At day break, the pahadi landscape is dotted with red turrets of devi mandirs, sparrows and monkeys, softened white pebble beds and streams, as the bus winds up hills to Dharamshala. The bus to Naddi, is all orange inside. The driver has light eyes and sharp Afghan features, and waits long enough to fill the little bus to the brim before taking off. Among towering boys and homely women, a little schoolgirl climbs in. It is tragic that she has to go to school in a bus filled with holidaying tourists. She has navy blue ribbons in her double braided hair and a look of breathless anxiety on her face. She is tossed and shuffled around near the engine seat of the driver, by huge women in matching knitted sweaters and thick spectacles. She coyly gives in, making place for all the big people around her. She steadily and passively scans every being on the bus, till she has to get off at her stop. I realize that the big women around her, are her teachers, who also get off and make their way to the local school where the bell is just about to ring. As I see winding uphill pathways, I am reminded of Kiarostami’s landscape in ‘Where is my friend’s home?’. Now and then the hills peep out and register their greetings.
Three streets and a junction make up Mcleodganj, the buzz town near Dharamshala. The place does not claim any paths to enlightenment. It seems to have very plainly and readily accepted its role as a hustle zone for spiritual wanderers, searchers and tourists. Its economy is from the traveler. The cafes, food joints, cake shops, and souvenir stalls lining the streets, with wrinkled Tibetan faces, wanderlust hipsters, and maroon clad monks and nuns, turn Little Lhasa into a colorful feluda of textures.
Dalai Lama seems to like yellow windows. The Tantric Buddhas around me effuse with colourful energy, emotion and colour. They are at the same time grotesque and enticing. Twenty one Green Taras stare at you like seductresses beyond your power. The intricate lines from the wall paintings have a life of their own, as a bunch of high school children on excursion, fill the space with their giggles and happy chatter.
The shingles on the roofs of the houses, here, shine and glimmer in the sun, just like the snow peaks in the light of dusk. The flat slabs lie on top of each other ever so re-assuringly and with a confidence that they won’t slide down. They are now a cheerful grey, now a greenish blue, now a dull hue , just like the moods of a day. The Bhagsunag waterfall is a little more than a trickle. The rocks are spotted with maroon, as monks have a little time out in the name of a water ritual.
That evening there is a candle light march, as the monks set out in circles around the main square, in protest of the arrest of fellow Tibetan monks. It is a moment of mixed feelings. One can’t help but feel a certain sense of helplessness and uncertainty, a sad sense of calm in their faces. Suddenly their place in the big scheme of things makes this scene seem a vain moment. They seem too tiny, too fragile, too transient before the mountains looming large all around them. The timelessness of the landscape seems to mute and evaporate the tangible voices of the valley.
Meanwhile, the US president Barrack Obama claims the death of the most powerful threat to the world, Osama, and thereby, turns the world into a spectator of yet another ridiculous unrealistically real event. The glimpses I catch of the ‘world’, now and then, on television screens, in cafes and antique handicraft shops, put my mind in a haze of confusion. So many different worlds existing side by side, parallel, tangentially, intersecting only at moments like these, yet never really part of each other, the conundrum that so many clashing realms could produce, makes me want to retreat into my shell, close my doors certain worlds, and open certain select windows. But one cannot sit in a one windowed closet for long. The breeze has to cross through, and doors have all to be opened before long. Otherwise, the sound of the silence inside can turn more lethal than noise itself.
There is a certain morose joy in the way the people wrap up their shops at sundown. The hustle of the day slowly dies to a deafening silence of abandonment. Few cafes are still abuzz with picture perfect characters , who seem to have been sitting in the same chair reading the same page of the same book since morning, having become subjects of many trigger happy tourist with cameras.
I am an outsider to this place, and I make no attempts at appropriation. I cannot turn the monks into subjects of characterization. They seem to represent a unified whole, embodying a unanimous sentiment and voice. I promise many of the shopkeepers, that I would return the tomorrow, but, then I will never really find my way back to them tomorrow.
Under my new found mango umbrella, I find a new found embrace, a warm hug on a chilly day. By the third day the auto drivers, the bus drivers, the café owners have turned into known faces and names. Waiting at the bus stop for the Naddi bus, I see an old Tibetan woman with her grandson. The boy has a green toy truck in his hands and the grandmother seems lost in him, carrying him around her shoulders and waving at the grandfather who is waiting at the bus stop. I decide to get myself a Tibetan dress stitched, the next time I come here.
Naddi is like the little village from Majidi’s ‘The Color of Paradise’ . The hills look lofty from here. They beckon ever more strongly. Sipping on hot chai, I serenade the peaks, scale the slopes with my eyes and in two hours, mentally scour the whole range. Sitting on the road side curb, watching people turn into vanishing dots, an sense of power assumes you, the high point providing me a panoptical position.
On a lazy afternoon , lying under tall cedars and pine trees, I drift into a reveries and float with an ‘unbearable lightness of being’. The afternoon is unreal. Time seems to have gone amiss. Yellow petals ring with unsung notes of silent hills.
The lightness will soon need an anchor.
Sooner or later, there will always be a bus waiting to take you away.