The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Living with Mr Subzero-II

Beyond the Hills
The night was nothing except chill and silence…and it was over, sooner than I liked. By now Mr Sub-zero had gone for his diurnal slumber. And a glorious morning was there to say me, ‘Hurry up, man, you’ve just half a day to see and click everything.’ The sky was super blue and the snow-peaked nameless mountains silhouetted against the blue sky were simply unforgettable. I must admit it: the sky in Himachal is special and from nowhere on earth one would find a sky that is bluer than what we find here. One thing more: only rarely we get that blue sky, even in Himachal Pradesh. So, dear photographers, before the mist and fog play the spoilsport raise your lens and click something memorable.

The Pyramid Peak?
I was heading for a village named Hikkim: at the height of 4572 meters above msl (15000 feet) the world’s highest post office is situated there. Leaving behind the river of Spiti and its crystal clear water, its slate-coloured shining bed and the ruffling weeds, we went ahead, nay went uphill. The road leading to the village was superb; with freshly laid tarmac flanked by the red laterite rubbles threatening to pour from the treeless lofty hills onto the road made me feel uncertain and awe-struck. Cold-wise, now that Mr Sub-zero was gone, the sweet sunshine made it enjoyable to loiter outside. There were switchbacks, blind curves, edge of the road precariously sloping down the precipices, but we proceeded ahead. A distant peak full of snow gleamed in the sunshine. I took the photograph magnifying it at the risk of losing the pixel density but kept the picture to be sent later on to children via whatsapp, now that I had gone away from the signal range for connectivity. For a caption of the picture, I decided something meaningful: the Pyramid Peak!

Hikkim: The Village without a Tree
And we almost reached our destination. My first glance at the village Hikkim made me feel that I was going past some tourist camps: white houses with low roofs lay scattered around the undulating valley. This is the first village that I saw in my life with no trees around it. Why should people choose to live here? I wondered. And as I approached there, the houses appeared bigger than what I saw from distance and they were all neatly painted, white and brown—all of them following the same colour scheme. It could have something to their Buddhist tradition, and who could deny that? Aha! There were agriculture fields, too, where the land was being ploughed converting the soil into neat furrows. It resembled the black cotton soil of Deccan. There was nothing special about it; it was just another variety of the Himalayan soil. The texture of this kaleidoscopic soil could be anything: sodden black, oxidic red, granular brown or crispy sandy. I remembered the geography lessons: the Himalaya was a sea bed raised high by seismic activities. There was one horse or mule or yak or something but two people were busy in making the animal move with the plough. It was something different to me. In the plains a plough consists of two animals and one man but here—well, there were two men, one leading the animal way and another following it. Oh yes, it was a different arrangement. Should I take that animals here are more recalcitrant than their counterparts on the plains? Could be! 

The Young Photographer: I Know Howto
The village might have a population of less than one hundred but it has two schools and one stockman centre. There was, of course, a Branch Post office, the highest post office of the world. Despite the dearth of government institutions, I found the inhabitants, their face beaming their inner contentment. And so they live there: living high and simple.

Aha! The Teachers' Pets
A little girl sitting on a charpoy in the open with her books scattered around riveted my attention. She was happy too and one need not go much further to find out the reason behind her happiness. Aha! She was enjoying the brilliant sunshine! I went near her and enquired. She was Loma [If only I recall and spell her name correctly], a student of class three studying in the local school. And I saw her copies—so neat was her handwriting, both in English and Hindi! And her Arithmetic copy had no mistake in it, with every sum properly solved. Not a step was skipped. I immediately knew the quality of teaching in her school and felt respect for her teachers. As I gathered, it is a government school situated at that height. Government schools are still capable of delivering goods, the mindless privatization of education notwithstanding.

No, The Road Doesn't End Here
Now winter is knocking at their doors, but people of Hikkim are ready to face it. They have stored gunny bagfuls of wheat flour and rice and stuff. They have dried shrubs as their fuel wood stacked on their roofs: I wondered where they collected them from in that treeless desert! And by now they must have decided which yak to be killed during their community feast in the winter—yes, the most recalcitrant of them would have to go this winter! And they have a stream channelled into their village covering a long distance. And I found children adequately dressed; they were enjoying the sunshine and the mock shooting of the visitor by an imaginary camera.

Waiting For Winter: The Poor Little Yak of Hikkim
On the way I found a cave at a certain height but there was a neatly stacked stone wall to block the entry. What was that used for and how did people go there? I wondered. Somebody among us had a reasonable answer to my query. That was a cave used by the cattle herdsman. ‘Then where are the herdsman and his goats and lambs?’ There was answer to this query too. ‘They have gone to the lower altitude to save the animals from the cold.’ I wondered who could have surveyed for the road system in this difficult terrain if it were not for the herdsmen to do that in the days of yore, crossing hills after hills day in and day out following their sure-footed goats! That was how the road system of Himachal might have evolved out of those bridle paths…and the credit of discovering such roads must have gone to the engineers and their army of surveyors! 
[To be concluded...]
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By
A. N. Nanda
Shimla
9-11-2013
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