With a ₹2 coin, we had his curiosity.
With a laddoo, we had his attention.
Sometimes our guile shames us.
In the background, desh hoga barbaad (country shall go to the dogs) screamed the papers.
At Jana Falls, Himachal
One-eyed dog, Jana, 2013
Jana waterfall is almost 20 kms from Naggar, and thanks to the new road built under the gram-sadak yojana, it takes less than an hour to get there. HPTC buses ply twice daily from Naggar to Jana - at 8 am and 3 pm. In winters however, snowfalls upset this routine and buses are frequently late, or cancelled. If you are not shy of walking, you could hike up to the fall and return before it’s dark.
Jana waterfall lies beyond the small village of Jana, surrounded by multiple eateries all of which were closed when we visited. We were lucky that the owner of one establishment was around. ‘We stay here all through the year. Who has the money for multiple houses? Since other dhabas are closed, the few tourists who come here, eat at our place. Some nights we go into the village when it gets really cold’, he said while splitting logs for firewood.
We ordered thukpa, sidu and tea. The sidu when had with ghee is heavenly. It’s not much unlike the enduri pithaa we have at home. A one-eyed dog ambled along and kept thrusting its nose, perhaps sniffing all the other canine companions we’d had on the trip. We had walked for more than an hour to the waterfall. The bus had dropped us some 8-9 kms from the village owing to sleet on the road. The driver did his best to zoom past the snow, but to no avail. We began walking in a group, but soon the two of us fell behind. Unlike the villagers who had to attend to business, we were on a leisurely walk. They kept looking back to check on us, and when our paths diverged, they gave out instructions in meticulous detail for us to reach the waterfall.
The waterfall was partially frozen, and verily quiet. The trickling water landed softly on the snow, and slid under our feet to the lower reaches. One can imagine the fall in summer, when entire families and loud tourists must show up here. The dhabas would be full, and you’d have to wait for your turn. In the quietude, we could almost hear the shrill cries of kids and admonishing shouts of their guardians. Whereas now there was a lone one-eyed dog digging away at the snow, how many snowmen and castles must be built by enterprising children during les pleines saisons. The carnival of human satiation never entirely leaves a place, it is present in the air and surroundings, in the trees and their leaves. It was only momentarily muted, dormant in winter, till the spring and summer aroused it, and filled the chairs in the dhabas with hungry tourists.
We stood silent, gently caressing our one-eyed companion. The tree tops were white, and the blanket of overhead snow gradually thinned down the slopes. Villages on the leeward side of the mountains were lit up in the sun and the green fields blinded us as we emerged from the shadow of the snow. The smell of the rich pines, firs, and deodars was thick in the cold air. Male and female pine cones lay scattered bearing testimony to the importance of chance in all creation, including life. As we walked back, a posse of horses passed by in a single file, disciplined enough to keep to one side of the road. The young horsemen followed, chatting in high spirits, perhaps about girls, or more likely, their horses. The dog bid goodbye as we crossed the village, its territorial lordship limited.
The spot where the bus had left us had turned into a waiting area. ‘Perhaps the bus will come, perhaps not. We’ll return to our villages if it doesn’t’, one of the villagers told us. We debated whether to wait for the bus or to keep walking. Since we were not tired and there was enough daylight, we decided to walk all the way. After perhaps an hour, hearing a beep, we flagged a van and got a ride from an elderly gentleman, who was preoccupied with the noise coming from the rear. Twice, we stopped to investigate. The third time, he lay on all fours and bingo! One of the wheels had come loose! As we tightened the screws, the import of his anxiety dawned on us. Our still-youthful enthusiasm is yet to learn not to be dismissive of elderly caution.
If you are in Manali, don’t miss Naggar, and if you are in Naggar, don’t miss Jana. Perhaps the one-eyed one shall welcome you too.
Pruning apple trees,
Winter 2013, Himachal
Someone announced the presence of the performer, the chanteur par excellence and the drum roll began. People turned their eyes around, strained their necks over, they tumbled on each other in desperation to have a look at him. Like children eyeing candy they waited, like devotees awaiting God they bowed, like automatons meeting their creator, they cried. The paradiddle reached a crescendo, and the image on the giant screen finally signalled the arrival of he, who had now become the Lord of the sea of humans below him.
The crowd cheered wildly, and gasped collectively when the performer began to croon. Soon forgetting themselves, people turned into zombies, almost grateful to be spoken to. They submitted willfully, wanting to be punished for their sins, tortured for their trespasses, beaten and abused for their wickedness. The BDSM relationship that was thus established between the man on stage and the bovine below, bespoke of things to come. The crowd changed its disposition continuously, from listeners to demonstrators, from fans to killers, but the common thread of enslavement bound all its manifestations. Their ready submission indicated their want to be conquered, ravished, and led. They didn’t want to do the thinking, they just wanted to carry out orders. They looked up to the stage with the fright of a child before the headmaster, they awaited their sentence with an anticipation of delight, the frisson recompense enough for this bestial night that will keep them going at their quiet colorless lives some more time.
And like a shaman he swayed, gyrated, and his incantations prompted the audience to do the same, and they transformed into a huge swaying floating mass at the beck and call of its master. He took their pulse and toyed with it, raising it far beyond its regular rhythm and abruptly bringing it down, and they panted, and sweated in orgasmic ecstasy. Long sighs, deep moans, and flexed muscles reflected their pleasure. They wanted more, and their bodies glistening with sweat, fused again into a swirling mass at the center of which was a deep desire to be torn apart by the irrepressible energy that flowed from the stage.
They joined hands, violently banged their heads, jumped like springs. Their bodies struggled to keep up with their enthusiasm. They carried each other on shoulders, threatened to take down the barriers that separated them from the voice on stage. Men and women, and children, young and old, the fit and the infirm bonded into a sisterhood that awaited deliverance after the sermon. They burst into a deep rapture that was as real as their dispirited lives. They shouted, voices already hoarse, they kissed with a frenzy, lips bloodied, they danced on wearied legs, but they refused to stop. The call had to be answered, it was not only their right to bask in celebration, but also their duty to obey the voice. The thousands kept at it, for hours. They pumped their fists of fury in the air, showing off their appreciation, proud of their collective strength.
If an animal, a buffalo had wandered into this arena of boundless vigor, it’d have been killed. The crowd would have fallen on it, dismembering it with their bare hands, smearing its blood on their faces in a ritualistic display of primordial instincts. Its head impaled on a stick would be offered to the god on stage, who looked over at the ongoing madness from his vantage point, with a sense of satisfaction and amusement; the power that he had over this group of simple minds evoking the same feelings in him as Mr. Kurtz. Why should he not let himself be crowned the king, or become a God in this realm of aborigines who only wanted to be ruled? But time was running out, and he had someplace else to be at, to entertain other listless beings and indulge in the vicarious pleasure of his divinity yet again.
All the Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies don’t prepare you for this spectacle of mass hysteria.
Rear court, Naggar Palace, Himachal, 2013
We were asked to go to the backyard of a house where the stuff had been put out to dry. The guard dog, perhaps stoned, cozied up to us. We estimated the market price of the merchandise to be around 10 lakhs per the prevailing rates in Hyderabad. In Malana surely, it was worth much less.
There is pleasure in the pathless woods
Some years ago, when diligent professors had tried to introduce romanticism to the pre-final year class of English literature, and familiarized us with the bent of the great romantic poets, in a lingering effusion of juvenile delinquency we had dismissed the masters and their subject as indolent imitation. It’d be incorrect to say we’ve matured much since, but time has managed to instill a substantial preoccupation with nature in our restless hearts. Consequently, we occasionally stop by the woods on wintry mornings, watch a solitary reaper once in a while, or at times outdoing ourselves, even give in to the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
The importance of solitude, and its effect on our well-being has been impressed on us in no uncertain terms by the five romantic poets who we had to study to pass our literature exams. At the time we studied them, perhaps we cared less about their wont. Now, having seen a little more of humanity, we run off to spend time in proximity with nature at the drop of a hat. We aren’t misanthropes, for we owe a large part of our extant beings to fellow humans, and perhaps this obligation of sorts keeps us tied to society; but it’s fair to say we believe in the sincerity of Lord Byron when he says he loves not man the less, but nature more.
'Are these oranges sweet?'
'These aren't oranges. They are gamrud, different from santra.’
'Oh! Are they? They look so much like oranges.'
'Can we taste one?'
'It's prohibited to pluck fruits from this tree.'
The need for speed
In summers we attach rolls underneath, but it’s not the same. They make noise. And they are slow too. Winters are more suited to our needs.
Trippy train telecast