside have to say.
We have a guest in our room. It’s a cup of tea. It walked right in through the window and made itself comfortable on the bed. Apart from distracting me from my frantic speed of writing. I take a few seconds to reflect on my writing speed. On the computer and on the keyboard. I’m so used to typing that writing feels like a slow luggage train. It’s passengers, my thoughts that are not on schedule and yet, blissful cheerful about it.
Suddenly, I am diverted by two quilts right in front of me. It’s strange because they have maintained their peace and lived there, at the foot of the bedside, for a long time. And now I am distracted by them. One is a bright orange, with flame smeared over it. The other is pink. The kind that can shock you and wake you out of sleep if you see it the first thing in the morning. Other than these two aesthetically selected things, the room is plain.
I am thinking of chocolate.
We’re in a café called the Milkyway. It begins to drizzle. There is a group of Isrelis right near us and they fill the place with their laughter. Sharing a joke (or a toke) and depriving the world of its humour content.
As the rain falls on the ground, a sweet fragrance rises up and makes its way to fill my lungs. The fragrance is like a tonic. It’s energising and taking over my being. It’s almost like I’m losing to it as it pushes its way inside me. At one single moment, my eyes, ears and nose are engaged in pleasure.
This morning I beat my record. I woke up at twelve for the first time in days. It wasn’t like any other morning in June. It was the peak of summer and I was enveloped in a soft orange quilt. I remember instantly succumbing to its softness last night. It wasn’t freezing outside though, but I had taken a liking to this monster-sized quilt.
In conversation with Nasar, I learn that I had been mumbling in my sleep through the night. Maybe the quilt and I had become really good friends after all.
I have a habit of walking out of the bathroom while brushing my teeth. Usually, I open my closet and stare, dazed with plans of deciding what to pick. But reach nowhere.
My spectators are mostly my roommate and other friends who have stayed the night before. They feel subjected. This morning, as I walked outside, there was no closet to pick from. Nor were there any friends to let out a sigh of disgust. I conveniently skipped my fat travel bag and flung open the room door. Soon I was outside, scrubbing my teeth, making eye contact with the Dhauladar range Pine forest. They seemed to care little and ignored my habit. I must say, the hill folk are really kind.
I think that the hills are really conducive to writing. Their very expanse teaches you to open up your mind the same way. They silence provokes you to talk to yourself. And more importantly, listen.
Day 3- Naadi village.
This place is infiltrated by Indian tourist families. Even though the Dhauladar range right in front is breathtakingly awesome, it is hard to overlook the empty wafer packets and crushed water bottles strewn at our feet. We walk past the slush of mud that once was the glistening Dal lake. From the well of memory inside my head, I dug out the last time I had been here. The lake was in its youth and it made me wonder if it ever predicted this to be its future. I hoped that it’s happy and gushing with life once again after the place is renovated.
We walked until we saw nothing but the pine trees. Trees that made us look so insignificant and miniscule, without offending us. There can’t be much said about those trees there. You must just go there to greet them yourself, and let them do the talking.
I roamed around endlessly pretending it’s my backyard. Nasar and me even marked our own separate territories like Lions do.
I remember looking up at the few sunrays that had filtered through the dense blanket of green overhead. It was awe-inspiring beauty. And we were a part of it.
Finally, when we’d have our fill, we came down to a chai shop that was in the middle of nowhere. I imagined the shop owner quickly setting it up as he saw us walking down. And thought how he’ll fold it up and go elsewhere just when we’re done.
In conversation with Kaku, it’s owner, I realised the distinct perception he had about the city we came from. It was the land of Bollywood stars. It wasn’t the city with the highest real estate. Not the hub of Indian advertising. And nor the place with the highest transit population in the country. It was just Bollywood. Kaku was satisfied with that much knowledge. Behind the steam that arose from the kettle, I noticed pictures of Bollywood stars. Pictures yellowed with the passage of time. Pictures where the stars looked like they don’t any longer. And they were the only precious pin-ups that he decorated his shop with.
On our way back to McLeod I enjoyed the complimentary joy ride. We were two satiated children.
One thing happens when you say goodbye. And that differs depending on whether you’re the one leaving or staying back. I decided to take back something from my hilly-holiday. But the tree didn’t fit my bag. So I wore the garb of the hills and carried on with my little scraps of paper.