A Nurturer of Small-time Liberality

I vividly remember a full moon night in the lower Himalayan hills. Some moments have deeper roots in our memory. A full moon brightly smiles through a gap in the chir pine forest. It looks like a bright lamp with milky light. The crickets and other insects jingle as the foot-soldiers of the night and the mountain wind sweetly sighs among the pine needles to raise a signature tune of Mother Nature’s unbound hilarity. The moonlight filters through the pine needles and showers me with a fine drizzle of light as I stand under the whistling, moaning pines and look into the sky.

My memory is redolent with those solitary walks in the early morning forest. In early October the hills have many wild flowers. They smile in the solitary corners and greet you as you pass unhurriedly. The light purple of delicate Four-o’-clock flowers smiles by a little stream accosting me to stop for a few moments. These small wild flowers lie in unwearied wait for some solitary walker to arrive by the overgrown footpath circuiting around the hills.

The fragrant flowers affectionately named Old Man’s Beard deck up the hillside like a shy mountain lass to gift their rare smile to anyone who loves walking all alone on the unbeaten paths. It’s basically a non-predatory creeper-cum-bush that moves up with the support of the host tree. Its hold on the host isn’t too demanding. It needs a kind of support only. The malodorous white spikes of the bulbous flowers dangle as a beautiful tree decoration on the hillside. Here the fragrant, flowering creeper is hosted by a Beleric tree (Baheda). In the dew-crowned morning wilderness, they turn the fresh air scented to the intoxicating limits for many meters around the tree. The rising mist carries the lovely smell to me as I slowly come across the bend and see the white smiles at a distance.

Keep your eyes on the ground and you receive the smiles of the purple blue of Ivy-leafed morning glory. Their tiny smiles among the dew-laden grass ask you to take a pause and stand for a while or maybe even sit down and absorb the solitude to the limits. These wild flowers are the gifts of wilderness for anyone who has the time and inclination to go down the bylanes that aren’t trampled under the wheels of development.

And when the sunrays arrive to kiss the morning mists of a little valley, the wild fragrance of life and living blossoms up suddenly. It’s intoxicating to the thirsty soul. The highest high that no other substance can give!

Some real-life moments are better than even the beautiful-most dreams. Maybe the reality drives our dreams or possibly even the dreams shape our realities. Beautiful people in your life have the capacity to change your reality to the extent of a still more beautiful dream. My friend Rohtash stayed in the hills and smiled a lot. Just staying in the hills gave his life a satisfactory meaning. His kind heart was never short of feelings that would enable him to share his little paradise with his friends. He felt the immensity of nature around and had literally become a free agent who helped people take their share of the natural booty. He knew my solitary loiterer’s ways and felt at his happiest best in hosting my stays in the hills. He sustained a system that allowed me the best moments of solitary stays in the hills. Thank you so much brother! Then he left us suddenly. All of us have our share of Covid-time losses. We lost him. Death seems too cruel in some cases. She was too hasty. Now in the plains, I have such vivid dreams of those beautiful days. If you have teary smile of gratitude and love for someone who has completed his journey, like I have now for him, that is the hallmark of a life well lived. Stay in peace my friend, my brother!

Reality shakes us out of our slumberous, cosy dreams. I am roused now by a loud barrage of firecrackers. It sounds as if the locality is under a fierce assault. They are the children celebrating Diwali during the day, a full month in advance.

Alcoholism has almost chucked out the prospects of two families in the neighbourhood. Unbridled quarrels and intra-family cruelty make it both nightmare and daymare with equal lethality. The women have grown hysteric and shrill and the children have lost their smiles—they snigger profusely—as the menfolk behave at their worst after losing control to the cheap liquor.

However, a road passing the farmlands around the village has brought back at least the children’s smiles. Their land is acquired by the road department and the reimbursement has aggravated the agonies and ecstasies both. The men drink more, shout more and have the extra push to turn the quarrels all-night affairs now. They probably sleep through the day to recuperate for the night duty.

The children have taken up the responsibility during the day. Diwali is more than a month away but now they have money to go fire-cracking throughout the day almost nonstop. They prefer the loudest crackers that would perhaps even break someone’s wall some day. After the bone-shaking bust and boom, they cackle with loud peals of laughter. Their childhood hasn’t blossomed. They hardly had enough pocket money to celebrate the festivals. Now when there is money they are celebrating full throttle, making up for the lost fancies of childhood, perhaps. Their riotous firecrackers test the capacity of eardrums though. But at least the monkeys have run away for the time being. They must be thinking that they are under attack by the human army of children.

Well, it’s advisable to bear up with anything for the sake of scaring away the chronically nagging simians. It’s another matter that more bottles of liquor and more packets of firecrackers will burn out the celebration too fast, sizzling across the lifeline of finance. In any case, the fresh arrival of easy money has turned their lives happening in many ways.

Alcoholism is one of the biggest revenue churners for the government. The alcoholics pay their taxes really well with each and every bottle they purchase. With this big payment they ensure that the government won’t interfere while the evil effects of the addiction take not only a family but the overall society in its grip. It’s a living death for so many households. The liquor holds so many fates in its bottle.

In a society blasted by the scourge of alcoholism, there are so many daily episodes that fall on the wrong side of the law. A quail is shouting pakadleopakadleopakadleo—catch-catch-catch—as if urging the police to grasp the wrongdoers. Sturdy clumps of grass, bushes and weeds have filled up the space among the trees and houses in the village during this rainy season. The quail too left the boring countryside and comes here to witness the drama of human life. It has plenty of underbushes to hide after raising the alarm.

Rashe is knocking at the gate. The sound beats the firecrackers in tenacity. I have to run. The gate is too old for his big fists. He is broad, muscular and grins widely. He may use the same spirit to uproot the rickety iron gate. His is a slurred speech as his lower jaw is almost immobile, being hit hard by a horse’s leg as he crawled to play with it as an infant. But the shortcoming of his spittly words is covered by his huge grin. The God has been very lenient with his teething. His majestic set of yellow teeth would bite a horse to death if the animal hits him now.

He was born on a musty evening twilight as his mother was walking home from the agricultural farms. She calmly sat by the countryside dirt road and delivered Rashe to this world without much qualms. It was already pitch dark when a farmer informed the family about the new arrival. Rashe and his mother were taken home in a tonga and were absolutely fine with no issues at all. The horse snorted as the cart lurched on the dirt road. This was the same horse that would give Rashe a distinct speech after a year or so.

Presently, he has borrowed a carrier rickshaw for a task that has been proposed to him. During my barn-cleaning spree, the huge, rusted set of chaff-cutting machine stood quite menacingly. It has stood idle for the last decade since Ma stopped keeping a buffalo. A friend has a still operating barn with cattle. The chaff-cutter would give a better look there, thinking so I sought Rashe’s services to carry the rusted iron behemoth and deliver my gift at my friend’s place. But Rashe doesn’t work for money. He works for the cheap native liquor. Give him the money that would fetch him ten bottles of imported English liquor and he will frown and give an expression as if he has been exploited to the limits possible. Give him a single bottle of desi daroo and he grins happily to the capacity of his copious mouth.

I find it advisable to make him joyful on the spot. This much practicality I have learnt on the path of survival in this world. He rolls over the cheap bottle with care and consideration befitting a million-dollar item and mindfully puts it in his cloth bag. Being so happy now, the weight of the heavy iron instrument has no meaning. I just have to watch from a safe distance. The dismembered parts of the machine are tamed and convey their goodbye from the lurching rickshaw carrier as he moves away. One more thing, he never walks in a hurry. Even if there is fire in the village, he would be the last one to come out at his natural easy pace.

There is a ceasefire among the fire-cracking armies for the last couple of hours. The monkeys take the opportunity to flit around the dangerous fronts. But their spirits seem to have been sodden with water. Two adolescent rascals, the rowdiest in the group who spend most of their time cable-walking, have got grounded. The perch on a cable isn’t advisable if there are blasts around. They may lose balance and the red bum may turn redder as a consequence. The two partners in many a crime are sitting sullen under the neem tree in front of a house. A sad monkey looks even funnier. They are so dejected and disheartened as not to mind even a lad kind of rapidly growing puppy joining their company. The puppy is careful and avoids barking. Possibly he remembers the slaps the monkeys give to his species at regular intervals. He stands a few feet away and respectfully wags his tail with a look of compliance. The unrelenting firecrackers have stabbed the simian spirits quite deeply. They look the other way. The puppy comes nearer, hesitatingly, wagging its tail in full acknowledgement of their superiority. They allow it to stand near them and don’t hold its ear or pull its tail or slap it. Well-behaved monkeys, what is this world coming to!? I hope the earth won’t crash out of its orbit today.

There is something wrong with the climate now. There have been plenty of rains till September end but the musty heat is so vehement in its intensity as to beat even the hot months of June and July. One feels like being thrown into a cauldron of boiling water. Well, we have to do something and avoid being boiled alive on earth. I think now is the time to take tree plantation very seriously. We can’t just expect the government to do all the work. Individually we have to take our little steps to undo the common crimes we have committed against Mother Nature as a species.

If we plant a few trees and see them to maturity, I think we undo a portion of our individual carbon footprint. During the rainy season, many trees have their baby sprouts around them. I carefully pick out some of them and groom them in nursery bags. Once they grow to be lads and lasses after regular care, I plant them to grow to be gentlemen trees and ladies in the fallow land around the village. Many of them are eaten by the goats and buffalos. That is painful. But a few have grown to give shade on the ground and nesting to birds among their branches. And that takes away all the pain. Please plant trees and ensure that they survive to give shade, fruit and nesting space to the birds.