Three steps to the motel, three to the ravine; Three steps to the bottle, that could be mine.
Three men are wiser, but we were nine; We drank, danced, drenched till we were fine.
An ode to the place I’ve been living for more than seven years. Where all we have is a dingy restaurant, a dwarfish wine shop, and a shabby road passing through a ravine where landslides occur almost daily.
While travelling in the mountains, you require more than a good luck. And with this ‘more than a good luck’ we traversed two hundred kilometres of secluded mountain road in a worst rain. That day it wasn’t raining cats & dogs, it was: cats, dogs, buffaloes, elephants, grizzly bears, and whatever you could think of.
Actually, the downpour had started the previous night. And for the entire night it had been like a constant flow of a rivulet by the windows of our bedroom; and the persistent rumbling of the clouds made me twist and turn and worry in the bed. In the morning when I opened the front door to peer out, it was cats & dogs still. But we had packed our bags, and the snacks were packed too, and the refrigerator was cleansed to the last morsel of eatables, so we had no choice but to start.
Traveling alone in the mountains is risky, but traveling with your mother, wife, and an infant is a different story altogether. You’ve to be the strongest – not only because you are at the wheel, but three other lives are your responsibility. So at every bend and cliff I kept my right foot on the brake pedal and peered ahead faster than the speed of the car to see if loose rocks were not charging ravenously at us, or a tilted tree about to lose hold of the ground, or a sudden gush of water making way on to the road.
In the rains the mountains are least forgiving. A single stone rolling down the slope could tear the window pane of your car and penetrate your intestines. One falling tree could neatly smash your car into two. And it takes just two landslides to trap you in between. And in those secluded faraway corners you could be waiting for hours, if not days, before you meet any other creature with two legs. In those moments you can’t do anything but sit idle in your car and leave everything to almighty, if you believe in him (I do).
We had covered half of the perilous terrain trembling and chanting prayers when we were brought to halt by a log of vehicles on a ‘U’ curve. A landslide had blocked the road and people were trapped at that remote, isolated spot since two hours. I pulled the car to side and walked ahead to see the scale of the disaster. Few people, who were also travellers like us, were surrounding the landslide in raincoats and umbrellas, and a few like me were soaking in the rain. Then few men brought whatever tools they had in their vehicles: one gentleman brought a shovel, another brought a rope, and one pickup driver brought an axe (?), and they started clearing the sludge, not bothering about their getting dirty or drenched in rain and sweat. They were taking turns to pull the shovel whereas a few, including me, stood there worrying that the debris was beyond the power of the men.
I soon got soaked and irritated and cursed god: why, why, why were we trapped there?
Dejected, I turned to wait in my car. It was then I saw this:
Beauty in the disaster that left me awestruck, lessened my worry, and subdued my fury. Sometimes beauty is right behind us whereas we are busy cursing the ugliness. All it takes is just one turn to change the perspective.
The landslide was half cleared by men before the machine arrived and cleared it. We escaped the spot as fast as we could, but the rain was still the same: non-stop and unforgiving. The fog still covered most of the area, only sometimes it touched the front of our car. But I observed that now I wasn’t as irritated as I was before I witnessed the magic of nature. And we reached home safely. But, yes, it was a great risk that we embraced, and I would never advise you to travel in the mountains in the rains, not with the family.
If you go out and ask random people you meet on the road, I am confident most of them would prefer winters over the summers. I may be wrong here, but I for one love the winters. Summers…. I don’t like much. Not that I detest them, but the sweating and the harsh heat of the day which confines you to the house is something that I don’t like. Summers pull the mucus out of your throat and abandon you thirsty in want of cold water, not refrigerator cold or mildly cold but ideal cold like that from an earthen pot or sweet water from a freshet. The only thing cheerful about the summers is the ‘Chilled Beer’. Oh, how I adore the smoky taste of a good beer. A bottle of beer relieves you from the stress of the day and recharges the minerals of the body. Of course, being a beer lover I have all the sugary words in favour of it, but, yes, I never drink a bottle after the first one.
I also don’t like autumn as much as I should. Although autumn for most people is insignia of romance, for me it evokes a feeling of melancholy. Not that I feel depressingly sad all the autumn, but when I take a closer look outside the window, my heart feels gloomy. This is because the hills start changing their attire from bright-green to faded-gold, and they resemble the wrinkled face of an old man in his nineties. Watching the leaves fall from the trees is again a sight not so encouraging, for a tree without leaves is like a bald old melancholic man standing in front of your door.
One thing gratifying about the autumn is that it gives way to the winters. And you know winters have arrived not when you dust off your previous year’s moth-eaten woollens but when the large heaps of black clouds come drumming over the roof of your house, and the downpour starts heavily like a battle being fought all around. For few days you hear nothing but the songs of the rain, and the clouds travel low, low, low until you can feel them right outside your window. They become your guest and stay around to amuse you. They cover the surroundings like a magician’s veil before a magic show, and when the merrymaking and the drum-beating is over, they bid farewell to the pointed pine trees and the mountain peaks and leave behind everything painted in white.
Life is different in the winters. Anything you touch leaves on you a cold, romantic sensation. The days become shorter and the nights allow you to sleep needlessly more under the soft, cosy quilts. In the morning you step out of the warmth with a heavy heart and start the day in a haste looking to complete your chores before the dark falls; and who knows the brigade of the black clouds might be marching towards you anytime soon.
As the dark sets in, you move into the warmth of the house to sit around the fire or a heater and munch popcorn, jaggery biscuits, and sip hot tea. Or if you are like me, you pick a mug of hot water and move into the solitary corners of the house and sit by a window and drain a bottle of ‘Old Monk’ to fill a glass and say cheers to the winters and burn your throat……
Who would believe this is May! It has been raining here since three days, and from throat-drying summer to the woolen caps the transition has been sudden.
It rains fiercely for few hours, then stops for an hour or two. In those hours of relief, everything appears clean and fresh. The leaves of the Poplar and Peepal shine like a gentle brush of oil has been applied on them. The birds go merry singing their favourite songs, and the stray cows move out of their temporary dens drenched in dung and waste. People – all covered in mufflers, sweaters and monkey caps – move quickly out of their houses to fetch groceries from the market.
For a not-so-summer-enthusiast like me, rains are always a good news. In fact, I may be the only person who loves the rains so much that I can bear them for days and days; longer the better. Rains are romantic, they make me want to fall in love with everything, and they tickle the creative side of me.
When I was a kid, I would deliberately sleep on the top floor of the house all alone to hear the sound of the rain drops falling on the slate roof. And the chocolate like smell of the soil when it is first met by the rain would make me jocular. When it would rain continuously for days, I would pick a shovel and go around the house and into the fields looking for small ponds. I would dig channels for the water, where my trousers would get wet and so would my hairs.
Sitting by the old wooden window of the room, I would watch the sun rays make a hole in the large sheet of clouds, and then there would be rainbows all around. Sometimes, a rainbow would be so close to the house, in the fields, that I would run to catch it. But as I reached near, it would jump on to some other field and mock at me.
In the winters the rains would be more unforgiving. Huge lumps of dark clouds carrying soft balls of snow would march through the sky and capture it. Again from the window of my room on the top floor I would watch the clouds eat the nearby mountains. For days and days the surroundings would be engulfed by the clouds, and there would be cold cold rain. The angry clouds would move and growl and then lightning would hit the mountain tops. The clouds behaved like some black magician angry at the mountains.
In the evening, my family would gather by the hearth in the kitchen. Stories of old times would be narrated with great vigour by my grandfather, whereas my grandmother would prepare hot Popcorn over the fire. We would talk, laugh, and eat through the early hours of the night, and then retreat to our rooms to be surprised in the morning.
Having lost their battle to the mountains, the clouds would have disappeared. But the remains of the long battle would be white, bright, and pearl-like mountains, appearing more beautiful than ever… And then… I would fall in love again…..