Happy Holi n happy reading!
I knew of Kasauli, the birth
place of my favourite author Ruskin Bond. And that was all I knew about the
place thanks to my bookish information.
And the other day, as I visited
the place, the feeling turned out to be a kind of déjà vu for me.
The quietude of the place was so poignant, so hauntingly attractive! It was like
the wealth of wisdom hidden behind the silence of a quiet person. Nay, it was
like the warmth of a sunny December morning that disseminates without ado ease
and delight. I could not have remained untouched by the vibes of the environs
that were only too profound. I could not
have helped getting soaked in the ambience.
Then I was to go to Monkey Point.
‘That is a must visit at Kasauli,’ any guide worth his salt would recommend
that. But then there was a rider: I was told that taking photographs there was
not allowed. It was the seat of a certain defence establishment and that was the
reason behind such restriction. So, it was to shape as an unadorned visit and there
was nothing more than that to expect out of it.
Visiting a place without a camera
means one should put one’s power of observation into overdrive. One should
observe more and that too more keenly…so much so that the hidden spirits of the
ambience lay bare themselves to the pair of perceiving eyes. Sound, colour,
smell—they are not to be perceived only; they are the entities to materialize before
one’s very mental eyes. One should be prepared to remember…and it was to be a
lot of memory-work at that! And now, while actually trying hard to recapitulate
what I saw, I feel how a snap or two would have made the difference. Don’t they
say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words?
An excursion to the hilltop could
not just be fun. It was a daunting task, to say the least. Even before I
started climbing, as I looked up from the foothill I could clearly read that
people going up were just plodding their steps, some of them even drawing their
stamina from the side rails. They were looking so small, as if the miniature
version of their original selves, for the cramped canvas had that much place
allotted for them in the composition of panorama. Nay, they were like the dolls
out of the alcoves and mantelpiece, ordered by an invisible magician to crawl
up to the hilltop. They were moving upwards in unison and against gravitation, and
they were, as if, going against their will. I wondered who could be the
magician that wanted this feat to be performed by those dolls animated!
And then I reached the foothill
to start the task. It was my brief to myself to prove that I was fit enough—I should
continue doing everything enjoyable even though it entailed perspiring a bit.
If the real beauty of the landscape lies at the hilltop viewing point, I should
have a glance of it—an eyeful of it. How lofty was the point? Well, I could not
keep count of the steps I had to climb nor was there any indication of it in
the various snippets and signage available around. Nevertheless, my breath
spoke it all—it was nothing if not a rigorous uphill climbing.
For a change, let me be precise
what I say. I had noted down the altitude of the place. Monkey Point is only
6430 ft above mean sea level, even less than the height of Shimla that is
situated at 7100 feet!
Hold it for a second—I’ve a
point to make here. The Wikipedia says that Shimla is located at the height of 300
to 6000 meters! Encyclopedia of Britannica says it is at 7100 feet (2200 meters).
Somebody should volunteer and correct Wikipedia. There has to be a limit to
bragging I say! Height-wise Shimla is less than Ooty in South India. (Ooty-7500
feet or 2300 meters)
Anyway, coming back to my topic,
the difficulty level of climbing a hillock is not dependent on its height
alone. The main point to see here is how steep is the climb, say what is its
gradient. As for me, the rough and ready guide was, as I said it earlier, my
breath: if I was panting for breath, then it must be steep. And without
entering into the issue of trigonometric proof I can assert that: that I was
climbing a steep hill. Agreed, as I went climbing I came across elderly fellows
and kids returning from the top spot but that was not to make the climb any less
tiring. Among them there was an elderly gentleman, too, who could make it up to
the top and as per his own declaration, he had three blockages in his heart. Then what
was he doing there instead of going for an angioplasty? I wondered. A couple of
stents would make his life easier. Anyway, his dear blockages notwithstanding,
he could do that…and that was the highlight. I gasped my appreciation, “Tusi
great paaji,” and the fellow attributed his success to the blessings of
lord Hanuman ji whom he came to see at Monkey Point.
It is believed, as I came to know
reading the signage literature at the hilltop, that Hanuman while going to
fetch Sanjeevni for the treatment of Lakshman had kept a foot on this hill and
another at Jakhu, Shimla. So far I knew that Hanuman had negotiated the entire
distance from Sri Lanka to the Gandhamardan by his celebrated aerial manoeuvre.
This was just another version, mutatis mutandis—I concluded.
There were quite a few educative
marble plaques installed along the track to divert the climber’s attention from
the rigours of the climb. One such couplet was राम नाम का गिद्दा/ की पुट्ठा की सिद्दा.
I tried to get some meaning out of that. Ignorance of Punjabi was no excuse and
what I interpreted was something like this: Within you lies the book (गिद्दा) of
Ram, waiting for its pages (पुट्ठा) to be straightened (सिद्दा). The explanation was laughably
inaccurate and there were people near to correct me. But they did no such thing.
I remained content with my provisional (wrong) understanding of the spiritual
couplet until I was on my way back. The pundit of the hilltop temple who also
returned with us imparted me the actual meaning of the couplet: While dancing
to the tune of Ram’s name, it hardly matters if the steps are correct or not.
In other words, one can be a devotee without going through various formalities
that have grown around the name of Ram. Aha! How true!
And at the top it was just anther scene of top view. Should I say it the bird’s eye view? Nay, big-picture
is the right term to narrate it. The hills around that took us hours to negotiate
were looking so tamable! Despite the sylvan exuberance, it all looked like the
plains from the hilltop, as though landscaped and manicured to wear the beauty of highland wilderness!
The roads encircled the hills, bypassed them, jumped from peak to peak and, in
any case, respected the norm of being serpentine. There is no way one could
have imparted the difference of being straight, the straight-line course. Er,
it was my moment to revisit the long-forgotten geometry lesson: Is a curve really
the combination of innumerable straight lines? Or is it that the straight line
plus another dimension make it a curve? Aha! I got the right word: Curves are
the 3-D realities of terrestrial existence and straight lines are the
artificial representations of it only.
What had the height to say there?
Now that it had been conquered, did it actually insist on its primacy? Nope, it
was not to brag and frighten again. Even, otherwise, the highest of the peaks
concedes its defeat at that defining moment, saying ‘Alas! The hillock yonder
is taller than me.’ Even standing on the Everest if one asked the summit the
same question, its answer would follow likewise, ‘Nope, I’m not the tallest.
The peak yonder is taller than me.’ The other end of the ridge facing Monkey Point
has a peak and that was to appear taller than Monkey Point. I had once
experienced the phenomenon in 1996 as I scaled Saddle Peak in North Andamans.
And I wrote a poem too. Let me quote
A rest after the haste and haste after a rest
Thus the mocking peak was finally scaled
Lo! It was no momentous deed of ours
The neighbouring peaks were even loftier.
(Scaling the Saddle
Peak, In Harness)
And come five o’clock, it was
time to return. It was the rule and rules are always to be respected. We
returned and the last one to do that was a dog. He was robust and officious, and
from the beginning I had suspected that the canine was there to perform a
specific duty. Who was his master and whose orders was he carrying out? Anyway,
my haunch was correct: even if it was not admitted, the animal was there to
ensure that nobody was left at that point after it was 5 PM. As we were
returning, I asked the pundit as to what was the name of his dog. He said the
animal had no name. ‘How strange! The animal has a duty to perform and is condemned
to namelessness!’ I muttered. Then I insisted that the animal on duty deserved a
name, a good name. The pundit complied with my request and christened his pet
then and there. He became Sewak, the servant of Lord Ram. I only wish the
pundit were sincere about the name and the next day onwards started calling him
as such—Sewak the servant of Lord Ram.
A N Nanda