Winter… In The Mountains
Winter… In The Mountains. After living for 30 years in Mumbai, Pamela Chatterjee succumbed to the call of the mountains where she had spent her early...
After living for 30 years in Mumbai, Pamela Chatterjee succumbed to the call of the mountains where she had spent her early years. So she decided to return and now lives in a village in Kumaon, Uttaranchal. Her book has recorded life in this Himalayan pocket as the seasons changed and gives glimpses of the great natural beauty of the region but the difficult lives of the people who live there
The valley and the surrounding hills are barely discernible through the billowing mist. But now, like a candle lit by an invisible hand, there is a glow of soft-hued pink on Trishul, which stands out above the shadowy range. As the sun climbs up from behind the eastern range, the pink deepens into crimson and spills over the snow-clad mountains, which are aglow from end to end, from Chaukhama to Pachchuli.
The mist melts away like candyfloss, and the houses take shape. The green carpet now changed to brown for the winter is on display in the fields. The trees, sharp and clear, with bared arms, stand guarding the regal mountains in the horizon.
When the world before me can regain itself in just a few minutes, who do I harbour lingering shadows?
In the morning light, the tall pine looks commanding and stately, even though women, in their desperate need for firewood, had climbed the sixty-five-foot tree and hacked its branches off, leaving only a small, unbalanced crown of leaves, just enough to allow it to breathe. As the sun lights up the surrounding ranges, the tree is obscured in the glare and seems to withdraw and merge into the hillside. And when the women come with their scythes in search of wood, they pass it by without giving a second look at its shorn and inconspicuous presence.
But at dawn, when the first rays of the sun touch the spur, once again the imposing pine comes into its own and draws attention with its sharp, clear lines etched against the dark hills.
The people from Danpur, in the higher ranges of Kumaon, have for generations woven mats from ringal grass – a type of bamboo that grows in dense clumps in the area. The intricate close-knit weave is from selected long rushes that can be woven without any knots, so that the strength and beauty of the mats is enhanced.
Even poor farmers invest in these, because they know they will be able to use them for a lifetime. They have a long-standing relationship with the Danpur farmers and welcome them into their homes when they come down from the mountains. The beautiful crafts they make with simple tools are much admired, and their dedication to maintain the purity of their tradition is inspiring. …
There is electricity in most of the village, but it is whimsical, and there could be hours, and sometimes even days, without any electricity. But people know that they can rely on the sun for light and warmth. As it moves up on the horizon, it sends early morning rays to Tara Dutt’s house and then to Vijay Joshi’s and Puran Negi’s; from one ridge to the next, one house after another catches its warmth.
Everybody knows just when to expect it and each home opens its doors as it arrives. They know that it comes late in winter, early in spring and is wayward during the monsoon, but they know that it will come.
No amount of persuasion could make the women learn to read or write. They said that all their lives they had learnt only to take care of their families and their cattle, cut grass and collect firewood, and that was all they needed to survive.
Nand Bahadur has few possessions, and even necessities like a kettle for tea, a bucket for a bath, and often the oil for the small lamp, are borrowed from neighbours. On days when Nand Bahadur does not find employment, he borrows money for the day’s rations for the family. His wife, Mamta Devi, though pregnant, supplements their income by helping farmers in the fields with weeding, hoeing and carrying heavy baskets of manure for the crops. Indra, their daughter, who is six years old, manages her younger brother, but sometimes they fight and scream and disturb the whole neighbourhood. Mamta returns exhausted from the fields, meets their clamouring demands for attention and cooks the evening meal.
Mamta says that at this age they can deal with hardships, and the children do grow up somehow. But it is important that while she and Nand Bahadur have the capacity to earn they should minimize expenditure, to save for a secure old age.
I do understand their point but it is sad to think that they can have little interest in anything beyond the security of their small, closed world.
Mamta is weeping outside her small room. The clamouring of her children does not distract her, for Nand Bahadur, who has just come back from Nepal, has brought the news that her father has died. She was married when she was seventeen years old and in the eight years since, she had not seen her father. The children, Indra, Pappu and little Laxmi, arrived one after another, so she could not take the long bus journey to Nepal and thereafter a six-hour trek home. The visit was put off each year to wait until the children were older and also when there was sufficient money for gifts for the family. Moreover, she had thought there was time enough, for after all her father, though old, seemed healthy.
She was consoled by the thought that he was well attended in his illness, and was taken to the big hospital and given medicines. But she repeated sadly to herself, ‘Time does not wait for anyone.’