By: Ganesh Saili
With each passing day, huffing and puffing up Mullingar Hill finds me wondering whether the hills of home have grown taller or is it I who’s shrunk? At times you could blame the wrap-around verandah that has grown around my middle (without any requisite permissions from the authorities either) but go home I must – so, it is easier to swing like a yoyo from left to right and then back from right to left. Of course the slope remains the same but it helps in overcoming the Everests of the Mind.
‘Shall I give you a missed call in the morning?’ asks Guddu Lala who runs a provisions store in Landour bazaar. Poor fellow! He is just trying to be helpful by making me join the brave ones who pant down the road to Jabarkhet on an early morning constitutional. I am afraid it is a bit too early for me. Anyway I know full well that by the time they turn around to go home, they will come to a screeching halt outside Rana Tea-stall for fresh hot pakoras and chai.
Tonight I shall ensure that my phone is switched off!
For many years our next door neighbour was a saffron robed Tibetan lama. One never did ask him for his name and soon everyone started calling him the Laughing Lama. No matter what you said, his reply would always be a deep rumbling laugh. It was so infectious that you too would start laughing. You could tell where he was by the tinkle of his laugh right up to the dark day in the deep of winter when he crossed the Golden Bridge. Did he have all the angels of heaven in splits or was he dreaming of his home on the Roof of the World which he was destined never to see again?
The 1990s saw the statehood protest with its battle cry of ‘Jai Badri Jai Kedar, Uttarakhand ki ho Sarkar!’ Those slogans still resound in my ears especially around the second day of every month. That was the day when no more than a handful of us would start on a protest march from just outside our gate. Accompanying us would be Phasang Lama with a tiffin full of steamed momos. Cheerfully she would walk the road to Library sharing her munchies with everyone. That her voice could be heard over the din of a political rally never failed to amaze me. Then one day she too went missing. Of course the procession waited for her, until someone announced that she had gone back to her village of Dunda in the border district of Uttarkashi. She never returned to Mussoorie except as a memory of her gentle voice that returns time and again.
Landour’s twin hillocks are wrapped by a fairly level walk that we snootily refer to as the Upper Mall. It’s a great escape from the hordes that too often raid the hill station. This is where my friend Sanjay would set out at dusk in the company of his sister and a friend or two. He recalls: ‘Going past Lal Tibba, below Victor and Maya Banerjee’s home the Parsonage, I saw an old lady sitting on the parapet catching her breath. In tow were her two dogs of indeterminate descent straining at their leashes, snarling and baring their fangs at anyone who dared walk past.
‘Who are you?’ she asked.
‘I’m Sanjay… I live up here – just around the corner.’
‘Oh! I’ve heard so much about you. Always wanted to meet up with you but I couldn’t after this bhoot went into my head and now refuses to leave!’ she said, her hair beginning to rise. The dogs yanked anew at their leashes.
But darkness settles fast on the hills. As Sanjay looked around for his sister and her friends, he found they had vanished.
‘I can still feel the goose pimples on my arms as I bade her goodbye and ran as fast as my legs would carry me.
‘Wonder who she is?’
If only she were to leave her ghost behind, maybe we could go walking about together.
Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.