Monday, June 25, 2007

The boy on the highway

I shot this picture in January 2006, on the Barmer-Jodhpur highway, in Rajasthan. This boy came to us out of curiosity, and performed Gymnastics to impress us. While sifting through old pictures, I saw this one, and immediately uploaded it on this blog. Now, the question is: are you impressed?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The old man and the rum

Many years ago, an old man took the above path, one moonless night, in Lansdowne. He was going home, after visiting a friend’s place. It was quite late in the night, and the man had had a bit too much to drink. After all, his friend, who happened to be an ex-serviceman in the Army, had become a grandfather, recently, and it was, indeed, a special occasion for him. And in the hills, if you refuse a drink in a soldier’s house, you immediately run into the risk of being dubbed as a ‘traitor.’

Now this man kept on walking, while keeping a watch, from the corners of his eyes, at any leopard who could have been on prowl that night. But more than the animal, it was the fear of a ghost that created butterflies in his stomach. Not very far from where he walked, unsteadily due to the spirits, which he had consumed a little while ago, a young British Lieutenant had been pushed over from a cliff by his fellow officers after a drunken brawl. Though the incident was said to have happened almost fifty years ago, it was rumoured – and such rumours are taken quite seriously in the hills – that during nights, particularly on moonless nights, the officer could be seen walking with a short cane stick in his hand; the one which he took along on evening walks along the cemetery road.

It was at a bend on this road that the old man’s worst fear came true. Blocking the road in front of him, he saw this fair young man in tattered uniform, of the Royal Garhwal Rifles. He was laughing – laughing, the man recalled later, as ghosts were supposed to. The man had worked with the English, during the last days of the Raj, and he knew a little bit of their language. “Excuse me, Sir,” he addressed the officer, who, the old man noticed, was carrying a cane stick under his armpit. “I am a poor man, and I have just consumed alcohol that is worth a week of my pension. It would be unkind on your part to make my feeling of intoxication vanish in thin air. So, would you be kind enough to spare me?” The officer stopped laughing but still would not leave the road. The old man noticed that the officer’s gaze was fixed at his bulging pocket. Ah, then he remembered. He took out the bottle of military rum from his pocket and offered it to the officer. The officer disappeared after clicking his heels, and saluting the old man. From there, till the safety of quilt in his room, the old man just ran, without looking back, or offering a sideway glance.

Today, the old man is no more. He is probably sharing a drink with the officer, up there. It is midnight, as I come out of Colonel Rawat’s house, after proving my ‘patriotism’ by gulping down extra-large pegs of whiskey. As I shake hands, no body notices the bulge in my pocket. In case I meet the officer on his evening walk, I don’t want to be caught off-guard. Moreover, who would mind a salute from a British officer?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lansdowne, this time

Sometimes, you have to revisit a place in order to understand it; to find new meanings. It is somewhat like putting your hands in an old pair of worn-out trousers, and discovering crisp currency notes inside a pocket. That is what Lansdowne felt like to me this time.

Deep inside the pathway leading to Dhura, I found the ruins of what used to be the mansion of a lone English Forest Ranger. Only a few walls is what is left of it now, almost hidden by pine needles.

I imagine the officer, collecting hot water in his stone basin, to shave off his stubble with a razor. Then I visualise him penning down a letter, addressed to himself, just for the heck of having the pleasure of tearing open a letter with a silver cutter.

I imagine writing about Dhura in the introductory passage of my novel. I can see my friends trying to track me down around this path, as I sit, overlooking a valley, with a notebook open over my lap; my back resting against stones so round that it would seem that the Gods had played a game of Pithoo Garam (Seven Stones) there.

One day, I will shift here. And write.