Sunday, February 19, 2012
A quiet afternoon uphill from Rishikesh
Today I walked up the mountain on whose slope I live as a tenant, and passed a waterfall, an ashram, a roadside temple and two villages. The road was broken, dusty, pebbly, and very uneven, but well used by pedestrians, motorcycles and donkeys. I kept going and passed a very tall tree perched fifty feet up a walled embankment, but the roots were hanging over the side, so I saw their intertwinedness. Some of the roots looked independent, some looked locked in with other strands, some were partly embedded into others and looked barely alive. It was impressive.
On the way back I stood and looked at a pastoral scene of green terraces, water buffaloes, rushing streams, and strangely disfigured trees. A young woman looked at me, and said Namaste. I said it back, and gestured to her that I was coming up to her house. The water buffaloes lurched at me, but they were tied up. Apparently, like dogs, you have to get to know them before they ignore you. We talked about things, her house, her animals, and then she introduced me to her uncle and a "friend", and she giggled when she said that. She had beautiful blue green Irish looking eyes, and she was very pretty. She looked old enough to be married, but evidently was not. Her name was Lakshmi and she was twenty-four. The friend, Raju, was also young and kept eyeing her flirtatiously which she didn't really mind, but reacted a bit prudishly, probably for my sake. He asked her to make tea, but I said "no, please sit, you work all day". They were impressed with my Hindi, and laughed and talked to each other quickly in Gahrwali. He told her to make tea again, and she went to make it, so I joined her at the chula, a clay floor stove that is embedded into the ground. She lit up a few sticks of wood and made chai. We came back with three cups. The uncle had disappeared. I found out that Raju had just had an expensive kidney stone operation, and was recuperating, but normally worked as a driver. No one seems to mind forwardness, so I asked if they were going to get married. Lakshmi said no, Raju was just a friend, and that she didn't want to get married because she didn't want children. He said he did want to get married, and he had that kind of look in his eyes, like he would get his way eventually. I told them about Canada, that operations were free, and that people often didn't get married, and even if they did, they didn't have children sometimes. She said everyone was pressuring her to get married.
It was a lazy quiet afternoon, not hot, not cold. Four puppies ran around, while the mother lay exhausted in the middle of the wheat field. The dogs did not belong to the house, they just wouldn't go away. Lakshmi asked me to come to Shivaratri the next day, so I said I would think about it. It's a very important holy day, but I don't know a whole lot about it. I admired her miniature waterfalls, and told her about water wheels and how she had plenty to produce electricity for the whole village of six seven houses. She was not impressed. I asked her about the disfigured trees, and she explained that they chop the branches off three times a year to feed the buffaloes, and that the greens come back very quickly. They had just had all their branches lopped off bonsai style.
I walked back down the gravel road, and passed all kinds of pretty houses and other terraced farms. I felt lucky to be alive. I felt grateful to have no demons flying about me. The electricity was out, still after two hours. My neighbour, also named Anita, came over and thanks to the gas stove we had a nice long tea on the marble balcony overlooking the mountains of Rishikesh, as the dusk darkened quite slowly. Then it was dark, she left, and I made myself some Maggi Noodles, your basic Ramen package, and ate it by myself with candlelight from the one emergency candle. In all these days here, it was the first time I heard a wall of crickets all around me. It was a good afternoon and sweet dusk.