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Part 13- The End

Refreshed by our meal, rest and bath, we hoisted our back packs once more. Prasad uncle was tired, so I volunteered to take his 10kg bag. He agreed and told me that I could return the bag anytime I felt it bearing me down. But I silently swore to myself that I would carry the bag pack all the way down. Yeah, down hill was much easier than up hill. Yeah, the bag may have been much lighter. And yeah, I was refreshed. But hey, now was better than never! I had to start somewhere, didn’t I? My father also gave his 15kg bag to the newbie who was accompanying us. He claimed that it was only because he wanted him to have a trekking feeling as well. But secretly, I think my father was tired. (Don’t ask him, he will never agree!) Coming down hardly took time. This time, we made sure we had enough water with us. We didn’t wait for even a bit. The sun was going down, and we would soon lose valuable light. We reached the cable pole that we had begun our journey with. Dusk had already set in, and fog was starting to mingle in the air. Lights from the village Wadap were visible now and the sounds of music, people and vehicles. The noises of humanity…

You’d think we’d picked up speed to reach the vehicle. But we didn’t. Invariably, we slowed down. All of us. None of us wanted to leave this peaceful bubble. Or return back to the craze of humanity. Or end our new year celebration. But our tired unwilling feet landed us in the village. We just sat there, in the light of this tiny shop and bought a packet of local-made fryums. Nostalgia. Extreme nostalgia. I hadn’t eaten this local delicacies since I was a little child and had visited my village. These things? You could get them only in the villages of Maharashtra, and their taste is just divine after the trek. We somehow stopped this rickshaw fellow, piled into the little vehicle (with my sister and me perched on top of all the luggage) and rambled off to Karjat station. We almost missed our train too. Not because we were late. But because we were sitting on the wrong platform! Finally on the train bound home, I settled down with the big bag between my legs, kept my head on it and dozed off. I was shaken awake at Thane station where we took a rickshaw home. I was almost about to pounce on my bed when my baby sister pulled me into the washroom and switched on the shower. Drenched, I decided to have a hot water bath. And then I plonked onto my bed and drifted into a undisturbed dreamless sleep…

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Part 12- Bleeding converts

Blood was splattered everywhere. The bleak grey of the rocks looked stale and washed out, completely in contrast to the fresh, shining fluid that was baking in the sun. If I lay spread-eagled on the ground and waved my hands and feet to make a blood-angel, it still wouldn’t have made a puddle as big and as deep as the bloody one I was standing in. All the contents of my stomach churned and rose up rapidly in retaliation to this annihilation of life. I waded through the blood and stepped out of the pool only to see that someone had already made such a path before. Bloody footsteps marked the path that the monster had taken. My knees almost gave away under me and my spine shuddered in apprehension. I steeled myself and forged ahead, following the monster’s path. The few metres seemed like a lifetime of walking as I silently nursed my darkening dread. My knees truly gave away when my eyes beheld the horror in front of me. The joints of my knees cracked loudly against the rocks just like the victims skull would’ve cracked on the blood-drenched log of wood before me. My teeth jittered when I saw an entire set of jaws empty and bodiless in front of me. More blood. Much more blood. It seeped into the water body nearby, tainting it with the red horrors it had seen. More footsteps, fading into the distance leaving behind the legacy of the horror it has unleashed. Fading away, just like the memory of this kill was already fading away from their memory as they looked ahead to their next kill. Water pooled in my eyes and sobs heaved my churning body. I looked down upon the slaughter that surrounded me and the haunting cries of the victim surrounded me. I felt for the wild boar who had been sacrificed here to assuage human hunger. And I swore that I would never touch meat again.

This vow almost broke the next day itself. This horrifying incident happened at Panch taki on our way to Dhak Bhairi and before I came to promise this, we had already asked a person at Dhak Gaon to make us chicken at lunch when we returned on the 1st. But when we did return, and the chicken was served, I couldn’t bear to put a morsel in my mouth. The blood and pain of the wild boar kept haunting me as I stared at the plate. I gave up. I took only the gravy of the chicken with my rice. And I know that that scene will haunt me for a long time before I will be able to touch any animal meat ever again.

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Part 11: Something worthwhile

The first day of the year taught us a few things that nothing else could’ve taught us. My father had cautioned against the excessive consumption of water. We had left all sources of water behind, and the few bottles we carried were all that we had till we reached the village. But sitting under the foliage of the trees and listening to the birds chirping around us, we couldn’t think of lack or emptiness. We didn’t heed my father’s warning and soon, our thirst quenched, drained and ravaged all the water we had. Except for one little bottle that my wily mother had hid in her bag. Only half an hour after leaving the foliage and under the sun did the first call for water come. It was my thirsty sister. My parents just exchanged glances and my mother dutifully handed over the only remaining bottle to my sister and gave me a pointed glare. Oh! I understood in a flash. I leaned over to my sister and grasped her hand before she could unclasp the bottle top. Her brown innocent eyes looked at me in astonishment as she tried to free her hand. I brought my lips close to her ears and whispered, ‘I know you are thirsty, and so are we. The water is scarce, and a lot of us are thirsty. We don’t know how long our journey ahead is and the sun is very strong. This is the only bottle of water and we are giving it to you. Once it gets over, there will be no water for a long, long time. The problem is that we don’t know how long we will have to walk before we can find water. We give this bottle to you, but I’m hoping that you will use it sparsely so that it can at least wet your throat occasionally’. With that I leaned back, analyzing my silent sister’s brooding face. She nodded at me and gave me a tentative smile. Beaming back at her, I held out my hand to her. Holding hands like that we forged ahead.

Never having experienced a white Christmas (or a white winter, or a white anything really) I always thought snow and ice was beautiful. Until I heard from people how horrid it can be. White and endless white every direction you look in, making seconds timeless and space boundless. It’s scary, because you can neither estimate the time that has passed nor the distance you have covered. You don’t know whether you’re headed the right way, or if you are ever going to reach your destination. For those who haven’t experienced infinite yellowness, that’s what yellowness is like to. Yellow grass swayed to a rhythm-less tune, and the yellow sun glowered at us relentlessly. Yellow butterflies fluttered uselessly over the yellow landscape, with the only interest in their life being the yellow lifeless flowers that cluttered in the yellow clumps of moss. The only other colour we saw was a dead green of the cacti. It was endless yellow, beating us down. We walked two more hours, and our initial hopping and skipping became grudging trudging. Soon, our throats became parched and we lost hope of water and civilization. The yellowness wasn’t fading and we were losing water fast due to perspiration. Most of the time, we aim to cover expanses like this at night so that we don’t see such a boring sight. In the day, this sight wasn’t boring. It was just inspiring hopelessness, and with our water condition it was just devastating.

When we did see green, we no more had any energy to increase our pace. My sister had exhausted her water bottle and was surprisingly silent. Maybe she was tired, or maybe she knew no one would take it with humour. Or maybe, she just knew there was nothing we could do about it, even if she complained. The silence was deafening, and even more so because we did not hear any signs of life around us. No birds chirping, or the flapping of winds. No sighing of the winds, or buzzing of bees. Not even the wings of crickets. Nothing. Walking in these Fields of Asphodel, we finally saw a few people approaching us. Shaking our heads to knock of any mirage, we welcomed them and asked them how far we were from our destination. Just a few minutes they said, which turned out to be half an hour more for us. Losing our way twice, we somehow reached the village well and had our fill. The house of our host from yesterday was just a few minutes away from the well. Dhak gaon, we are back! Alive…

In hindsight, we learned the importance of water. We drank gallons of it when we were back, as if we had never drunk it before. I always tried to make my sister’s young heart and brain understand how important water was, and why you mustn’t waste it. And finally, with her first experience ‘devoid water’ I think she wouldn’t waste water ever again. And even after the horrible experience, I am glad for it if it taught us something worthwhile.

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Part 10: Reaching the Plains

Once upon a time was a young girl who used to love trekking. In the years to come she would expose her daughters to trekking right since their infancy. However, the young girl herself hadn’t been exposed to trekking the same way. She had come to love it. Her college had an extremely eccentric and enthusiastic Botany teacher. Constantly wandering away from the curriculum, he would beseech his students to join him for nature trails, where he would give them first hand Botany experience. These initial ventures into nature made Purnima a loyal and steadfast nature enthusiast. During one of her later adventures she came to have a ligament tear on one of her legs. She didn’t know how or when it happened. There was no definitive incident like a fall or a hit or an accident. Yet, she eventually discovered that her torn ligament would be significantly weaker even after healing. At least the doctors said so. Initially heart broken, she laid her worries to rest and tried trekking after sometime. The doctors, of course, tried to dissuade her. But then again, when had she ever listened to their over-cautious and paranoid advice? She went for the next trek with her friends. There seemed to be no issues as she trekked up the mountain. Almost giddy with relief she had the time of her life, now that she had nothing to worry about. They started their descent next day and every thing was going fine. Until she felt a twinge in her leg, like a wound-up spring being released. She collapsed on the spot, convulsing in pain. The first person who ran to her help was Rajendra, the group leader. He soothed her frayed nerves and made her gulp some water. Gasping in pain, she tried to explain her predicament. Obliged as a group leader, he promised to support her through the trek and get her through it safely. After the blinding pain became a dull throbbing, he helped her stand up. She tried to stand but collapsed almost immediately and would have fallen if Rajendra’s reflexes hadn’t jumped into action and caught her. She leaned on him heavily and hobbled down the well-worn path that she would have sprinted down otherwise. And just like that, they became partners for treks. He knew she was a good trekker who had the capability of beating him at it if she could. Even with her ligament condition, she still could if she wanted to. He respected that and let her lead the way on every trek they went. He trusted her instincts and capabilities and would follow her without thinking twice. And yet, if she faltered he would be right behind her to steady her step. If she fell he would be right behind her to catch her. And if she bolted ahead too fast then he would rein her in. Or maybe he would run along with her, just a step short. Eight years later Purnima and Rajendra married, and even today Rajendra keeps his promise. He supports her through her arduous trek of life so she never has to be alone. He had promised to get her through that trek safely, and even now he intends to make sure that he gets her through the trek of her life safely.

Purnima knows this, and knows that he respects her decisions and capabilities. She loves him even dearly for this. And she thanks God for that fateful day when he first caught her when she fell.  And just like that, she knows she will love him forever.

*

It is with this story in the back of my head that we started descending, trying to reach the village before light deserted us. I was worried about my mother, Purnima. She never had a problem climbing the mountains; her problem lay in coming down. Normally, coming down was easier and took lesser time. Almost an hour or so lesser than the time required to climb. Thank you, Gravity. We were lucky this time though, because my mother’s legs did not make a fuss. Even after at least two water and food breaks, we were glad to reach the plains.

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Part 9: Vegetarian Barbarians

My eyes opened to blinding day light and deafening wind. Almost immediately, the smell of Maggi drifted into my nostrils. I got up on my feet, spread my arms wide and stretched. I almost got knocked back by the force with which the wind hit me. It took me some wild flailing to re-adjust my centre of gravity. I looked around with squinted eyes and gradually, my eyes got accustomed to the glaring day light that was flooding the slit in the mountain where I stood. After my first closed-eyed ‘Good Mornings’, I immediately armed myself with the ‘green bottle’ (Refer Part 2 of Time Warp) and marched my way to answer my nature calls. And then I stopped. Where in the world would I go? My mother stood grinning at my sleep-clogged face and the ‘green bottle’ in my hand. Then she pointed to the other adjoining caves on the left. It was where I had found the rockel last night. She handed me my toothbrush and toothpaste and after a while I returned afresh. My mother and father were hunched over the ‘chul’ where a healthy fire was already in existence. My sister was filling water at the tank, something that she enjoyed a lot. She found it extremely fascinating. How there was a little drip in the ceiling where a drop of water kept plunging down to the tank. She loved how the cold water felt on her baby skin, not dead and freezing but refreshing and nourishing. She loved the ripples that she could make on the surface and how they all receded to a standstill in the tank. She only came back when the fragrance of the noodles wafted over to her. Impatiently waiting for the noodles to cook, we killed time by chasing monkeys away. Oh right, I forgot to tell you. There are like a billion monkeys all over the tourist spots or forts or parks in India. Most of the time they stay away, nearing you only if you have eatables on your person. And we were cooking. Monkeys that they were, they scaled the cliffs with ease and waited under over-hangings right on the edge. And they waited there to pounce. If we succeeded in driving them away then they would reappear in another corner in a jiffy. Annoying, I know, but the good thing about monkeys being near-human? They were fast learners. If you succeeded in warding them off for the first 15mins then they would stay away. Usually. But that didn’t mean you dropped your guard. They would be on the lookout for that. So if you were non-alert for one moment, the monkeys would break havoc around you screeching for reinforcements. So I sat down with my sister and mother in the centre with the men sitting around us with enormous sticks in their hands. If we were to eat our food, this was a battle we had to win. We had hold our fort and keep intruders out. Luckily, there were no possibility of treachery because all of us were 100% humans with no wish to join the monkeys. So basically, this was a full-fledged war against invading vegetarian barbarians.

Blah, blah, blah. I wish I could write a few lies about how well we won the war but the truth is that they let us eat in relative peace. We made the men wash the vessels and clean them and then pack up. Until then I picked up my camera and went snap, snap, snap. Once we were packed and clicked we commenced our journey back. We scampered down the tree trunk, making sure we didn’t look down at the cliff. In the morning, the heights seemed much more intimidating to everyone because we could see the danger below us. We didn’t take the same route back though. Instead of going up to ‘panch tanki’ we took a route that went down to the plains.

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Part 8: Once More

I woke up with the wind roaring in my ears. I tried to sit but I swear I couldn’t. And this was not because I wasn’t trying. Not because my body was too tired. True, my mind was still groggy but even opening my eyes was a task. When I did manage to open my eyes I shut them back immediately and my palms involuntarily started rubbing them to get the sting out. I could hear muffled speech around me and suddenly I found I could get up. I opened my eyes slowly and they didn’t sting anymore. It was pitch dark but I could make out my mother’s figure looming over me. She gave me some water and after the water cleared my head up a bit she told me that the wind was so strong that all of them were having trouble standing up against it. In my sleepy state, it would’ve been impossible. And she guessed that my eyes had been stinging and said that it was because of the wind too. The wind brought up soil and silt and gravel and slammed them in everyone’s eyes. Without thinking much I took my monkey-cap from my pocket and put it on. I tried to get up but this time it was body groaning, not the wind. I lay back down but the growling of the wind was much more muffled now, thanks to the cap.

And as I gazed into the darkness in front of me, my eyes widened to the size of saucers. The cave was a diamond mine! How could my parents not see it? The entire ceiling of the cave was studded with a million diamonds all winking at me. I would have to check this out in the morning! Morning… So it’s night now. I looked up at the ceiling above me and it was pitch black. And then my eyes widened even farther, if that was possible. I almost giggled at my own stupidity. Yep, I was definitely losing it. Diamonds indeed. Those were stars! I had not seen stars like these in a long, long time.

I lived in Mumbai, where the night life emitted as much as light as the sun did.  The light pollution was devastating; to nocturnal, night-loving, moon-swooning, star-romancing creatures like me it was an absolute horror. My bed in my room was right next to the window, strategically placed for my night-time indulgences. I had spent many nights waiting for all the lights in the city to go out. It was only an hour’s time slot between 3 and 4. the night life ended at one and the goods trucks commenced their journey at 4. so that time slot was the only one with no lights, no noise, no people. No one. And in that hour I used to be awake, gazing at the stars and whispering to them. If the moon graced me with her presence, I would talk to her too. If they were too busy talking amongst them to pay any attention to a mortal like me, I would play soft songs in their honour. And always, I fell asleep under them. But that was in the city where I had to wait for the magic to begin. But here? The magic was so thickly woven that no one could escape it, even if they wanted to. Yes, the wind howled too loud. Yes, it pushed you back. But if you managed to quieten it like I did then there was nothing but you and the stars. They were beautiful, glittering across the entire expanse unfolded above me. They winked at me and were close enough for their voices to be strong. The light in the cities weakened them, they said. So their voices sounded like whispers. But here? I was much more above sea level than usual. I was closer to them. And there was no external disturbance that could weaken them. It would be dawn soon, they said, and they were the strongest now. But how, I questioned. And they whispered back a secret- we shine brightest when it is darkest, and it is darkest right before dawn. And as we shine, we welcome the dawn. Just like a little hope welcomes a lot of positivity.

Then they sang to me a lullaby that cradled me to sleep. And I slept once more.

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Part 7: Drowsy Poems

This was the 31st night. The end of 2013. With the extra rice and milk, my mom decided to make kheer as a celebration to welcome the New Year. Sleepy after the days adventure’s and contented with a full stomach, I was ready to fall asleep. I hadn’t really seen what I had been eating. I just knew there was rice and there were vegetables in there. The light was too low, we were all too hungry and it was only the songs that we were singing that kept our patience in check. And anyways, after years of trekking I have realized that even if the food you’ve cooked is burnt or raw, you are so hungry that you eat it anyway. Plus, you made it so you better eat it. My mother adds in a bonus of stern gazes to make sure no one else complains either. And we don’t. For all we know, we might be in the food next time. So we ate and sang. I was not really in for kheer; sleep was more important to my tired mind and body. As I sat down my father came and lay his head in my lap. My mom was sitting nearby putting my sister to sleep in the traditional way.

Oh yeah, there was a traditional way. Maharashtrian ladies had this weird way of putting their children to sleep. They folded their legs and sat on the ground with the child comfortable places in their lap. Then they bobbed their knee on which the child’s head was kept. In sync to this bobbing knee and bobbing head was the mother’s or grandmother’s hand. So every time the knee and head bobbed up their hand flew up only to come down and smack the child’s head. I guess smacking is a harsh word. The hand was cupped, not flat and it never hurt the child. It was not exactly hitting either, because no mother would hit their sleeping child, nor would the child be silent if their mother was hitting them. Some simple rhymes and lullabies went in sync to the rhythm provided by the bobbing. I don’t know how any child ever slept with all that bobbing and singing but every child did. Every time. Without fail. I had been subject to it too by my paternal grandma (i.e. Aaji) when I was little. So while my sister slept through that torture, my dad lay his head in my lap. My dad’s friend a.k.a. Trekker uncle a.k.a. Prasad kaka was lying in front of me. With no warning at all he suddenly started spouting random bits of Marathi. Only a few lines later did I understand that he was singing not songs but poems. Yes, dear westerners, India sings its poems. Not speaks them. Or reads them. But sings them. Whether Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Pali, Prakrit, or even Urdu. Poems are sung. And they are beautiful. Coming back to the point, I just sat there trying to understand the words he was spouting. But I had been out of touch for too long. At school we spoke English and wrote English. With friends we spoke a disgusting goo of all languages. Something like- arre, I was saying that tujhe otthey jaake aamba purchase karna chahiye. Thats, hindi-english-english-english-english-hindi-punjabi-hindi-marathi-english-hindi-hindi. So yeah, it’s disgusting. And yeah, I was out of touch with my mother tongue. Or father tongue. Because my Father spoke Marathi and Mother, Punjabi. So yeah, let’s call Marathi my father tongue.

Realizing my dilemma, my father came to my rescue with ready translations. Before long I got a hang of the language and asked my father for lesser and lesser translations. Catching up with the fervour, Prasad kaka’s poems started getting better and better. I can’t remember any of the poems and I wouldn’t be able to translate them anyway. They are just too beautiful and I don’t think I would be able to do them any justice. Besides, no translated work is ever as good as the original. The essence of the language dissipates in another language. And some words are so original to one language that they lose their effect, intensity and meaning in the other language. For example, one word in Japanese summarizes and means much more than its three word English translation ‘Long lost love’. So… No translations. Sorry. But after the poems my mother said that Prasad kaka was nothing compared to his father, who had poems on the tip of his tongue. He knew millions of poems, their history, the poets. And he had a poem for every occasion. And I told them that I couldn’t imagine such a man. All my imagination fell short when it came to envisioning him or his life. But my father said that I had indeed met him albeit when I was very young. He had put me to sleep with his poems. I had heard more poems from his mouth than his own grand-daughter.

And with that, I fell asleep.