Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Journey: Not so Ordinary

Jhumlawang: My village,my destination ^^

Chennai:  Two days of continuous walk from headquarter, Musikot, had taken a toll. I was flushed and my breath was ragged. I could feel my heartbeat hammering against my rib. Both my legs were wobbling like rubber and I was drenched in cold sweat.
The steep up-hill climb looked formidable. I gulped and with all my mighty power took another step. My heart pounded, vision blurred and mouth got drier. I challenged myself to take 10 more paces. I failed; I collapsed before I made up to five. 
My father who was few more minutes ahead noticed the laborious struggle. Like superman, within seconds he was by my side. At 60, he picked me up like I was made of feather and ran in the opposite direction like crazy.
In my misery, I had failed to notice the herd of cattle running downhill, towards us!Only after each cow had passed and he had saved me from being possible victim of a stampede did my father put me down on the ground. He looked in my eyes, smiled and said, "A decade in Kathmandu has made my baby 'a city girl'." I could say nothing; my desire to reach home faster was not shared by my body. I was still struggling to stand on my feet. Looking at my pathetic condition, my father knew I’ll never be able to walk home on my own. So, he hired a man to carry me.
I never felt more embarrassed in my whole life. But the trouble with my swollen legs ended and it passed to the man who was carrying me. At seventeen, weighting 50 kg I was quite 'healthy'. So, when asked I replied with my most sincere voice -- 'just 47 kg'.
The man was all bones, sun-tanned and in his 30s. I sat on the newly made bamboo basket that he carried. He had some trouble keeping his balance and with long sigh said, "Must be at least 50 kg." I pretended not to hear. I was trying to focus on keeping myself sane. "What if he trips?" the question kept repeating in my head. But, after some time, I loved the way the snake like trail looked, the sound of birds chirping and the smell of moist-grassy jungle from the basket. I could feel and understand the rhythm of his walk. His pace differed from deep wooded forest to the sheep pastures and the mustard fields. He seemed at ease while walking through some scattered thatched roof villages on the way.
For me it was a nightmare, of course. When villagers saw the 'healthy' looking girl being carried in the basket, elders looked with concern, youths observed with curiosity and children pointed out and asked questions. It was too embarrassing to meet their eyes and hear my father explain. So, I slept in the basket like I used to do when I was a toddler.
After being carried in the basket for 5 hours we were about to reach home. I didn't want others to know about my embarrassing moments so before my village Jhumlawang was in sight, I started walking. After 15 minutes of walking, I was in my mother's arms. As we had reached the gate she had ran to me, eyes filled with tears. She had caught me in her tight bear hug. I felt her shoulder shake time and again.
"Don't cry, mom. I am home," I said.
Her shoulders started shaking more violently and all of a sudden she burst out in a fit of laughter. I guess, my hope of keeping this a secret was already burst. The news of me being carried in a basket had already spread like wild fire.
But, as Maya Angelou says "The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned," I pine for my home. No matter, how many times people ask if I will need any 'assistance or basket' before I plan my trip home, the ache for visiting home remains unabated. 

[Note: when my professor asked me to write about important event in my life, i thought of this and laughed at myself. but, this is one of the most important memories i have with my dad...^^]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Diwali at Home: Memories!

Offerings for my brothers in Chennai hostel!
The smell of burning deeyo, houses colorfully lit, the sound of madal, youths singing bhaileri, firecrackers lighting the sky and sight of my brother's forehead covered in tika with marigold garlands hanging on his neck: these are the precious moments I will miss most this Tihar (Diwali).

The festival of lights – Dipawali, Tihar or Panchak Yama -- is celebrated for five days at home in Nepal. It is considered the second most important festival in the former Hindu kingdom. A festival when the crow, dog, cow and ox are worshipped on each day and in that order, making it an occasion to celebrate the animal. The festival concludes with sisters worshipping their brothers on the fifth day. 

Tika ^^
This year, the festival starts on Sunday when everyone will offer delicacies to the crow, the 'messenger'.  On this day we offer it selroti, meethai and rice on a leaf-plate. Unlike the crows here in Chennai, the ones back home are scared of human beings. So, we keep the plates on the terraces, the food often being eaten away by pigeons if the crows show up late. 

Preparations and offerings: though i ended up
eating all of them myself..:D
The second day is dedicated to man's best friend: dog. Even street dogs, usually kicked and swore upon, are worshipped.  We have a pet dog, Thople, and I never had to go looking for one in the streets. I will miss putting the red tika and garland on my rather reluctant Thople. Though he doesn't have a problem with the tika, he particularly seems to hate the garland.
The third day is all about the cow, called gaai tihar. 

By noon on this day, every cow roaming the  the streets of Kathmandu will be covered in different colours and garlands. The day is usually hectic for women. They have to clean the house and decorate it with flowers. The women make candles and deeyas ready while cooking delicacies for bhaileries and deuseries (group of people who go from home to home dancing and singing). Bhaileries and deuseries get food with money and gifts in return from families.
Yellow colorful caterpillars???
They are tika offered to my brothers. ^^
Why all the trouble on this day? Well, you see money matters and this particular evening is believed to be the night when the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, enters the house. The evening starts with singing and dancing, lighting of firecrackers and burning candles.
From this day, bhaileries and deuseries never know if it's two in the morning or five in the evening; they are always there entertaining the families and neighborhood while drinking and feasting on offered delicacies. And, before leaving, they get their 'dakshina' from the family.
For an agrarian country, ox is important to a Nepali's livelihood. In the villages, if you do not own an ox, you are considered poor - which could be the reason why each of us tries to have at least one ox in the house! So, on the fourth day we worship the ox by painting their horns and body with different natural colours and offer them food. This day in fact goes fast. Deuseries and bhaileries are always on the door and family celebrations see no end. 
The fifth day is special when we offer worship to our brothers for their long life, success and happiness. It is believed that sisters are able to prolong their brother's life from the god of death, Yama Raja, if they worship them on this day with tika and garlands. Brothers in turn give sisters gifts of presents and money.

This time, however, I won't be able to worship my brothers. The first time when there will be no one to eat my home-made delicacies (gravy chicken, aaloo ko achar, salad, selroti, chilleroti, mixed curries) with curd and sweets. I guess I won't be making any either.


[Note: I wrote this article for college paper---to share how differently we celebrate Tihar in Nepal than in Chennai, India. 
It was very difficult to even think of celebrating cherished festival while being far away from my brothers.
A very lonely experience, indeed. I missed my brothers the most on bhaitika unlike any other years.
But, it was one of a kind experience.
Specially, trying to find the ingredients to perform bhaitika in their name. The funniest was to look for walnuts all around the city for hours without success. Then, as an represent, just got some another nuts...:D, there was no way of getting makhmali phul nor sayapatri so just bought with some yellow flower I found in flower market..:P
then, got all the fruits and sweets I like as at the end I was the one to eat anyway...hihi..]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ooty On my Mind!

Chennai, Dec 2011

Bollywood movies and television serials have made Ooty a familiar hillock for Nepalese as well. So, when opportunity came to visit this 'virtually' familiar place I jumped to the idea.   
But, less said the better about my night bus ride from Chennai to Ooty. Twelve hours of motion sickness that started as soon as I got on bus left me totally drained of energy. So, when I got off the bus at Ooty station I was literally swaying and had to hold my friend Bincy to steady myself. However, after a minute or two, the chill in the air did its magic. Few more deep breaths and I immediately felt alive, comfortable, and almost at home. 

Continuous rain for a week, which had stopped the previous day, had left Ooty picture perfect for us. The weather was partly cloudy, through which sun rays were trying to escape and kiss the foggy forests. Morning dew drops were fragilely balanced on shrubs, flowers and a variety of vegetables in the fields. Hills surrounding Ooty market looked like some fairy castles in the clouds as they were protruding out of thick misty layers formed round them. With the muddy, murky and cool air, Ooty had a winterish monsoon feel in November. Something I could relate to Nepal during the months of July and August.

We just had a day to explore Ooty, so we didn't spare a moment. As soon as we left our luggage in the guesthouse Tamijhagam, Udhagamandalam, we headed for Pykara Lake. Our guide/driver Ishwor, who has been in this profession for more than a decade, gave us Ooty's historical background on our way. Driving down a long winding road through eucalyptus and pine forests gave us a sense of romance and made me think of Bollywood movies like Kayamat Se Kayamat Tak, Dil, Akele Hum Akele Tum and Raja Hindustani, whose songs were shot in here. However, the feelings faltered as Ishwor said those plants were planted by colonists uprooting the local vegetation. "It changed the whole forest ecology, with many adverse effects in nature," he added.    

It could be because of the “too perfect and monotonous” look of the pine forest I saw when I took a walk; I didn't feel a sense of awe, mystery or wilderness which I usually got in forests back home. The forest started looking tame with some unwanted artificial touch. Yet, I must say, local women returning home carrying baskets filled with eucalyptus leaves, birds chirping and playful monkeys enjoying their errands made it lively and enjoyable. 

Any complains I had earlier vanished when we entered the Pykara Lake forest area. Protected by the Forest Department, the area is calm, at the same time giving a sense of wildness. Different varieties of trees and vegetations left unmanicured gave a fresh, damp and green-grassy smell to forest. It was all natural, even the machine-boats on the lake felt like they belonged there.    

Situated about 21 km from Ooty on the Ooty-Mysore Road, Pykara Lake was calm, clean and beautiful. It was crowded with mostly domestic tourists who were busy boating, taking pictures and enjoying local food items in the restaurants. But the pristine beauty of the lake overshadowed the crowd, their chattering, even warning signs that said ”beware of monkeys". I felt at peace. 

Pykara Lake made me think of the Fewa Lake at Pokhara. Though it's smaller than Fewa and doesn't have a reflection of the mountains, it gave an aura similar to mystifying greatnesses and beauty. It was reflecting the different shapes and forms of clouds in sky; it looked flawless. I gave up on the idea of boating.

With newfound calmness and happiness, we headed for Pykara falls next. By the road side, there were tea vendors which also sold steamed corns. The milky, young corn's sweetness spiced with red chili and salt was simply mouthwatering. The taste lingered on my tongue all the way to Pykara fall, which was not what I had imagined it would be. When I think of a waterfall, I am thinking of huge masses of white water falling from a hilltop, which usually has me pulling my head back and widening my eyes to look up at its origin. Instead, when I saw a rivulet I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it is a very beautiful place. Clean water flows through small rock cliffs and the sound of running water is soothing. There was a picturesque view that will stick will remain with you forever: small pasture hillocks with some pine forests at the top, old English-styled cottages, vegetable fields and a tea plantation surrounding the settlement, and a pond just below it. This view brought back memories of Dhorpatan, Nepal, through which I had trekked for three days on my way home from Kathmandu. 

Ooty's hills, pasture lands, grassy meadows, pine and eucalyptus forests, vast agricultural fields, small colourful houses and its misty weather reminded me of home. Yet, there was some sense of detachment as well. Different vegetation, protein-producing factories and modern sheep rearing practices were new to me. Going from one shop to another, buying homemade chocolates, made me feel like a tourist. It also felt abnormal when I went to a hillock and there were no snow-capped mountains in sight. 

Then, seeing the sun set behind the hills was something special. Ever since I returned to Chennai, I have been seeing a sun meld into the horizon, a setting that left me feeling like an alien. A sunset in Ooty, on the other hand, made me feel closer to home. So, the Ooty visit, in the end, was like visiting a maternal uncle's home: not exactly at home but near it.