Ch1: 'The Beginning Of The End'
It was a mysterious chill cloaked under a starry night; stars about a million, some shooting into the oblivion, others waiting to die. The sky was growing, more like expanding and bursting with a glittery magnificence, as a few clouds, greying against the black of the night, floated westwards. And as they did, they made shapes that we sat guessing: an elf with a hat, an elf with a hat sitting on a hat. “Ok, don’t exaggerate; it’s just a hat.”
As the clouds crawled to disappear behind the mountains, the sky began playing a coy invasion on my senses. For that matter, the particles in the torch beam that Omar occasionally flashed did the same. The vivid elements of the valley time and again replaced the ambiguous attention I had on my breathing, which would soon be replaced by the patterns my mind was making-- patterns like the ones we see after having rubbed our eyes a little too hard.
The river in its most ferocity flowed right in front of us, and the deep, dense, dark forest extended into the night. The silhouette of the bridge that joined the two mountains, and the one that the Parvati flowed under, smirked at us. This—the beauty of the Himalayas draped in the black of the night— somehow had us intoxicated, or, maybe, it was the LSD.
Aryan had insisted on sitting by the river, was sort of adamant on it for the party that we were at; its loud music, neon lights and the crowd gave him a ‘bad trip’. So, with no intention of leaving him alone and with none of us letting the crowd feed his paranoia, we decided to head down to the river.
Here, by the river, he sat staring at the forest occasionally pointing his flashlight towards the woods. “What is it, bro? Do you see something?” asked. “Eyes, green eyes; they appear and disappear,” he replied still staring in the direction.
“Where?” I saw them too. Two big red ones I saw; two big red dots moving down the woods, turning and stopping; then moving down the trail all the same. Whatever it was, it was nearing; the eyes growing and seemingly fuming like burning coal. I tried getting up, but I felt like I was stuck in a dream that you can’t get out of. They grew bigger as they neared only to stop by the last trees that drooped over the water. My heart beat loud in my head. As I finally managed to get up, my legs wobbly, I saw the black shadow of the red eyed animal descend onto the water.
Omar caught a hold of my arm and made me sit back on the rock. “What do you see?” he asked. “A beast...Let’s go, he’s moving towards us,” I hurried up getting his hand off me. “It’s not safe here, let’s go!”
“Show me where,” he said, and I pointed. He flashed his light in that direction. “There’s nothing there!” and as he said so, the beast disappeared for me; more like dissolved into the air and vanished. Omar shook my arm, “Snap out of it”. Taking the torchlight from him, I flashed it where I had seen the animal-- all over the water and around the three of us. A little comforted, I sat down and, once again, turning to ensure that he wasn’t behind me, I let Omar’s hand find mine. His fingers, marking a pattern on my wrist, made me feel like he was almost touching the surface of my soul. And as he did, it felt as if he was making tiny adjustments like one would unscrew a wrongly put nut and fix it where it was needed the most.
“It wasn’t such a good idea to try acid, now was it,” Omar asked holding me by my elbow. “Yes, not so much,” I said pointing towards Aryan. “I am worried about him”.
“He is much calmer now, I feel. Don’t worry,” he said putting an arm around me. Aryan opened his eyes and turned to look at us only to get startled and fall backwards. I held him by the arm, “Ah fuck. You guys scared me. I was in such a beautiful place.” He said, resting himself back on the rock. “Go back there then,” I said. He smiled and lit a joint, the smoke from which made a perfect swirl up towards the stars before touching and igniting them to burst; and as one burst for me, the millions followed. It seemed as if the sky showered these burning bodies onto me and my reflexes got me rubbing my arms.
Omar tapped me on the shoulder, “I got to pee.”
“Yes, I think me too.” I began getting up.
“Is that a secret code to ‘let’s go, make out’?” teased Aryan as Omar’s fingers found mine and locked in a hold.
As we walked further towards the bridge, I said, “Considering what Aryan just suggested, I’d actually like to make out with you and see how it feels while tripping.” Omar smiled and held me against a big coniferous by the bridge. His hand found the back of my nape and moved up towards my hair, sending chills down to the small of my back. With his eyes seeking something in mine and a smirk laden mouth, he kissed me, and the kiss felt like a Tame Impala video, with paints dripping and smudging, and skies and blood bursting around the two of us. It felt like a wave and a whirlpool only until Aryan’s scream broke the spell “Bhola! What are you doing here?”
Bhola, our village host’s 5-year-old son; what could he be possibly doing there at that hour? We got out of under the bridge to see what was happening. “Stay there. We’ll come get you,” Aryan continued. On his toes towards the bridge, Aryan froze. His face turned pale. “God...guys, guys get to the bridge! Get to the bridge, he’s falling.” He screamed with his arms shaking almost like he was having a fit. We began hurrying up the bridge, but the ground began warping for me. The rocks dissolved to become water and the water turned chilly. My feet froze, and I sunk down. Omar went ahead.
In no time, we heard a thump and a splash.
Seconds later, as if waking up from a frozen moment, Aryan jumped into the water after him.
Ch2: "What Demon Possessed Me?"
I had been awake for the past 52 days and 51 nights. The last I slept was the morning after the night that I had spent drinking my guts out. And for all the days that followed, I was drinking my guts all the same. The only difference between Charles Bukowski and I was that he was a drunk man, and I a drunk woman. And a drunk at work in the 60s of Los Angeles was only asked to leave with the week’s pay check but for his female counterpart in India of the 2000s was something to be ashamed of. So, getting fired for the said corporate crime only increased my appetite for alcohol.
An inclination towards travelling as a career is barely ever respected in a house filled with doctors. And while a millennial might disagree, an average 90s kid with doctor parents of the conventional belief will only hand down the handbook that reeks of no passion but blood.
The more elite a family is, the lesser are the times you’d have felt or expressed real emotions for them. I don’t remember ever having hugged my parents. Seeking no apologies for exaggerating here, I’d like to tell how we get our photographs clicked at a one arm distance. Click. Go home.
Go home. “Mom, I want to play a little more.” Go home. “Mom, let me talk to my friend”. Go home. “I want to travel and study literature”. “Yeah, study medical literature. And go home.”
So, while I tried balancing literature with my parent’s aspirations, Agatha Christie and F. Scott Fitzgerald with Dyslexia and Spinal Cord Atrophy, I failed the first semester. The night of the result, my father had his first heart attack, or what he pretended an anxiety attack to look like. And it marked my story to be one worthy of a Bollywood screenplay.
As is often the case, the few days of my father’s bed rest emotionally incensed me enough to not read or dwell on what I wished to do. And soon, with the medical course taking its time and the time about the course of my life ascended to the age- old push and shove of the rat race. I too became a doctor; a physiotherapist, if I may, with the lack of wit and a revered prefix.
I had had trouble sleeping since college. You walk into my room and I’d wake up. You turn the tap on, three floors down the building and I’d sit up. For the first few years of this pseudo insomnia, I took to watching movies to sleep only to live through the night—half dead half awake—until I could finally sleep no more. There was a constant sense of dizziness, drunkenness that my tired mind blessed me with. I was intoxicated without the substance only until I decided to intoxicate myself with the substance, so it at least seemed justified. And as it turns out, the drunkenness of being drunk for dear life at work broke the doctor’s oath. And my parents were now on their way to Chandigarh to have a talk; you know ‘the talk’. And I was done with the talk. It had anyway always been them talking and telling me how travelling was just a passion and I needed a real profession to make a real living in this thing they called society; how “good girls” don’t travel around like junkies; and how after having pursued my career as a doctor I’d have enough time and money to do whatever I liked. “Yeah, like you ever got time to do whatever you liked”, I’d think; only think, never say.
And as Henry Thoreau would rise from his grave and ask, “What demon possessed me that I behaved so well”, to behave completely in disregard to what I wanted all this time. I decided to leave. And I left a note for my parents telling them why. They wouldn’t even realise I was gone till they had read it.
I was distancing myself from this to let my chances breathe. I was going to live the average dream that I’d tucked under my pillow each night to dream about. I had no idea where I was going, but I packed my bag and with a clichéd copy of On the Road got a ticket for the first bus I saw at the bus station. It was one, as it turned out, to the Himalayan village of Bhuntar.
As I got off there, I heard a few people—bus drivers, car drivers—call out for Kasol. It felt much appropriate to follow the journey that I was being offered, so I boarded a bus to reach the Parvati Valley in its prime; untouched by the number of tourists that flock to suffocate the villages now.
Kasol in the early days of its tourism was barely an 800 metre stretch of food and lodging. And lodging did I take at Lucky Dhaba where, too tired of the journey and the years I had lived, I got blessed with a long nap with a steady stream of dreams the sort you can’t explain.
I was woken up by a heavy pounding on my door. The wind gushed against my window pane and a dark night had taken over. There were some distant mumblings that I could hear, and the constant knocking scared me.
Ch3: 'The Musical Bridge'
The pounding was now replaced by the sound of a heavy metal against the wood of the door. They were hammering the death out of it. “Who is it?” I shouted, to make them stop. “Madamji, open the door. Are you alright?” someone enquired in Hindi. I opened the door to find the manager of the lodge standing there with a hammer in his hands. He looked tensed. Two more men, foreigners, stood there with him. “What is this madamji? We have been trying your doors for days. We’ve been worried.”
“Days,” I rushed to check my phone: 63 missed calls it showed, numerous texts and the day Thursday. I had reached Kasol on Monday. “We thought you had overdosed or something,” he explained. “Ahh, overdosed, no. I was really tired. So, I guess I kept sleeping through these days, what, four days really.” I yawned. “Thanks for waking me up.” The men smiled. One of them drinking the last of something from his flask went away. “I reckon you are hungry,” said the other one.
“Yes, I reckon I am,” I replied and asked the manager, Kamal, to cook me some food to help me get my appetite back. All these days of sleeping and my face looked puffed as if pumped with some air. My body could barely spread itself awake, even the cramps felt well, lovely even. I somehow dragged myself out of the room, where the man, Omar, offered me a joint that he had just rolled. “This might make you feel all the more sleepy,” he grinned. “I’d like that,” I replied, “I swear to sleep at least a hundred more days.”
We made our way down to the dining area where an appetizing fragrance of burnt butter wafted in the air. My nose caught it and my stomach roared its hunger in response. “Yes, you sure are hungry,” he giggled. Some top notch paranthas Lucky’s mother had cooked for us; all laden with buttery goodness of the native cows.
Omar’s friend joined us holding the flask now filled with a green concoction, “So, what were you on to be sleeping like that?”
“Pure sleep, my friend. That’s what I was on.” He smiled, lit a joint and passed it in my direction. “Gubriel leaves tomorrow.” Gabriel, Omar meant, but that’s how he pronounced his name. Austrian, he sounded.
“No, not really. I have been here about five weeks or more,” he said.
“Wow, I too hope to be able to stay here this long.”“Something stopping you?” asked Gabriel.Awkwardly, I replied, “No, not really. So, where are you off to?”“I am going to Vashishth to attend this therapy session there.”
“Acid therapy as they call it,” said Omar, “It is a kind of therapy which uses psychedelic substances to let a person connect with his spirit and might to...”
“Hey, hey. You are telling her too much. She could be an Indian cop for all I care,” Gabriel nosed in.
“We’d tell her that we are the FBI then,” he joked.
To Gabriel, I said, “To correct you, a doctor, physiotherapist, in fact; an ex physiotherapist to be honest.” To Omar, “Are you leaving too?”
“No. Not yet. I am planning to be here a long, long time. My friend has a party here this weekend,” he replied attempting a sip from Gabriel’s flask, cringing. “You can go with me if you want.”
I nodded in consideration. Gabriel excused himself for a call and disappeared down the narrow corridor. Having finished the food, we decided to go for a walk down the quite night of the Himalayan roads.
“So, what kind of a party is this?” I asked Omar as we paid for our food.
“One of my friends recently opened a cafe in Khatagla and he invited everyone he knows to invite everyone they know to this little gathering, as he calls it.”
“Sounds interesting,” we walked down the uneven stairs, out on the street where the gush of the waves as Parvati flowed to meet Beas could be heard even louder. Omar turned his flashlight off and I asked why to which he pointed up to the sky. Through the canopy of the huge pines and firs that marked the edge of the road, shined a million-billion stars; all almost fading the moon that was about to set behind the dark mountains. An unintended smile danced on his lips as his face shone with the cosmic light of the night; his grey eyes reflected the stars perfectly as they glistened. He caught me staring at his face. Embarrassed, I looked away. I could see him smile from the corner of my eye. My lips curved in one too.
We walked the rest of the way without torchlight to finally reach the centre of the village. With barely any lights marking the street, I loved the face of the village which was yet far away from the commercialised version that it now is. A gentle smell of plants, wet pine needles and incense flowed in the air, as a few street dogs, furry against the cold, cuddled with one another on the stairs of the few shops that were shut by now. Lazy during these days, Kasol was not so eager on making money. It used to sleep early at 9 pm to wake up later into the morning. The dead silence amplified the only sound of the river and of a flute playing in the background.
Following the music from the flute, we passed by a man sleeping in a foetal under his insufficient blanket outside the only barber shop of the village. Out of the village and through the wretched amount of woods, we reached the banks of Parvati, across which, as Omar mentioned, was the sister village of Chalaal. We couldn’t hear the flute anymore, and within a few minutes, a man, seemingly Indian, with a long beard and ragged clothing, passed by us muttering something.
“I think we interrupted his music,” I told Omar. “Yeah, but there’s one music that we can never interrupt,” he said holding my hand and walking towards the bridge that connected the two hills. The bridge was merely steady. A gush of the wind shook it in entirety. And it creaked as it did so. Suspended by ropes holding sheeted wood to walk on, I could not trust that bridge one bit. I stopped as Omar went ahead onto the bridge. “No, no, no, no. I am too young to die.”
“What? You are not going to die. This bridge is as safe as any other place on this planet. And if you don’t get on, you might miss the best music you’d have ever heard.”
I wasn’t convinced. He shrugged and walked on. At almost the centre of the bridge he turned to look at me, a creepy smile playing on his face, and lay down on the bridge. “What are you even doing?” He lifted his head and replied, “Can’t explain. You’ll have to feel it yourself.”
Holding the vibrating railing of the bridge, I dared to step on it. It shrieked under my feet and Omar looked up again. “Yes, very well. I am sure you can do it.
“Shut up and come help me,” I said. A haughty ‘No’ was the reply.
I walked on further, trying to focus on my breathing and not the savaging current that seemed to whirlpool under the bridge. I reached the middle of it and he made some space for me, held my hand and helped me lie down.
The constant flow of the water underneath and its slaps against a big boulder echoed under the bridge as the momentary swish of the wind against the ropes of the bridge set the chords right. It felt as if the waves drummed against the rocks and the wind played a harp on the bridge, as our breath misted up in the air towards a sky studded with about a million to delight and wonder; and wonder how I must have fallen asleep for that fusion on the bridge; and how the bridge must have broken.
Ch4: 'The Cold And The Bare Blanket'
I opened my eyes out of a dream built on paranoia that, I think, even the calming music of the nature couldn’t shake me off. And as I did, I woke up to Omar’s perfect eyes looking down at me. A smile of wit played on his face as his hands warmed mine, too cold of the Himalayan wind. “You are so beautiful,” he said. I looked at him with an expression that was more like “I believe that I am but how can you believe that too.”
“I didn’t wake you because it didn’t feel right but since you’re up now, I think we should get going.”
I got up to the slight vibration of the wind on the bridge only to sink back down with ailing worries from my dream. “What time do you think it is?”
“Must be about 2 because the Orion has set too,” he said getting up and giving me his hand. “Did you have a bad dream?”
“Yes, that the bridge broke and we fell to our deaths.”
“Ah, it’s usually only the fear that we fall to a death to. The real death, the one that I’m sure is to be the least scary, will come any time to catch us by surprise,” he said shaking the bridge by its railings on both sides. Laughing, as he did so, he somewhat made me believe that my fears were of a bridge that can break and not the one that may connect.
Smiling, I followed him off the bridge and while I did, I stopped at one point to look at the final bit of moon illuminating a mountain, which had sort of lost itself to the night, coming back into existence.
We walked back to our guest house, hand in hand, without realising when I had held his. Weariness had taken over him and it showed on his face a little. He had probably stayed up all the time that I slept making sure that I didn’t roll over and fall within the folds of the river to get lost.
We got home and climbed up the stairs to our rooms. “I had a really good time. Thank you,” he said while knocking at the door to his room. I went back to mine and there, I didn’t dance like a maniac -- the kind they show in the movies, nor did a song start playing in the background for me, but I could hear silence, a sense of calm passing through me. I don’t know what changed, what happened to cause this kind shift within me. I’d like to believe that it was nothing spiritual but a happy mind after getting a good sleep. The soft music that the wind was playing on that bridge still sung a faint melody into my ears as I sat dwelling on the goodness of it, suddenly evaporated with a knock on my door.
It was Omar, “Err... Do you have a hammer?” I looked at him confused. “Gubriel has slept too deep, I feel, today,” he said rubbing his palms together and blowing into them. “Can you give me a blanket if you have an extraone? I think I’d have to sleep on the sofa outside.”
“I don’t have another blanket. But I think you can sleep here,” I offered.
“You think that’d be okay?”he asked.
“Umm, it’d be fine on the condition that you take me to the other side of the bridge tomorrow.”
“To Chalaal, yes, sure. I will,” he nodded walking in.
The cold and the bare blanket had us snuggle close to each other, not that we wouldn’t have otherwise. A little finger from here, a little toe from there would have anyway caught the other’s and it’d have taken us hours of no sleep to finally get this close to be huddled up against each other. This was conveniently ideal. His breath close to my ear warmed me and my core as, in no time, he twitched a little and sunk into a quite sleep.
I don’t know how long I had stared at his face -the slight freckle on his chin, brows that marked his beautiful eyes well in their socket, the bridge of his nose – all until sleep took over.
I woke up as a warm daylight flushed in through the window to the door being opened and shut behind. I saw a faint figure walk out as the sleep caught me back into its charm. I woke up again as Omar lifted the blanket to get back in the bed. “Ah, I’m sorry to have woken you up.”
I held his hand.“No, it’s okay. Where did you go?”
“Gubriel was leaving so I went to say goodbye.”“He left already? I hope you wished him well from both of us.”
“Yes, I did,” he said kissing my fingernails. “Wow, what do your hands smell of,” he asked.
I smelled them, “You, I think.”“Wow, I smell brilliant.”“Sure,” I laughed. “Anyway, tell me something, what exactly is this acid therapy?”
Ch5: 'Acid Therapy'
Omar knew a place in Chalaal, which was still hosting towards the end of the season. On the way to the village, we stopped at The Evergreen for a late lunch. The quaint restaurant was mostly empty with just another table taken by this seemingly English couple; English because they never removed their hats or their belts and voiced their words mostly from the roof of their mouths.
“So, in this therapy one can explore his psyche, like psychiatry, you mean?” I asked, expecting a clarification from him.
“Yes, something like that. LSD... It lets your mind manifest and bring to you all that you have ever thought of, all that is and has been a part of your life,” he said, licking the edge of a sheet to fix us a joint, “and that in bright colours and patterns.”
“Wow, colours. How so?”
“This one time that I had done it, I sort of got caught in this really dark trip.” Our food arrived, and thanking the waiter, he continued, “Imagine a room lit with only this, this tiny red bulb and a slightly dark genre playing on the stereo. And imagine a spider walk in. Now I am not scared of insects or anything, but I really cringe over spiders and this one was as big as both my hands,” he cupped his hands together to explain. “I just couldn’t get out of it. That spider took me to a very dark place. I felt as if I was really small around it. It grew for me even, so much so that it made me feel at some point like it was going to destroy me.”
He moved closer to me, “I shouldn’t be so loud, right,” he giggled and continued, “So, I just sat down and for a moment gave up and let it walk all over me, all in my head, of course. Although it really did feel all over my skin like these millions of insects were walking. But soon I felt peace in it; like they were all only surviving because of me, like a fear needs a source to survive on. And then I began tripping like I was in a forest with all these ants and snakes and scorpions and rats crawling out of me and then they became lights. Soon there were life size lights emanating from me; like colours violet and maroon. These dense colours, not the basic ones, began flowing out of me and into the valley. It felt as if it was I who was giving the flowers, the butterflies, the skies their colours.”
He was almost breathless when he stopped; his eyes were big with excitement and his fists almost pounding the table. He looked obviously energised by this memory.
“Wow, that’s really...”“Powerful.”“Yes, it sounds very powerful. But is it safe?”“Yes, they keep an eye on you. There’s a session before and one...”
“No, I mean LSD, not the therapy.”
He scoffed, “It is more like who sits on the driver seat,” he sipped to the froth of his coffee shake. “You can drive your trip, or you let the trip drive you.
“Only if the latter becomes the case, you can end up in utter paranoia.” We paid the bill and walked out offering smiles to three men who were entering the restaurant as we were leaving.
“I haven’t heard of anyone to get hurt because of acid, but I can’t deny the possibilities.”
“Hmm,” I nodded.“Why, do you ask? Want to try it?”
“Not sure. I might want to.” I nodded.
Later in the evening, as we sat by the river that flowed close to the Green Park Cafe, he suggested me to do it with someone, if I may, that I could trust and one who had had experience with it before.
We sat there by the river, powerful in its vigour, overshadowed by the mighty mountains and the pines rooted to them. As we spent our evening descending into a quieter night, all my plans and fire to get to the top of Chalaal failed. And they failed more so as I heard a familiar voice, saw a much familiar face.
The face was Aryan’s.
Ch6: 'Old Faces, New Faces'
Aryan and I had gone to the same city school, to the same tuition classes; had for the most of our lives the same circle of friends that we hung out with, bunked, tried alcohol and smoked up for the first time with. I knew him since his father had walked out on them, since his mother remarried to accidentally bring a paedophile home, and since his bruises were too evident to be hidden under a layer of foundation that I stole from my mother’s kit.
Thankfully, his mother found out and kicked the man out. She was a bold woman, aunty, for how she dealt with all that came her way. Aryan would often tell me how he was glad that his mother was a learned academic and not somebody’s housewife to have whatever happened throw her out on the street. “This is why I suggest you study well and be prepared for an asshole to come your way,” he’d finish with the same old taunt, always. Always.
So inseparable, we chose to get into the same college only until he expressed his disinterest in medical sciences and inclination towards photographing nature. His mother understood why and let him choose the unconventional after having mentioned her dire worries about his choices. As it turned out, he was doing well and was here on an assignment with the Matador.
“What the fuck are the odds!’ he said hugging me, spoiling my hair as he always did. Pulling his in return, as I always did, I hugged him again, “Just the plain odds of you not being able to live without me.”
Aryan introduced us to Maya, ”meri bandi,” his girlfriend, and himself to Omar. A petite girl who looked much younger than all of us, Maya was a choreographer of contemporary dance form. She was every average girl born to hate their boyfriends’ best friends, specifically ones of the same genders as theirs.
“Now, what the hell even is contemporary dance?” Aryan mocked, making a face as the two of us having completely abandoned our dates, mingled like old times. “Sala, a swish here and a swoosh there, easy; just like walking.”
“I heard that,” said Maya.
“Nahi, baby. I am talking of what the others do. You, I swear, float like a bird,” he said shifting up towards her on the rock that we all sat on. Then back down where he sat next to me, into my ears he said, “But the flexibility... Grrr...aah”. Omar laughed as his fingers caught mine.
“How long have you been here in Kasol?” I asked.
“Kasol? We don’t go to Kasol anymore. It is getting crowded. New cafes opening up, newer weirdos touring around.”
“Yeah, we keep away from Kasol.” Maya agreed. “Chalaal is the next big thing or maybe, Tosh. But not a lot of people try going so far for nothing. I have, but there’s no power, not many places to stay there.”
“Maybe it will become touristy once they finish building that road and the dam,” said Omar.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Maya.
Just then, a kid, barely 6 years of age, came running and hugged Aryan from behind. “Hey, you’re back!” he caught him and began tickling him. “School?”
“School done. I say to Rashmi ma’am the new poem we learn yesterday. She was happy. She gave me this star” the kid showed a red star drawn on his palm.
“Where’s your bag, Bhola?” Maya enquired. He pointed at it lying on the ground, books and pencils scattered out of it. “If mummy comes, hide me, okay?” said Bhola.
“Who is this gora?” he asked Aryan almost hanging by his neck. “This is Omar. He is my friend Kriti’s...”
“Boyfriend,” interrupting, he began playing with Omar’s muffler. Seeing his mother rush towards him with a stick, he hid behind Omar. She packed and picked the school bag and got to us, a playful expression playing on her face. “Go, drink milk. Every day comes home to run for his bhaiya. Take your bag and go drink.”
“No, I want to sit with gora bhaiya too,”
“If you don’t go now, I’ll hit your gora bhaiya with this stick,” warned the lady. Bhola shook his head in negation. “I’ll hit Aryan with this stick if you don’t go.” The kid looked at Aryan with a fallen face. Aryan looked at him with a pitiful expression, his mouth curved in worry.
Bhola got up and followed her mother away. “I am coming back in 10 minutes...”
“After one hour, or you can try to convince papaji to finish your homework.” Bhola beckoned and followed her mother to his house. The mother threw away the stick and half- hugged Bhola who put his arm around her thighs; that was all where he could reach, this little man.
“Wow, such a child,” said Omar taking out his colourful satchel. I nodded as he pulled out a little piece from his stash of hash and began crushing. “So, have you guys been to Khatagla?” he asked the others.
“Khatagla, why yes,” replied Aryan. “No guest houses there yet.”
“Yes, only until now. My friend is opening his home to hosting guests. They are having a big party tomorrow to celebrate.”
“Oh, is this the kind of party that I am thinking about,” Aryan asked with a stupid grin, the kind he’d have whenever I told him about my night with someone. Omar nodded.
“Ah, nice. Can I come too?”“Sure, you both can.”
“No. I’d rather not,” said Maya. “The loud music that they play there really gets to me.”
Aryan made a face at her, “Yeah, she’s no fun at those parties. Let’s let her be. She likes these ‘homa’ parties with the hippies making fire and dancing around them.”
“Hey, I don’t complain about your dhik chik parties!” she protested. Aryan side hugged her, “Yes baby, yes; you never do nothing. I love you,” as he mouthed a ‘fucking irritating’ to us.
“She’d have liked the one that Gubriel went to,” I told Omar. “The acid therapy,” he peered, “No. I don’t think so.”
“Acid therapy... Wow,” considered Aryan, “Hey well, how about we pop at this party?”
A brazier warmed the lowly lit, royally cushioned living area of the Green Park. We, being the only guests at this time of the year, the whole guest house was for us to feel at home with. And at home did we feel eating an enormous feast that Bhola’s mother had set for us. Bhola’s family and we, we all sat together like a big fat family, living each day to afford this last meal of the day together, always.
After having helped ’Didi’, as we called Bhola’s mother, with the dishes, we settled back under quilts and blankets that were all arranged for us like a castle made of cushions for kids to climb and get lost in.
Soon, after a few minutes of what sounded like general gossip about their neighbours, Bhola’s parents and grandmother retired for the night. His elder sister stayed back with Maya as she showed her photographs from her dance performances. And photographs were Bhola and Aryan enjoying too, looking through the ones that somehow made them laugh at the top of their beings. There was no pretence in their game and laughter and none yet in their love and admiration for each other. We wondered what it was that had them go through these fits of laughter where they’d both be quite for a moment until one mumbled or whispered something to the other and both broke into a massive riot.
Their relentless laughs tickled us to laugh too as I settled to lie down on the fluffed mattress, quite resting my head onto Omar’s lap. He began running his fingers through my hair and looking at the warm flame in the brazier, hearing the infrequent crackle of the burning wood, I drifted into what felt like a nap.
I woke up to have Omar sleeping with his hand on my head and head against the wall. I got up and as I did, he broke away from his sleep too. His leg had slept, and he needed some help getting up on his feet. As I helped him up we saw that Aryan and Bhola had passed out for the night next to one another. There was no sign of the girls. They had probably retired to their own rooms.
Aryan’s camera sloppily lay across from where his hand must have left it lying, quite close to the hot box of the brazier at that. Bhola had half his body sleeping atop Aryan’s with his arm embracing Aryan’s face and one of his legs stretched far up his chest. Aryan had too held Bhola close with one of his arms.
“Looks like he sees a younger brother in Bhola,” mentioned Omar, as we began heading out to our room. “Or himself,” I suggested. Omar smiled, unaware of what I meant, and held the door open for me. A chilling wind swiftly replaced all the warmth that had caressed us and instantly caught my nose and ears.
“Say what, let’s sleep here only,” he suggested “I don’t want to go up and wait for the bed to warm up for us to sleep in.”
I agreed and we both walked back in and after minor adjustments with the furniture that was carefully lined in a fashion to serve as a living cum dining area, to now make a bedroom of it. We made a fluffy, double, triple-layered bed with a lot of cushions. It almost felt like the bed of a hotel suite as we spooned on it. Omar’s musky scent and the slight hum of his breathing tingled me somewhere in the centre. I turned to face him, and his eyes caught mine. We stared deep into one another’s, deep enough to get lost in no technicalities of how our fingers entwined and my lips found his to celebrate a sense of oneness with.
The morning next morning began stirring a little into noon as it was only Omar and I still sleeping. The sun shone bright outside; its rays making the magical path of the dust vivid, as a few winter birds cooed their music. Outside, Bhola and Aryan played cricket with their bat being a cloth beater.
“Good noon, sleepyheads. We need to get going,” Aryan remarked seeing us walk outside, yawning, rubbing our eyes and all sort of things that one would do after having a leisurely sleep. Omar offered to bowl for Bhola as Aryan came up to me and whispering into my ears asked, “So tell me.”
“Tell you what,” I inquired. “How was this Omar boy last night? I sure heard some ruffles, some noises; more like moans.” Slapping him on the arm, I mentioned, “Nothing. We just slept. He’s not like that senior friend of yours from college who thought under the blanket meant no one would know.”
“Yes, the whole batch knew. Hah! Such a sad make out.”
“Yeah. Acha but, where are we going? I asked.
“Oh, Bhola and his sister want to take us to this stream up in the forest. I thought you guys would want to go too.”
“I don’t have a problem. But Omar...” Calling out to Omar I asked, “Oi, do you want to go to this stream that Bhola wants to take us too?”
“Yes, Firangi, let’s go!” exclaimed Bhola, gleaming with notorious innocence. Omar laughed and agreed to join us.
Having had a huge brunch of paranthas and chutney and badam milk that Didi had prepared for us, we set off with our 3-feet tall guide. All set with evident passion of being a professional tour escort, Bhola led us wearing his blue Pikachu cap, a whistle hanging by his neck and an uneven deodar stick that looked like it belonged to his grandmother.
“The way to the stream is through Khatagla, so on the way back we can head to the party you mentioned, and Maya and the kids can come back home,” Aryan told Omar. Omar and I were walking hand in hand which Aryan would leave no chance to shoot a teasing glance to. He rushed ahead of all, picked Bhola and put him up on his shoulders. “Now you’re the tallest,” he told him. Bhola began whistling the toy whistle at the loudest, “Left, Right, Left. Up the mountain...”
“...down the river. Up towards the cloud we head, left right left” Aryan joined.
“Hey, mind his head!”
Ch8: 'A Big Crest And A Rainbow'
We were by now walking right by the river that curved to its left to flow under the tiny village bridge. Here, the land dipped to the level that the water flowed in and the trees drooped even lower, almost touching the water. Aryan had to put Bhola back down. A few tiny streams from here and there and a tiny waterfall fed into the river, the melt of the last year’s snow. A gentle smell of wet soil and the lush rose in the air and got flushed into the flow of Parvati. We passed by the bridge where the only shop of the village stood selling those non-famous, regional munchies like ’chand sitare’ and ’satmola’.
We passed through what looked like about 10 houses to reach the far end of the village where a much bigger stream flowed into the water. We began climbing up the path of the water on its sides to come across some more houses built in the natively celebrated, hazard proof ‘Koti Banaal’ architecture. More buffaloes and goats met us as we climbed up high where it felt like it drizzled. Some ladies peeking out of their doors waved at us; some only at Bhola.
There was a half of a huge tree trunk lying across the path. The way over it looked slippery and we couldn’t climb up the rocky sides of the narrow gulley that the stream was flowing in. Instead, little Bhola helped us to the other side from under the trunk where the leaves and branches still sticking out of the trunk caught our clothes and the water from the stream soaked the hems of our pants a little.
Up through more of this and that we reached an open platform -- an area with trees about to shed away some of their browns for the upcoming fall. The leaves that belonged to them had turned from a pale yellow to a bright golden. What fed into the stream was inside the forest that lurked ahead of us, marked with a somewhat circular gap in its packed lush, a path that looked like it was used by the villagers and bears alike. Bears, I say, because the circle looked bigger than having been a result of the average 5 feet man’s daily passage through it. It was bigger and rounder. And I say bear because Bhola’s sister showed us some fresh bear dump, “from the previous night,” she said, which looked like the bear had eaten a lot of plums or something, leaving the seeds here to grow more trees.
As we stepped into the forest, the river was a distant echo constantly being replaced by the numerous birds that rested and sung in the lush canopy. The canopy seemed to cloud whatever light could enter, and the gaps on it freckled the surface of the puddles here and there with a shiny shimmer. Omar found a feather of chocolate colour with a black tip and put it in my hair. I found a rock in the water that looked like a man’s calm face and showed it Omar, “This man needs some thick eyebrows,” he said.
Around a turn where a few gentle waterfalls streamed out and down the hill that seemed like the end of this trail, was the big cavity that the flow of the water must have made over time. There were some black and some orange fish fidget- swimming in the water, all getting scattered wherever we stepped. Aryan and Bhola
stripped to their bare minimums and got under one of the waterfalls. They danced and bathed under the falls that were all, with the sun streaming through the familiar gaps in the canopy, making rainbows around them.
Maya took a decent photograph after a few failed attempts at handling the camera, worthless with so many settings to confuse. Omar and I rested under a fine stream of sunlight and ate cheap chocolates that he had bought at the village shop.
Soon, Bhola’s sister threatening him of cold, got them both to wear their clothes and rest with the others. And soon, with the sun having fulfilled his share of sunlight for the forest began descending.
It was time to head back. It was time to party.