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Hand in hand for eternity

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dad's Diary 12 - Himalayan Caprice

Darjeeling is one of those inscrutably inimitable Himalayan resorts that defies satisfactory description in its totality. Fond memories of these daunting hills of abundant greenery blossom like a hundred-petaled marigold of multi-color hues.

Old bungalows mostly in picturesque remote areas that were built by the colonial British rulers occupy a place of pride in its history. Electricity was not available for these bungalows then, and for many decades later  many such bungalows remained out of bounds for power companies to maintain the old ambiance.

One such bungalow is Lepcha Jagat.  A wooden bungalow with sloping corrugated iron roof right in the midst of a dense forest of oak, rhododendron, pines and other Himalayan flora, and no electricity.

Often obstinate rain accompanied by strong wind collecting sighs, whistles and drum beats from the hill slopes embrace the bungalow, wind swept foliage paste shifting shadows on every conceivable medium. Stand out in the veranda for a couple of minutes; with a cold chill running down the spine you may even regret that once you were chary about believing in the woes of a tap dancing ghost. But this one's not a ghost story.

In 1940s, a senior British official visited the Lepcha Jagat bungalow with his pregnant wife. They could not return home without experiencing a rare Himalayan view that the bungalow was famous for.

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On a clear day one could have a bird's eye-view of the then three Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim lying side by side on a huge idyllic expanse with the snow-capped Kanchendzonga, the highest mountain in India, and third highest in the world at 8,586 meters, dwarfing everything else. At night twinkling electricity bulbs in the kingdoms gave the appearance of the sky having come down on them. This was reason enough for the British couple to reserve the bungalow for three days.

It drizzled lightly when they arrived. By night fall fog invaded the bungalow and the surrounding forest, and then soared high and kissed the low hanging black canopy of cloud. One could not distinguish where the fog bank ended and cloud bank began. Hail storm reigned the next day. Open spaces went under a carpet of white stones. The third day was no better.

Tired and disappointed, the visitors decided to give up. The official asked for the voluminous guest book, and recorded his experience. With a heavy heart and a sigh he mentioned, “It's raining even as I am leaving.”

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The capricious Himalayan weather continued to bless some and curse others. Some bantered that the bungalow actually existed in a cloud castle, and there was nothing but rain - right, left and center. Many doubted whether it was the opposite of the fictional utopia called Shangril-La.

Much water had flown down the river Tista, two decades after India gained independence from the colonial rulers in 1947, a young foreigner went almost mad laughing in one of the worst spells of rain and hailstorm for several days at Lepcha Jagat. On his day of departure, he asked for the guest book. He marked out an earlier page by its number, and wrote, “Father, it's still raining.”   


Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It was one of those days when chores seem a pile of mountains - relentless and unforgiving. Since screaming was not an option either, I headed out to get some cigarettes. Little did I know what that trip had in store for me.

I drove to the store and parked my car on the closest space that was available. Somehow, soon after that, an eerie feeling dawned on me - A feeling of not only being watched but inspected through and through. Needless to say, that this was not doing any good to my already havocked senses. I got out – my furrowed brows met the day and with it a strange man with a set of totally crazed deep eyes.

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He looked at me and smiled knowingly. A whiff of filth passed through his parted lips. He had come way too close for a stranger. Alarmed I stepped back and tried to look warningly at him – but my face gave me away – I was petrified. His blood shot eyes pierced my very being. And all he said were three words before he turned around and went away – “You are pregnant”.

His retracing of steps flooded me with a sense of relief that I had never known before. A crazed man, talking gibberish and ruining my already ruined day. I pushed the thought at the back of my head and carried on with trembling legs towards Rite Aid. The urgency of a smoke even more now.

Once inside the store though – I just couldn’t get myself to feed my craving. The words of the man echoed in my ears till my head felt like it was going to explode. I bought a pregnancy test instead.  The 3 minutes in which it would decide my fate is worth the money and the hesitation. A “positive” or a “negative” would mean a subsequent no or yes for the smoke I intended to enjoy.

I used the Rite Aid washroom and then enjoyed my cigarette later. But I can never forget that man. There was way too much conviction in his voice. I cannot help but wonder whether he meant something else or whether the pregnant he meant was metaphorical. Funny how I never saw him after that day and had never seen him earlier in the neighborhood! Funny how everybody else around was sure they had never seen anyone like him before.

That day did something to me. I cannot put my finger on it – but that man was not lying – he was a messenger - only I could not decipher his message. Two days later – I was in the hospital donating blood for a new born who needed red blood cells. The doctor told me that my blood gave her new life.  That man’s face somehow haunted me all day that day….

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dad's Diary 11 - Ghostly accents : )

Darjeeling was built up by the British colonial rulers as a hill station for convalescing army men who could not be sent back home across the oceans. Very British bungalows were constructed in remote and hardly accessible areas to provide the officers peace and quiet.
Take for example the hamlet of Lava saying 'Hey' eloquently  to tourists traveling in between Kalimpong and the Dooars. There right in the midst of a sprawling hill expanse is a bungalow where two female ghosts, one Indian and the other British, lamented audibly at night in two different nasal accents.

The village headman had to make an on the spot investigation. He spent an uncomfortable night in the bungalow, and decided to return accompanied by the Indian counterpart of an exorcist. Equipped with a broomstick and a bucket of Mantra-fortified water, the exorcist could reduce the two nasal accents to one; the Indian female ghost apparently accepted the plea to look for new haunting ground under threats of hellish banishment.

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Here is what the exorcist had  to report: “The English lady, Jane, says she was killed by her husband so as to marry her sister. All she wants is an apology from the husband-sister duo before she can rest in peace. Both of them had escaped back home to England where they died in a car crash, but she could not locate them anywhere in her part of the world. So she is waiting for them to come to her.”

There was no way to get rid of her, the exorcist added, she hated haunting people but could not help weeping at times and practicing tap dance, which was her passion both in life and beyond. If people felt disturbed, it was their problem. The exorcist refused to exert any more pressure claiming that they had become friends. Even the headman's threat of taking action against the 'female ghost-corrupted exorcist' failed to yield any result.

Some spirited inducements loosened his tongue, and the village headman agreed to finish the tale: The exorcist received urgent telepathic summons one night from his ghost-friend to come right over to the bungalow. The bungalow was unusually calm – no sound of weeping or tap dance. Flickering candle lights and hushed conversations proved that one of the rooms was occupied.

The exorcist silently went up to the upper floor where she was waiting. She was furious. “The Indian bitch you got rid off is a lying bitch too,” she fumed. She was the one who informed her about the London car crash in which the husband-sister duo were supposed to have died. “The scoundrels” were alive, and right here occupying a room in the floor below.

The exorcist knew that a scorned woman was potentially dangerous; a scorned female ghost could be altogether fatal. He agreed to be a co-conspirator to help Jane avenge herself. The exorcist went out of the bungalow to make some preparations.

On his return he explained to the couple that all they needed to do was to say sorry touching the white boulder by the side of the road leading to the top of the hill. Perhaps this would also lessen the burden of guilt they were carrying on their shoulders. Moreover, he could transfer some of his special powers to Jane who would then be equipped to unleash her wrath in the most diabolical manner.

The couple approached the familiar white boulder with much trepidation. They sat on their haunches, bent forward and placed their palms on it. The exorcist who had earlier loosened the boulder now gave it a powerful push. The boulder was followed by two bodies over the precipice down into the deep gorge. That night Jane tap danced for the last time. But the lamentations still continued; this time two nasal tones, one male and one female, both in English accent were often heard.