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Shalimar Baug , Srinagar

A rose to greet you all on valentines day, from the scenic battleground of Srinagar,at the romantic Shalimar Gardens

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Not only were the tourists making faces for selfies, but the flowers too

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This one seemed positively belligerent.

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A bunch of fat cats

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Shahjahans eye view

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in travel, Uncategorized

 

A Different Goa

A Different Goa

The Unexplored Goa
Goa is a state I visit often, as it is part of the territory I oversee for my organization, and is a popular venue to hold conferences, and I personally love the scenery and ambience in this beautiful, laid back, touristy, beach bound state.
I usually stay in a hotel near the airport and as close to the beach as possible. But last time, I decided to see Goa a little more intimately, and accepted the invitation of a Goan colleague to go and stay in his village home and explore the countryside, avoiding the tourist beaches.
Accordingly, once the official business of launching a new scheme with the unavoidable meetings with the ministry, politicians, media, ad agencies, vendors et all was done and dusted, I checked out of the hotel, took an extended leave and moved to a different Goa.
The first thing you notice is the greenery. It’s a vivid green backdrop dotted with cottages, some painted colourfully. It is also teeming with shrines, Hindu or Catholic, depending on the population concentration, but often mixed. The standard uniform dress code for men seemed to be checked shorts and bare chests ala Sallu Bhai, which went with the weather, and loose shifts like nightdresses for the women. The ubiquitous vahana was the two wheeler; scooties and bikes, perfect for the narrow winding roads, which were often blocked by someone pruning their coconut tree or repairing something.
The populace in general appeared to be at leisure, lounging around in the universal uniform of shorts in some verandah like sheds which were everywhere. On enquiry I discovered that they were temple verandahs, an essential part of Konkan temple architecture, which also doubles as the meeting place, village hall, whatever, and is the center of social and political life. There were groups of youngsters on bikes gathered around village squares, but these temple yards were by far the most popular place to congregate.
I think that the density of shrines per square mile or per capita must be the highest in Goa. Every family has a family deity. Every village has a village deity. Every mohalla has its own deity. In Catholic areas, the idols of the local Gods have been replaced by icons of Mary or various Saints or sometimes just a cross, but their practices remain largely unchanged. They still go on processions round the village as the deities of the earlier religion did before them, and like their predecessors, congregated on feast days. Just the days have changed; instead of on Dussera or Purnamasi, it’s on various feast days.
Richer and usually Brahmin homes are built around a courtyard, with a Tulsi manch in its center. In equivalent Catholic homes, it has been replaced by a cross. Usually the village is divided into mohallas, each representing a separate caste based on profession. The house I was in belonged to the leather workers area and their neighbours were the washer men. These were poorer areas, and the houses did not have interior courtyards, but a central all-purpose hall, for gathering, dining, entertaining and pooja, as a deity graced a niche here too. Bedrooms led off this central hall. My host, who had prospered financially, had built large cement double storied house but had kept the original plan intact, as I could see from the neighbouring cottages. The house was painted in bright colours, and was shared by the extended family.
There was also the family temple next to the house, which served the whole clan and also the mohalla of leather workers. The verandah was as usual doubling as a council room cum recreation area cum village hall. I had a chance to examine the temple carefully. Inside the garbhagriha, or sanctum sanctorum, were three deities, the chief with horse and sword, called Vishweshswara, or Lord of the world. He is the Kuldawat, or God of the clan. He had a companion and a second in command, and he sits on the earthen floor, not on the podium. He is called Nitkari, or the God of daily routine matters. Outside the temple, there is another God, who does not have a temple, but sits under a tree. He is called Rastroli. He is in charge of villagers who have moved out and all mundane prayers. Problems he cannot handle are referred to Nitkari, and he in turn only refers the most difficult cases to Kuldawat. All matters of family, births deaths marriages, acquiring new property, starting a new venture, planting of crops, harvesting all have to be necessarily referred to these deities and their permission and blessings sought. The first crop, or the first time anything new is being acquired, it is offered to the temple before taking it home. This applies to clan members anywhere in the world, so wedding invitation cards, postcards, photos of new cars etc. were stacked there. Everyone tries to visit the shrine at least once a year, whether they are in Mumbai, Kolkata, Lisbon, London, or Rio; cities with the highest expat Goan populations, in that order.
I understood that the Catholics did exactly the same, except that it was the family, clan or village patron Saint who ruled their lives.
There were also two beautiful examples of amity between sects that I came across.
The first was the temple of Jagreshwara, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. He does not have an icon, but is worshipped in the form of a flame. Originally he was in the open, but his popularity was resulting in a temple being constructed. His feast day is the first Monday after Christmas, and his chief devotees and patrons are Catholic. Both communities worshipped him, as his efficacy in granting prayers was renowned, but the Catholics took the lead, and he was their clan God. His feast was celebrated by a morality play with a dose of humour, called Dando, where female roles are played by men. Mainly farmers seeking a bountiful harvest take part, and the procession is led by Catholics.
The other was the Satyanarain pooja in the village. In the morning, the Hindus led the Choir in the Church, and led the prayers too, and in the afternoon the Catholic priest participated in the Pooja and he and his congregation stayed for the Prashad and the lunch.
Breakfast in a Goan village is freshly baked hot Pao, or buns, hard exterior and soft inside like French bread, with spicy lentils and veggies and hot sweet tea. The Pao is delivered by the village baker to all homes, as baking at home is now a thing of the past.
Lunch is rice and shell fish curry, and some small fish called Lepo, as well as dried shrimp sauce. In my honour a bigger fish called Morso and an even bigger one called Chonak was cooked, but these are festive fare.
Panas, or Jackfruit is popular, and a idli like dish called panas bhakri or jackfruit cake was served, a traditional dish fast disappearing. We also had some sour sweet dark blue berries called kanna, which are available wild.
The popular evening adda was at the Gadi, or village pub serving the country liquor Feni, made from both Cashewnut and Coconut, a clear strong liquid with a pungent smell which burns the throat. There are lemongrass, roots, ginger and other flavours available, tempered with local herbs. In season you also get Urak, the fiery semi distilled version obtained in the first crop. You get it in small glasses and toss it in like Tequila.
Most villagers have moved to the city for work, and agriculture is largely an indulgence for home consumption. The coconut plantations are a valuable source of income. Another popular side income is letting off their homes to backpackers, at what to the local is a fabulous rent, and to the tourist thinking in Dollars or Euro; dirt cheap. So the village scene is interspersed with scantily clad white skin and blond mops.
Locals rarely visit the beaches, except for religious festivals that require it, or unless they are involved in the tourist trade.
The area is also dotted with various crumbling forts no one seems to have heard about, and quite a few ancient temples, including a thousand year old stone structure lost in a forest. There are also many hidden waterfalls, a Sweetwater lake within hundred yards of the sea, and some secret coves and tiny beaches in scattered uninhabited islands approachable only by boat, which very few tourists are aware of.
My brief vacation in the other non-touristy Goa over, I returned to the grind in the maximum city, with a new outlook of my favourite holiday destination.

 
 

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Rastrabhasha

Rastrabhasha

Rashtrabhasha
Until I came to Delhi my interaction with the Rashtrabhasha were limited to 3 types of encounters, as a third language in school between the classes of six and eight , interactions with Rickshaw pullers which was conducted any peculiar pidgin language, and Hindi films.
The third language was a test of memory and was limited to a very rudimentary level of ‘k’ for ‘kaua’ and my spoken Hindi consisted of adding ’hai’ at the end of Bengali sentences.
“Tum kidhar jata hai, kitna bhada leta hai” a language which only the poor labourers from our neighbouring state and fellow Bengalis would understand.
The only Hindi film I had seen before coming to Delhi were ‘ Hathi Mere Sathi ‘and ‘Sholay’. I am sure you remember the iconic dialogues of Sholay. “Kitne aadmi the?” “Kub hai Holi” “suar ke bachhe” . No doubt these would come in handy in certain circumstances but not very useful for day to day conversations.
Although our school had a large proportion of non-Bengali students there was a dictum that only English is to be spoken in school and whenever the rule was broken the vernacular used was street Bengali, which everyone living in Kolkata seems to know.
On my arrival to Delhi things did not improve much as the college I attended was highly Anglicized and students from all over the India attended, making English the only common language. I could practice my broken Hindi only when foraying into the city.
One of the things one needs to know in a new city is how to find public toilets. I learned that in Delhi these were facilities marked DI NA NI in Hindi. Much later I learned that these were the initials of Delhi Nagar Nigam. At that time having no clue I often asked passersby where the nearest DINANI was. Meeting with very puzzled looks I mimed desperate need for relieving myself, something very embarrassing to do in a crowded street, till directions were given.
We usually think in one language and translate in another. Much is lost in translation, and the meaning often changes. Post college, when I joined the productive workforce, it was in the government sector, and the lingua franca was our Rashtrabhasa. Written work was in archaic English, but spoken word remained primarily Hindi, as the staff spoke no other tongue.
I slowly started picking up the lingo, but with many a faux pas. One example strikes the mind. A colleague wanted to borrow my matchbox, those being the unenlightened days when you could smoke at the workplace. I wanted to say that it was lying in my desk drawer, and translated literally as, “ Machis ki dibba drawer ke andar laite hue hai.” I could not understand the uncontrolled amusement that this simple statement evoked, till it was explained that translating back in English it would appear that my matchbox was catching a nap.
I was a faculty member in a training institute in Delhi which catered to our industry, and had to often concede to strident demands that I teach in Hindi. Those classes grew immensely popular not for the content but the language, and caused so much merriment that the institute insisted I switch back to the language of our colonial past.
But the classic double entendre of twisted in translation was done by my roommate, a fellow bong with an even more tenuous hold on the language.
At that time a few of us friends were sharing a flat and had a lady do the cleaning for us, while the more skilled amongst us did the cooking. We wanted to ash the lady, let us call her Kantabai, whether she would cook for us. As most of us left for work early, the job of negotiating the deal fell on Tublu, who left last.
On the fateful day, our friend was in the shower when the lady arrived. So he came out in a towel and started off….
“Er, you know, I say, Kantabai….” And he was stumped as he couldn’t remember the word for cooking in Hindi.
So he improvised, intending to ask if she could take on additional duties. He however framed it as
“Eh… er… I mean…. Aap yo dusra kaam bhi karte hain?”
Legend has that Kantabai giggled and left.
For the Rastrabhasha challenged let me clarify, worded thus, it was an improper proposition. Clad as he was, we were lucky to get away without a harassment charge.

 

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Image from soumyamukherjee8

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This is the probable jacket of my hopefully soon to be published book 🙂

 

Going South

Going South

Going South
I was in my final year in the University. I had virtually dropped out, not attending classes, and doing everything else possible in those laissez faire days of Delhi University.
By a stroke of good fortune, a classmate, a minor Dada or Don at the University, had decided to mentor me not only in nefarious activities, but also in had through his unique logic persuaded me into taking a few competitive exams. He in fact paid the fees, as I had spent all my allowance in less productive activities, and even woke me up and dropped me to the exam centres. I will write about him in a separate story.
Having taken these exams without preparation and barely awake, I had little hope of clearing any. But I did get interview calls, but having previous experience of how I tend to offend the interviewers with my general appearance and attitude, I had no expectations. I was certain I was unemployable and that I would fail my exams too.
But on my return from a crazy adventure in a forest, about which I have written earlier, in Close encounters of the Wild Kind, I found an appointment letter waiting for me.
Receiving the appointment letter was a godsend. My concerns regarding a bleak future of unemployment and poverty being allayed, celebrations started on a serious note. The relevance of the final examinations thus becoming negligible, I gave up all pretence of studying.
My colourful friend, unconventional philosopher and extreme lifestyle guide, who, as I said earlier, was instrumental in getting me employed, was also selected by the same organisation, and posted to my hometown, Calcutta. I was posted to Madras as it was then known, in the Deep South.
The joining date was a few days after the final exams, and it was a two day journey across the length of the country by train. In order to avoid confrontation with my going to be disappointed parents, who wanted me to study further and prepare for the IAS, I decided to join first and inform them later.
Now that my creditworthiness was established, as I was about to become a class one officer in a government organisation with what seemed in their impoverished state a princely salary, I jointly with my friend threw a party involving crates of bliss which lasted through the weekend. This merged into another farewell party that our friends threw for us, and a few very hazy days later, my friends uploaded me, barely awake, on the South bound train along with my Spartan possessions in a rucksack.
When I finally woke up the train had reached the badlands of Chambal, and the deep gorges and ravines and steep banks took me straight to the stories of the Wild West that had fired my imagination as a schoolboy. The men around me had spectacular moustaches and colourful pugrees, and the women wore brightly hued sarees with thick silver jewellery and veils pulled over their face. A number of men carried muskets. They spoke Hindi with an unfamiliar lilt.
Next morning I woke up to a new world. My co passengers had changed and everyone around was speaking in a strange incomprehensible guttural tongue. There also was an unusual smell, which I later identified as a mixture of coconut oil, jasmine and camphor. The women wore long skirts and had flowers in their hair. The men wore white lungis. The calls of “chai, garam chai “ was replaced by “kaffee, kaffee”. The vendors sold coffee, and tea was nowhere in sight. The breakfast or tiffin being served was in banana leaves, and newspapers in an unfamiliar script, and consisted of idlis, vadas and curd rice.
This was the first time that I had ventured South of the Vindiyas. It was almost like being in a new country. I could not communicate with my neighbours except through sign language.
Early next morning the train rolled into Madras. I was bewildered and lost in a sea of humanity whom I could not understand, and was being solicited by a mob of touts shouting “Hotel! Taxi!” and a string of incomprehensible words.
Suddenly out of the gloom there emerged a beacon of joy, in the shape of a man in white uniform and chauffeurs cap carrying a banner “Welcome Mr Mukherjee”
This completely unexpected angel of mercy guided me to a white Ambassador car, with white seat covers, which a very grimy boy, covered in two days worth of the dust of the nation, was afraid to soil. This scruffy untidy unwashed being in much stained tees was thus bourn regally to a hotel in Maylapore, my home to be for the next six months.
The novelty of being in a hotel, getting a wakeup call with tea served in the room along with the morning newspaper, proper meals served buffet style with plenty to eat in a proper restaurant, seemed like a dream, just out of my university hostel.
A telegram home informed my parents of my latest whereabouts and career choice. Two thousand kilometres protected me from their displeasure.
I got used to waking to the strains of ladies practicing Carnatik music in the neighbourhood, and the sound of temple bells. I got used to men in white with foreheads streaked with holy ash. I got used to demure women with jasmine in their hair. I got used to polite people in buses, who would not sit in a ladies seat even if it was empty, in sharp contrast to the uncouth louts in my earlier city.
I discovered a new country, the Deep South

 

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Wild, part 1, chapter 14 of Memory, a novella

Wild, part 1, chapter 14 of Memory, a novella

Wild Part 1, chapter 14 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright(c) Soumya Mukherjee
The tourists spotted some movement in the grass and a flash of colour. Alerted by their excitement, the forest ranger focused his binoculars. To his alarm, he noticed some people hiding in the grass. The tourists’ initial disappointment that it wasn’t a big cat gave way to renewed excitement at witnessing the capture of some poachers at first hand. The ranger sent a wireless message to his colleagues, and soon a posse of guards started giving chase to the unauthorised humans in the tiger reserve.
The interlopers being chased were actually four college kids, having an extraordinary and highly unlawful travel adventure. The fugitives were Ron from Shillong, the crazy guy who was game for anything; Desi from Mumbai, who was the wildlife expert and an extremely law abiding citizen until recently; Jo from Australia who was trying to travel the world on a bicycle; and Boy, the originator of all such harebrained schemes.
It all started a few days back in Delhi, when they were planning to go backpacking in Goa, when Desi wanted to join them, to have an adventure before starting his career in government. He also had some camping gear. So Boy borrowed his sleeping bags and backpacks and promising to show him the real India AND bring him back safely, took off in the Bombay Mail. Being low on funds, they dispensed with buying tickets, and huddled on the floor of the general compartment, where the vast majority of our countrymen travel gratis, being too poor to buy tickets, and not much concerned with legalities. Few ticket checkers brave those crowds to catch offenders.
On the way, Desi spoke of the Ranthambore Tiger reserve, which he hadn’t been to, and which was not far from Sawai Madhopur, a station they were passing through. So a toss of coin decided that they get off there, and continue their journey after a detour in this forest. From Sawai Madhopur, they hitched a lift on a tractor up to the village at Rantambore. While waiting for a lift, Boy met Jo and his bicycle, with a fund of stories of cycling around the heart of India. Fascinated, he promptly co-opted him in their team, and dragged him along.
Utter disappointment awaited them at Rantambore. There was no budget accommodation, and to enter the forest they needed a permit,which was available at Sawai Madhopur.
Dejected, Boy decided to explore the ancient ruins and temple in the nearby hill and look for some food and shelter in the tiny hamlet there.
Here the warm embrace of Bharat awaited Boy.. Not knowing the dialect, and Desi the only one with passable Hindi, they mimicked eating and sleeping to the ladies in all encompassing ghunghat, who seemed the only people there. They were invited into one of the homes, and fed what seemed to be large lumps of roasted dough with ghee and tall brass tumblers of buttermilk. This was Boy’s first introduction to the famed Dal Bati and Chach. The giggling ladies whose faces remained firmly behind veils found everything about them extremely amusing; Their lack of appetite, when they couldn’t consume the mountains of food offered, not knowing the language, seeking shelter in the village, and desire to explore the forest on foot. Falling over each other in laughter, they laid some charpoys in their courtyard and directed them to take a siesta, which they gratefully accepted

Refreshed, they explored the ruins and visited the ancient temple, where a Rana was said to have offered his own head as a sacrifice to Shiva, and been suitably rewarded. They bathed and swam in the ancient tank by the temple, then got scared off by the resident turtles, which they took to be crocodiles, plenty of which they had seen by the lake.
In the evening, the men folk returned, and over communal chillums they promised to take Boy to the forest the next day, along with them when they go to illegally graze their cattle and collect firewood and other forest produce, which the law denies them but tradition promises them. Thrilled, Boy politely declined further hospitality, and went to sleep in the ruins, with many warnings from our hosts to never let the fire go out at night, or else.
So they decided to take turns to stay up and tend the fire, and ate bajre ka rotis and achar and gur which the villagers had packed for them, made tea in Jo’s billycan, without which all Australians are incomplete, and slept off in the deep silent forest, among ancient ruins where people offer heads to Gods, after sharing a companionable chillum. Jo’s cycle was kept in the village.
Boy was woken up early in the morning by their hosts and strongly admonished, for they were all sleeping soundly, the fire was off, which was good, for they could at most have been eaten by predators, but an untended fire can cause a forest fire and do untold damage. Duly chastened, Boy meekly followed them into the core area, in the spirit of civil disobedience. After a thrilling trek, where every bush seemed to hide lurking beasts, but spotting nothing more ominous than the herds of cheetal and neelgai, and packs of langoors and numerous birds, especially peacocks, they were escorted to a cave, said to be occupied by a sadhu, the sole human resident of the forest, who was to be their host that night, the villagers shared a meal and the communal chillum with them and left rations of chana and gur, telling them not to stray, stay out of sight, away from tourist jeep routes, animal paths, and forest guards, who in their view were more to be feared than the resident animals. They were also shown the escape route if spotted, as the guards had no jurisdiction outside the boundaries, and the nearest police station was Sawai Madhopur. Boy’s offer of monetary compensation was turned down with hurt pride. He apologized and parted friends.
They bathed in the stream by the cave, and settled down in the coming dusk, waiting for the Sadhu in his cave, listening to the myriad forest sounds.
He came in silently, unsurprised by strangers in his abode, and taught Boy how to make rotis on bare rock among small flames, and curry from some wild roots and berries and the right way to fill, light and smoke a chillum. He spoke of his life and the reasons for this solitary life, his philosophy, the forest, and living in harmony. But that will be another story
.Thus started the second night in the forest, deep inside, but not pitch dark, as stars twinkled and moonlight filtered in through the trees, and not silent either, as the forest sounds from the stream, wind, trees and unseen creatures filled the night. The herbal stimuli were making Boy’s minds see animals at every shadow, and the unaccustomed diet was making his stomach rumble. Fear prevented Boy from moving out to the bushes to relieve the rumblings, and his companions prevented him from polluting the environment near the cave.
As to how this was resolved, and further encounters with wild animals and wilder guards, and how they survived to tell the tale, will come in episode two, as I am tired from typing and you from reading if in fact you have reached so far…
See you later, alligator, quite literally….. wait for part two

 

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Travelling in the Rains

Travelling in the Rain
The deluge that is drowning Mumbai, but failing to damp its spirits, sent me back down the memory lane.
It feels wonderful to sit on the balcony and watch the rains lashing the trees, with accompanying sound effects of the whistling wind, getting pleasantly drenched in the spray, a forced holiday as the roads are impassable, and a cheering mug in hand. High spirited Mumbaikars are making most of the unforeseen holiday by gathering in Marine Drive and other spots by the sea, ignoring danger warnings, to get drenched in the waves. The mind’s eye started a series of flashbacks, of the pleasures and pains of being caught in the rain, away from the cosy shelter of home.
It was in the 80s, my wife and I were backpacking across South India. Having lived in the North, and having travelled and trekked in the Himalayas, we discounted the idea of cold in the Southern climes, and carried no warm clothing in order to travel light. Thus we went up to Kodaikanal in light Tshirts and shorts, our usual travel wear.
We had heard of a Tibetian dhaba for good economical food and congenial atmosphere, and walked down there for dinner. It was raining, and unexpectedly chilly, and the shack was warm, the owner friendly, and food delicious. After a week of vegetarian south Indian food, the momos, thukpa and chang was heaven-sent, and we blessed our informant. These were the days before the net, social media and smart phones, word of mouth being the only source of information.
The rain soon turned into a downpour, and the locals predicted that it would go on all night. To add to the fun, the lights went off. The concerned owner called our hotel, but was informed that no taxis were available. Efforts by the helpful locals and the owner also failed to unearth any conveyance, the town being an early sleeper, and the rains and power cut had forced all taxi operators indoors. Walking to the hotel in pitch dark and pouring rain was not possible, even with the loans of umbrellas, torches and directions offered. Apologetically, the locals left for their homes. The owner wanted to shut shop, but couldn’t turn us out, so offered us some shawls to ward off the chill, and more hot soup and chang. The only other occupant was an ageing European, evidently one of the regulars, who had had quite a few and was sleeping it off. We were told that he had wandered into town and never left, having settled down in a cottage in the forest. Anyway, he woke up, mumbled something and left. The owner, apologetically offered us the benches and some newspapers to spend the night, and proceeded to lock up. We were shivering and cursing our luck, when a loud honking startled us. Peering out, we saw a lifeline in the shape of a massive battered old imported car, headlights blazing, and our previously somnolent co guest at the wheels, beckoning to us. The beaming host explained that having seen our predicament, he had woken up some unfortunate taxi owner, borrowed his wheels, and was offering us a lift to our hotel.
We gratefully jumped in, and after what seemed an interminable ride through the pitch dark night, howling winds and thundering rain, we reached our hotel, and his insistent honking got them to open the gates and let us in. He merely nodded to our profuse thanks. Throughout, we had hardly exchanged any words with our Good Samaritan saviour.
The next flashback is of Chail. We were staying in the palace, or rather, in some huts on the premises, in this Palace in the middle of the forest, atop a hill overlooking Shimla in Himachal, built by the Maharaja as a love nest for his English paramour, who eloped with him from the British summer capital. It was the nineties, and we had a child. We were enjoying a lazy vacation in this isolated peaceful retreat, high in the Himalayas.
One day, we planned a short one day trek, to the neighbouring hilltop, eight kilometres away, to visit the shrine of an ancient tribal Goddess favoured by the local herdsmen. We left the car in the Palace, and little one in tow, packed lunch in backpack, we walked through the pristine forests. Enjoying the pleasant sunshine on the hilltop meadow, I was trying to catch a nap, when a cold water droplet rudely woke me up. We noticed that ominous black clouds were boiling in, and being heralded by menacing thunder rolls and lighting flashes. The Goddesses tiny shack providing little shelter, we decided to hurry back, trusting the shelter of the pine forest. Kiddo on my shoulder, we started off at a brisk trot. Luckily, or so we thought, it was downhill all the way. Within a quarter hour, the deluge caught up with us, and we cursed our idiocy in not driving up at least till the dirt track. The path became muddy and slippery, and we were soaked to the bones, shivering in the cold, stumbling down in zero visibility. The frequent lightning kept us from seeking shelter under the pines. After what seemed like ages, a hut loomed out of the mist. We had reached the tiny hamlet. We huddled into its solitary teashop, where some villagers were seeking shelter, and were immediately welcomed in by the concerned locals. We were given blankets, placed by the fireside, and plied with hot tea. We were also offered dry clothes, and soon our baby was swaddled in colourful Himachali attire. A boy was despatched to the Palace to get a car, and eventually, we returned to our snug cottage, expressing heartfelt gratitude to our saviours.
The third memory is of the Terai, in North Bengal, bordering Bhutan, at the forest rest house of Jhalong. The rest house was a wooden cottage on stilts, to keep away wild animals and floodwater, and situated right by a waterfall, whose roar drowned everything and made conversation difficult. The chowkidar cooked our evening meal and left for the village before dusk, leaving us alone in the forest with no means of communication. The dim lighting was provided by solar lamps. Our kids, two by now, were demanding ghost stories to go with the atmosphere. When suddenly, an uproar started, drowning out the roar of the waterfall. It was as if a bucket had been overturned on top of us, and it crashed on our tin roof. Simultaneously, the wind started screeching and wailing. Branches were falling with crashing sounds, and as if on cue, the light conked out. The whole cottage rattled, and it felt as if the roof is about to blow off. In the pitch dark, sudden lightning flashes were the only light, blue, bright and frightening. The roof steadily leaked in a dozen places. My rum induced bravado vanished. A better setting for a ghost story couldn’t be created, but no one was in a mood for it now. We sat huddled together, and at some point, dozed off.
Next morning dawned bright and crisp, with sunlight glinting off snow peaks, and the forest looking green and washed, the sky a sparkling blue. The forest guard was back, bringing up tea and eggs, enquiring after our night. It was just another monsoon night in those foothills.
These are wonderful memories now, but I think that nowadays I would rather enjoy the rains snug from my balcony.
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