A Travellerspoint blog

Aita

....my ode to the woman who made me what I am today... this I wrote when she left me on a cold January morning in 2004... sharing it now...

Aita,
Now that you are no more; I try to read between the lines.
As your pyre was torched, I recalled my first encounter with death. It was Koka’s and I was a kid. By no means I could comprehend why people were mourning and grief stricken. I wondered why Koka had to go, leaving us behind; leaving his favourite belongings aside – his spectacles, his bunch of keys, his magnets and his huge collection of Reader’s Digest magazines. And you would explain “…. When you go to Heaven you cannot take anything along with you.” It was not easy for me to acknowledge the ways of life at that tender age. I’d say, “No, Aita, when you die, I’ll reserve a truck and send all your favourite things – the new lightweight electric iron, the mixer-grinder, the oven to God for you.”
Aita, you had an ageless endurance, a quality I’d like to imbibe.
There were many questions to be asked…There were many stories to listen…There were many bits and pieces to know…There were many recipes to learn….And there were many feelings to understand…
There have been times when I’ve hurt you immensely, by fault or by default. We have misunderstood each other. But wasn’t it amazing how honestly we made amends and became friends again! Yes, we quarreled. And I realized it only brought me closer to you. Because Aita, I also realized that you quarrel with only those whom you love and care for the most.
I thought of you as a “terror” as a child. But now I realize how essential and necessary was it for you to “terrorize” me. Today I am a strong woman…. No… Aita, you got me wrong… I am not beating my own trumpets… I was complimenting you rather!
I want a shoulder as broad as you. To take up any challenges, to fight against all odds, to see the lowest of life, to go through the deepest of sorrow and to bear the biggest of loss. And yet stand upright and strong, without giving up. Because for you Aita that was not the end of the road.
I’ll miss you always Aita.
I’ll miss your warmth… I’ll miss your love… I’ll miss those lovely chocolate cakes, those caramel puddings, those butter biscuits and I’ll also miss my favourite vegetable “tenga”
Its all the small things you taught me, by your actions- spoken and unspoken; which has made me what I am today. And how ashamed I am that I never thanked you enough. I am doing it now Aita. Thank you for all that you have done for me. There isn’t anything more that I could’ve asked for.
Aita, I am still trying to find that particular truck which will take your belongings to Heaven and also my salutation to you.
I can see you smiling at me Aita. And I know you will be with me always.

AITA - Grandmother

Tenga - A sour curry made with lentils and tomatoes.... for non vegetarians fish can be added.

Posted by incommunicado 21:59 Archived in India Tagged people Comments (0)

Chain Reaction

It was fairly late when Aditi returned home form the studio. There wasn’t a single star twinkling and the moon played hide and seek amidst the clouds. Stillness prevailed in the air and it made the weather all the muggier. There were a lot of things playing on her mind. She knew she had to work overtime, sweat it out for the show. Deadlines always made Aditi give her best shot. She had to give the final touches to the canvasses, meet the guys at the gallery for the set up, get the invitation cards from the printers, call up the event manager to fix a time for the press release…
“Stop it Aditi. The first and the foremost thing you need now is a shower!” she said to herself!

As the lukewarm water touched her frayed skin it felt fine. The temperature of the water was nothing but just right! It wasn’t always so accurate as it was today, it was like making or rather mixing that perfect martini, and she mused. The lukewarm water sure worked like an aphrodisiac.

Aditi wasn’t really hungry. She poured herself a glass of chilled milk with a generous amount of cocoa. As she sipped the milk she felt the route through which the liquid flowed down her throat to her stomach. It didn’t take too long for Aditi to finish off her drink. She preferred gulping it down before the “chillness” faded.

“… now I lay down to sleep, pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, pray the Lord my soul to take.” Aditi said her prayers, as she closed her eyes, switching herself off and finally slipping between the sheets.

The phone rang and it broke the silence as well as her sleep. It seemed it woke up the entire house and also her senses. She stretched out her left hand towards the receiver.
“Hello!” her voice was hoarse and broken, from the sleep and the chilled milk.
“Oh, my sleeping child!”
It was a voice Aditi could recognize amongst a zillion.
“Anand!” she exclaimed. “It’s been so long, where have you been?”
“Does it matter?” Anand asked.
“No it doesn’t. But I’ve missed you like crazy!” said Aditi.
“I’ve missed you too, my sweet little heart and I’ll see you in five days”, said Anand.
Aditi didn’t feel the excitement or the rush, the way she always felt whenever Anand came to her.
“So, its five more days before…”
“Ssshhh! My little heart” Anand interrupted.
“But…” Aditi protested.
“It really doesn’t matter. Does it?” he asked.
“No it doesn’t. But Anand, things will never be the same again for me I guess”, she said.
“Listen my little girl, things will always be the same for you, for me and for us. No matter what. Trust me” said Anand firmly.
“I trust you”, was all Aditi could say.
“Go back to sleep my child. You have five days to make a list of all your grudges against me… think what you want to do… yell at me, raise the hell or simply love me…” Anand chuckled!
“Anand! Stop that! I know what to do”, she replied.
“Love you baby! Take care and be a good girl now.’ Bye”, he said and the line went dead.

There were five more days – Anand was coming and so was Aditi’s first solo exhibition of her paintings beginning. She didn’t say it to Anand. It would be a good surprise for him. There possibly couldn’t be a better timing than this!

  • ******

I
Of passion… Aditi


Ever since she was a kid, Aditi was always in awe for Anand. She preferred calling him just by his name. Anand was Jew’s friend and wasn’t Jew Aditi’s youngest mama (mother’s brother)? Aditi nursed a strong infatuation for Anand even before she understood the ways of the world and of the people. If anyone teased Aditi and asked “So, Aditi, tell us whom would you like to marry when you grow up?” “ANAND” – pat came the reply from her. That was the little Aditi. But strange ways of the heart. There are a few things in life that remain constant. And for Aditi it was Anand. She felt the same always; it was a healthy fixation towards Anand, which she had. So it really didn’t matter if Anand was touching forty, if his hair had a hue of salt and pepper, if his forehead showed signs of receding hairline and if there was another reason for his homecoming.

II
Of ambition… Anand

Anand – a guy any girl would love to take home and show momma and say, “So my choice ain’t that bad, right Maa?!”
Anand, not really flamboyant, you could never call him flashy or loud but there was a certain degree of charisma that made females drool over him! He enjoyed the finer things in life – a game of golf, caviar and champagne! He was the doting son for his parents until the day he decided the ways and means to earn his bread and butter. It took coaxing, persuading, convincing, pleading and off course arguing in great measures for Anand to tell his parents that he wanted to study aeronautics. He wanted to fly, to be a pilot. And it took a dose of emotional blackmailing for Aai (Anand’s mother) to make him vow that he would settle down with the girl whom Aai chose. For Aai wanted her son to study medicine, to be a doctor – to heal a few people if not the whole world. Anand would have done anything at that point of time to get the “green signal” from his parents, especially from Aai. So it really didn’t matter whom Aai chose as his life partner. That was Anand as a young lad – who just wanted to fly. Even now it didn’t matter a lot, for Aditi would always be close to his heart. Things would be the same for them, no matter what. Anand only wished, if Aai could see things the way he did, maybe just once. If Aai could understand what Aditi meant to him, that Aditi wasn’t a disgrace, that Aditi would have made it as his ideal life partner even if she was some fifteen years younger to him. It was a stake Anand had gambled so long ago. Yet it didn’t matter if in the next few days there would be another woman in his life… Saarika!




III
Of dreams… Saarika

Saarika, a simple and happy go lucky soul. She had the fineness to cheer up and make anyone around her happy. She wasn’t or rather she didn’t have the looks of a Cover Girl, yet there was a charm in her. It was her doe like eyes, her dimples and it was the joie de vivre that made her so lovable and admiring. Saarika’s mother and Aai had been friends for a very long time, and it didn’t take much on Aai’s part to do the needful. Saarika was happy – the very thought of being a bride, to be someone’s wife and to spend a lifetime together made her smile almost all the time. And off course she knew Anand. He was senior to her, they didn’t hang around with common friends nor they shared similar interest, yet she knew him… as her mother’s friend’s son… as the guy so many girls swooned over. So it really didn’t matter when her mother accepted Aai’s proposal. And also that once upon a time there was this little girl who said she’d marry Anand when she grows up. It was just a couple of more days. Anand would be hers forever. Anand was after all a nice guy.

  • ******

Five days never seemed so long. It was a Saturday; the curtains would rise at four in the afternoon for Aditi’s exhibition. Anand would arrive at twelve noon. That was as per the flight schedule. She had known his arrival timings so very well. She woke much before than she usually did. She knew she had a long day ahead. She was at the gallery but her mind was not where it should have been. She kept on looking at the watch every now and then. And it was nearly time, Anand would land any moment.
Saarika reached Anand’s place quite early. Aai wanted Saarika to be there. She kept on looking at her watch also. And as seconds went by, a sense of exhilaration seemed to build up within. And it was nearly time; Anand would be home any moment.

It was already forty-five minutes past noon. The flight must have had touched down. Yet Anand didn’t call Aditi, the way he did always. Aditi perhaps was assuming… was having pre-conceived notions. The flight must be behind schedule; she hoped because Anand’s cell phone was not responding. It was switched off.
The cell phone was still switched off even after forty-five minutes and Saarika was not tired dialing the ten digits over and over again. Everyone at Aai’s house seemed a bit tense. “Anand would be here any moment”, Saarika kept on telling herself. And then buzzed the telephone. Saarika rushed to take the call. It was a call from the Airline’s Office; and she wished she never had taken the call. Saarika’s dreams were aborted, her dreams died prematurely.
Aditi was wondering what could the reason be. She decided to call up the Airline’s Office to know the status of the flight. As her queries were being answered, Aditi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “There must’ve been some error”, she said to herself.

“One of the worst plane crashes in the recent times…. no survivors…was it a technical fault or was it a human error… a panel formed to probe into the grave accident… the government falls weak against the opposition…. the government would compensate the families of the deceased…the search for the black box is on….”.
The headlines were on the papers… news flashed from the T.V. screens…and blasted from the radio sets.



Aditi looked up at the sky. Though her tears ceased, she was still crying, deep down inside her heart. Tears didn’t matter now. She recalled the way Anand had teased her and had asked her to make the list of grudges she had against him. She had none. She just wanted to surprise Anand with her paintings. But God, she supposed had a surprise for her too. That she would never see Anand, hear his voice and be close to him – ever again.

No, it wasn’t Aditi alone. Wasn’t there Saarika also? If Aditi wasn’t destined to be Anand’s so was Saarika. And nothing really mattered anymore….

“Thanks”, Aditi said, still looking up at the sky. As she walked towards the gallery a placid smile came on her lips…


Interpretation:
Mama: mother’s elder/younger brother
Aai: mother

Posted by incommunicado 21:49 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises people Comments (0)

At Sixes & Sevens

sunny 20 °C

It was the onset of the monsoon. The winter chill was still vibrant and the rays of the sun were mild. The slight drizzle and the mist never let the winter bid adieu. Boon took one thorough look at the room, just in case he had missed anything, for he would not come back again to Kathmandu. He was on his way home, back to Guwahati, back to his roots. As he came out to the streets the rain started as a mild drizzle. The rain Gods were unpredictable as the weather forecast. He would have patted himself on his back if he could, for investing in a pair of gumboots and the raincoat. For these two were as indispensable as a shot of ROXY in the evening to keep the body warm! The roads were covered with sludge and it gave the impression of being like a batter for chocolate pancakes! The mud went up to his ankles. He reached the bus terminus and was trying to locate busses going to Phidim.

Phidim - some hundred of miles from Kathmandu and about 3500 feet above the sea level. It would be Boon's last stopover before his final odyssey. His stopover at Phidim was for the person, who had been his friend, philosopher and guide all the while Boon was in Kathmandu. Now that he was homeward, it would be grossly inhumane if he didn't make it a point to visit Bhim Kai once.

Boon took the window seat and it was a sheer delight to look at the vast canvas of nature. There was freshness all around. The new foliage and the wild exotic flowers were in full bloom. As the bus started climbing uphill, the road became steep and the curves became blind. The bus kept moving slowly in the first gear. On one side of the road were the mountains, which went up so high that it would put any skyscraper to shame. On the other side the valley went so deep, it seemed like a dark hollow. Boon kept his fingers crossed. He didn't look forward to encounter neither a fatal landslide nor the idea of the bus tumbling down the valley seemed adventurous. The winding road felt nauseating. As the road went higher up the altitude Boon felt he could touch the sky. The road below was not visible. Clouds engulfed it. It was like treading on the stairway to Heaven.

Soon it was dark. Strange patterns of nature. There was no twilight in this corner of the world. He never saw the sun set, and often he would joke about it to himself by singing the famous Elton John & George Michael duet "Don't let the sun go down on me"

The roads seemed to straighten out suddenly, no more meandering curves and there were signs of civilization. "ILAM" - the name of the place where the bus finally came to a halt.

"The bus will depart for Phidim tomorrow morning at eight. Please leave your belongings here, it is absolutely safe. You'll find food to eat and a place to stay for the night in every house", announced the bus driver in the local dialect i.e., Nepali and jumped out of the bus. As Boon looked around, he perceived that his co-passengers were not at all astounded unlike himself at this arrangement. They were all forming a queue on the corridor of the bus, waiting for their respective turn to get down. This sudden shift didn't appeal to Boon much. Was it some kind of a joke? But then again, as the old adage goes, "if you cannot beat them, join them", and that's exactly what Boon decided to do. And he really didn't have much to choose either!

As he hopped out of the bus, the cold breeze cut across his face like a sharp knife. Boon was still unsure as to what should he do next, and things became frightfully amusing all around.

Boon saw an assembly of local young girls and they could be not less than sixteen or not more than twenty five years of age. Instantly a cold chill ran down Boon's spine. He reached for his back pocket in his trouser and took out his wallet. He fumbled recklessly to have a look at the ticket. Indeed he had boarded the correct bus. But the current state of affairs and the situation in which he found himself in was quite uncalled-for. He didn't even try to have a faint imagination of what might follow next. And his eyes unthinkingly fell upon a young girl who was standing a few yards away and was looking intently at him. She was not older than eighteen to be precise. She had freckles on her face, her hair neatly piled into a bun. She wore a loose jacket and pajamas and she was approaching Boon. A thin line of perspiration formed on his forehead and he was alert.

"Should I show you a room?" asked the girl in a cold matter of fact way in Nepali.

"ummm Yes, please", was all Boon heard himself saying.

The girl took Boon by his hands and dragged him along the narrow lane. Boon tried his best to keep landmarks, just in case! It was after the third left and the first right turn, that they reached a small house. She showed him in. there was a long corridor and on both sides there were rooms. Boon was lucky! He got the first room on the left, next to the main door. As the girl opened the door and switched on the light, Boon was pleased to find the room clean and tidy. It was a small room; pigeonhole would be appropriate to describe it. It had a small bed with a table next to it. The girl was still standing on the door. Boon smiled at her sheepishly and thanked her. She said nothing and wouldn't walk away either. Boon tried hard to think, to ask her something.

"Dinner?" he questioned, also gesturing with his hands. The girl said something, which Boon deduced meant following the freckled girl again. At the end of the corridor they reached a large hall where many people seated on the floor were eating a hearty meal. Boon too squatted on the floor. The food was served on fresh banana leaves. As he took the first morsel, he realized how hungry he had been. For some moment he completely forgot about the freckled girl who was like a chaperone to him. After having eaten the meal and paying for it at the makeshift counter near the exit, he walked back slowly towards his room. He stretched on the bed for a while. He was exhausted and desperately wanted to retire, to call it a day. But some how he was tense. His thought process was broken by a thud on the door. As he opened the door, it was the freckled girl standing with a register. Now what could that be, he thought to himself. He raised his eyebrows and gave a questioning look. The girl handed the register to him. The register was quite similar to the ones found in hotel, where a guest had to give in the basic details. As he was done with it the girl said, "Twenty five rupees".

"Do I have to pay now?" Boon asked.

"Yes", said the girl, "Everyone leaves early in the morning and it's difficult for us to keep a track of all the guests. So we settle the bills now."

Practical indeed, Boon thought. He made the payment and asked the girl to wake him up at seven in the morning. She nodded and left. Nevertheless sleep was next to impossible, Boon tossed and turned the whole night away.

  • * *

By three in the afternoon the next day Boon reached Phidim. There was never an urge as frantic as it had been to get out of Ilam. Nothing did go wrong. But somehow it gave him the goose pimples.

Phidim - a small hamlet, with a bunch of households and a handful of population. Sheru, Bhim Kai's son and his gang of friends, which included a puppy also, were playing on the front yard of their home. As Boon approached them, Sheru ran inside. Boon stood there for a while. A little later Sheru was back at the front yard with a woman in tow. It was Bhim Kai's wife & Sheru's mother. It had to be; Boon could not guess that wrong.

Boon smiled at her and joined his hands, "Namaste Bhouju! Bhim Kai?"

All Boon could decipher was Bhim Kai had left for Kathmandu that very morning and would not be back before three days! Luckily Bhouju managed a wee-bit of Hindi and Boon was relieved. She also said that Bhim Kai had asked Boon to stay until he got back from Kathmandu. Boon, well he again found himself in a state of affairs where he didn't have too many options and didn't have much to choose either.

He was showed the room, which was arranged for him. He kept his bags and went to the kitchen to get some hot water to freshen up. Bhouju was cooking. Before he could put down his request for some hot water, Bhouju asked him to sit and handed him a plate of rice with some boiled vegetables and pickles. Boon glanced at his watch. It was little seconds past four thirty. Was he being served lunch? or was it high tea? or was it actually dinner? He didn't have the energy to tax his brains any further and began eating. Bhouju asked if he wanted a second helping. Boon courteously declined the offer; Bhouju asked him, "What time should I wake you up tomorrow morning?" So Boon finally had the puzzle solved. He indeed was having his dinner!

Having done with his "early" dinner, Boon came out to the community center. He was looking for a shop to buy some cigarettes. Yes, finding a shop wasn't an enormous task, but then again, like everything else, he still didn't have much of a choice. Here they sold only one brand KHUKREE - a pack of nine costs just five bucks! Boon lit one and it took a single drag to make a solemn vow that he would not touch cigarettes ever again, or maybe as long as he was in Phidim! A single drag and Boon felt he was sucking smoke straight out form a chimney!

KHUKREE and ROXY surely were not meant for souls like him he thought. Like KHUKREE, it took just a shot of the intense spirit ROXY to make Boon promise to himself that he would not touch alcohol again. But the stinging winters, which he spent in Kathmandu, made him have the spirit to keep him warm. So every time he guzzled some ROXY he'd assure himself that he was having it solely for the medicinal benefits! And Phidim was no better though winters had been long gone. It was still cold and there was no other alternative other than ROXY!

Boon knew the early dinner, which he had just had, wouldn't suffice him for the entire night. As he walked along the line of shops, he came across a small shack and a smile came on his face. It was the smell of the food that made him happy. He went inside and saw an old woman sitting by the stove, busy making seyal rotis. And how much Boon freaked on seyal roti and khasi ko mungso. So things were not that bad after all, Boon mused! And it wouldn't matter at what hour of the day Bhouju served dinner to him, for he found a place where he could gorge.

Boon went inside the grimy little shack. He asked for a plate of his favourite food and sat on one of the benches. The old woman though had wrinkles and slouched looked to some extent cute. She walked slowly but with steady steps. As she kept the plate in front of Boon, she exclaimed in surprise. Boon was surprised too. He didn't really want himself at the wrong place again. The old woman called him by some other name, which Boon could not comprehend at all. The few other men who were seated on the other benches gave Boon a distrustful look. Boon felt trapped again. He didn't understand what made the old woman behave the way she was behaving and the gaze from those men made Boon feel as if he was a fugitive! She was talking to him frenetically. She was in a state of near hysteria. Boon tried to calm her down. She insisted that she'd feed him at least one mouthful. Boon felt awkward at this uncalled-for adulation and at the same time he felt scared too. He was cursing his journey, right from its inception. His urge to get of that shack was as frantic as it was to get out of Ilam the previous night. It took sometime for the old woman to get back to her sanity. She sat opposite Boon and kept on watching him as he ate. He swallowed the food as fast as he could. He couldn't feel the taste of what he was eating. He just wanted to get out of that place. As he got ready to leave, the old woman would not accept money from him and would not let him leave either. She started weeping.

"What the hell is wrong with me?" he said to himself under his breath. And in a state of affairs where he found himself now, if he were given to choose either the devil or the deep sea, he'd surely say BOTH!!!

Boon suddenly felt sorry for the old woman. The tears, which trickled down her cheeks and the ache, which showed in her eyes were as deepest and honest like the tears in a baby's eyes.

He asked her, "ke bhoyo?"

The old woman began narrating her woeful story. The old woman had a son who bore a resemblance to Boon. Her son was in the company of wrong friends and he died very young and for an overdose of opium. When she saw Boon she felt her own son had come back, it seemed to her that God had answered her prayers. She then smiled feebly at Boon and said, ""and I realized, you are not my son, nor had God answered my prayers"."

Boon felt sorry for the old woman. He told her that he was in Phidim for at least three more days and that he would visit her again. Finally the old woman let him go.

The three days, which Boon spent, waiting for Bhim Kai went away swiftly, like the gentle wind that kept blowing in Phidim almost every minute. Boon played with Sheru and his friends, would chat with Bhouju and visit the old woman everyday.

Bhim Kai arrived on the evening of the third day, and in the some corner of his heart, Boon wished his stay could have been stretched a bit longer. Funny! How desperate he was to get out of this place?how much he had cursed his entire journey, and now when the time came to move on, he wished he could stay back.

It has been more than a decade now. How much Boon had promised Bhim Kai, Bhouju and off course the old woman that he'd visit them again. And wasn't Boon supposed to light the pyre of the old lady?

Life and its idiosyncrasies! Promises are perhaps the hardest to keep.

Interpretations:

Bhouju: a term used to address one's elder brother's wife. Kai: elder brother. Ke bhoyo?: what happened? Khasi ko mungso: a traditional mutton curry Khukree: Local brand of cigarettes Namaste: a way of greeting Roxy: Local wine Seyal roti: kind of chapatti/roti made from finely grinded rice.

Posted by incommunicado 06:57 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains people backpacking Comments (3)

Time Travel

Mishmash of sorts...

A grueling month this has been.
The month of May seems never-ending.
Another eight days to go.
And I wish it goes away soon.
Samsara or Khorwa as the Tibetans term it,
is all about the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth or reincarnation.
So it’s a continuous process.
You go up; you come down, the ladder of life .
And when you are up, when you see the sun shining brightly on you,
you wear your shades, but then you still like it.
You like the brightness.
Everyone around you seems to be as happy as you are.
They might not be but do you care?
Really care to know what they are going through?
As long as you are happy… you feel the whole world is too…
singing that happy song like the way you do.
But then this is not always the case.
Just flip the page my friend.
Just that one page and you may find a different story altogether.

Posted by incommunicado 09:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

DEAD IF YOU’RE SCARED

snow -6 °C
View The mountain trails on incommunicado's travel map.

On that full moon night, when I was in Sandakphu, things were not the way usually it is.
We had a whole log hut to ourselves. Well almost, if the two men from Veitnam had not occupied the fourth room. Ours was in the middle of the three rooms. As you entered the cottage, the first room on the right was for Amar and Tshering. The next was ours and the third was occupied by the other three girls and the guy. The room opposite us was the one taken by the Vietnamese. Next to their room were the washrooms. Between the fourth room and the washroom there was a staircase which led to a mezzanine floor. Once or twice I did look up the stairs and the locked door. My guesstimate said “it might be the owner’s room.”
The first thing me and my roomie decided when we entered the room was to join both the beds before we sleep. We knew by night the temperature would drop beyond what our bodies are normally used to and the two quilts each we had at our disposal would not keep us warm enough.
In hills dinner is always served early, or to re-phrase, in hills the day starts early and people winds up early too. After dinner as we walked back to our cottage, Amar, our guide, gave us one final briefing before we’d embark on our final trek the next morning. And once we were done with the “briefing”, Amar asked Dipanjali and me if we’d care to join him for a chit chat before we retire for the night. It was still early to call it a day by our standards and we happily agreed to this deal. Our chit chat session had just reached its pinnacle when Tshering entered the room with two jugs of hot water and regretfully said pointing to his watch, “Ma’am, its time for bed. It’s already nine. The generators will be switched off in another fifteen minutes.”
Both Dipanjali and I were nonchalant, paid a little attention to what our Sherpa has just said and grabbed the hot water jugs like kids snatching their favourite toys and tried warming our hands. Tshering meant “business” with his sermon and we knew we had to cut short our great “adda” and proceed for a good night’s sleep.
As we exchanged “Good nights” Amar asked us to wait for a minute and was fumbling for something inside his first aid kit. He took out two pills and asked both of us to pop it.
“What’s this for Amar?” I asked.
“Alprazolam”, he said. “Have it. Tomorrow will be a long day’s trek and you girls are having problem with your sleep. This will de-stress you and you will be able to sleep”, he further added.
Yes, we both did not have a proper sleep since the time we embarked on this journey and we were happy that at last our guide finally gave us something to make us rest. Amar is usually a non-believer in sedatives and pain relievers.
We popped the pills and went to our room. We looked at each other and it was understood that now both of us were not in a mood to shift the table and join the beds – a deal we both had agreed when we first arrived Sandakphu.
Also we had this thing in our mind that soon the pill will work wonders and we will be fast asleep, so why bother with this chore of moving furniture?
But if truth be told, I could not get a wink of sleep the whole night. I tossed from one side to another, but it did not help. I don’t know how long I kept tossing and turning. Suddenly I heard sharp cries of a baby. You know a small baby – an infant crying out sharply because of some discomfort. It seemed the cry came from outside. I wondered who could be out there in this extreme cold and strong wind with a baby in hand. But the cries would not stop. It continued for quite a while. Fifteen minutes maybe, or maybe more. I was cold. I had covered myself entirely with the quilt, just keeping enough room to let some fresh air come in for me to breathe. Though it was a full moon night, it seemed pith dark and sinister. And I tried trying to keep my thoughts sane and not let any wrong feelings and thoughts get better off me. The more I tried to evade it, the more closer I could feel the cries. At one point I felt the baby was crying in the corridor. I did my best to shut my ears. And then it was gone. There was pin droop silence, except for the roaring winds outside. I somehow managed to take my headlamp, lit it and focused towards Dipanjali. She too was fully covered with her quilt and I thought she was in a deep slumber. I desperately wanted to knock on Amar’s door and ask either him or Tshering to come and sleep in our room. But then was I thinking too much? Was I behaving like a lunatic?
And then I heard footsteps in the corridor, it was crystal clear, similar to the sound of a tennis ball bouncing on a wooden floor. I had a sigh of relief. I said to myself, “So this must be the owner who has a baby and has come to the room upstairs.”
I tried to sleep with this positive thought in mind but yet I failed miserably.
A faint knock on the door – thump thump thump – stop and thump thump thump again; akin to a sound you’d hear if you knock someone’s door with a coin or with a ring you’re wearing in one of your fingers. I again consoled myself, “it must be the winds, that’s what is making the door thud.”
As I tried to sleep yet one more time, I tried playing a small game. I could hear Dipanjali breathing in and out and I tried breathing in when she breathed out. I thought maybe this would be equivalent to counting sheep to lull me to sleep. But I was wrong. To add more miseries to my state of wakefulness, I felt a third person breathing in and out and that too with a blocked nose. I again tried to shrug off this feeling. Maybe it was one of the girls or the guy snoring in the next room; it was after all just a thin wooden plank that divided the room.
Soon it was time to get up. Dipanjali shook me by my shoulders and I saw Amar too. “Come outside to catch the rising sun and get both the cameras”, he said and walked away. I was still groggy and unsteady. As I walked outside in that cold, I told Dipanjali, “I could not get a wink of sleep.”
“Same here”, she replied.
“What?” I asked her. I further said, “I did check you once but you were all covered up and I thought it’d be rude to wake you up. Tell me the pill did not work?”
“It did not work”, she said.
She looked hesitant and then asked me, “Nandini, did you hear a baby cry at night and someone walking in the corridor?”
“I did’, I said. And then I gave her my logic. I told her, it must have been the owner of the cottage.
And then she further asked, “Did you hear the knocks in our door?”
I again nodded in affirmation and explained her logic number two – the roaring winds must have made the door go thump thump thump.
“But there is no way from where the winds could come in. The whole cottage has glasses which are fully intact”, she said.
I knew. I knew what she meant. But I was trying to be logical.
The sun rose and it was the most picturesque thing I have ever seen with my eyes. It’s something to be felt and experienced.
As I was taking pictures, I saw Amar a few steps away. I walked towards him and asked, “Tell me did you hear a baby cry?”
“Did you?” he asked back.
“Yes we both did” I told him.
“So the pills I gave you were of no use? You did not sleep?” he asked.
I was perplexed. I wanted clear answers.
Amar, shaking his head from one side to the other looked at me and then at Tshering and said, “So you felt her?”
I was still clueless. It was cold and I was in no mood for jokes and I wanted straight and simple answers.
“Strange things happen in this cottage. Believe it or not. I did not say anything earlier because if nothing spooky occurred you girls would be still scared to sleep. So I gave you the pills. Just in case, just to make sure you girls would sleep soundly”, Amar explained.
“How do you know? How can you be so sure?” both Dipanjali and I asked him.
“Well, I have had spooky encounters myself earlier when I was here”, he said and did not care if we believed him or not.
We looked at each other. It was like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle. Maybe it was a hallucination… an optical illusion. Whatever the case it was we did not speak much about it.
As we walked towards the room, I was feeling uneasy. There were uncertainties. How could two people have the same feelings? How could the sedative not work on both of us. It was too much for me to comprehend at that time. For we had a long day and we had to get ready at the earliest. These things could wait.
As a rule drinking plenty of water is mandatory, especially when you’re trekking. Dipanjali reached for the jug of water, the same one Tshering had filled in with hot water for us the night earlier and we used it as hot water bags. The water we knew obviously would be cold by now. As she tired pouring the water in a glass, not a drop came out. She opened the jug and gave out a cry.
“Nandini, did you gulp the whole jug of water during the night?” she asked.
“Crazy are you?” I asked her back.
“Even I did not have a drop of water”, she told me. And also added, “but look at this”, she showed me the opened jug. It was empty and was completely dry. It seemed the jug had not been used for days.
We asked the other four if they heard the cries of a baby, or the footsteps or if there were knocks on their door. But none of them heard.
Dipanjali and I looked into each other. And we were scared. We did not discuss the matter, until we were inside the safe confines of our home.

The only times I’ve been terror stricken was while watching movies like The Blair Witch Project, The Paranormal Activity series and a handful of Bollywood horror flicks. I never believed paranormal activities happened in real life until I encountered a of them myself! The first few I can give a miss – much like scientists says – it might be a case of hallucination or optical illusion, though there are chances something was downright spooky….

Posted by incommunicado 11:45 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains trekking backpacking Comments (0)

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