The generous lap of my mountain home, is now the last place of refuge
I am a mountain boy. My first 18 summers were spent in our mountain home in Himachal. I can never forget the fun we had eating chilgozas fallen off the pines, collecting gum off the trunks, and making fantastical translucent shapes with it, bringing back twisted pieces of wood from our treks, and making a forest museum.
I remember khud climbing. Getting up in the morning and sliding down the hillside cushioned with pine needles, oblivious to any perils this foolhardy pastime might hold, then laughing and panting, making the deceptively difficult climb up just in time for lunch. Hurtling down steep roads on polished wooden slats - our hi-tech toboggans - fearlessly because there was no vehicular traffic at all. I remember there were Pahadi men who would carry our suitcases from the bus station up the slopes with rope harnesses fixed on their heads sweeping round to their lower backs. They'd trudge up the roads in a zig-zag pattern -the way Pahadis even today climb steep inclines. I'd imitate them, then get bored and run up while they laboured behind us.
For the last 25 years I have been coming here a lot more frequently, but for two or three days at a time. It's my best kept secret that once every month or so, I will disappear for three days into the pine scented lap of my mountain home. But this time is different. This time, I am here for a month to write my new script. And it's summer again. But that's all that is similar to my summer memories from 25 years ago.
The road up to the hill station is now a two lane freeway, and yet, it is choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The hill station road has cars parked on both sides of it so that traffic jams last for hours. There are empty gutkha packets, vodka bottles, chips packets, and soft drink cans. And there is noise. The incessant noise of New India: Musical horns, souped up bikes, Bhangra rap, drunken men shouting conversations, and endless, impatient, aggressive honking. The roads are spilling over with holidaymakers gorging themselves with just about anything they can find to hurl into their mouths: momos, bun-tiki, bun-samosa, chaat, gulab jamuns, jalebis, veg burgers, kurkure. Except now, they are doing it on the road with their cars as makeshift restaurants, chowing, cleaning, washing, spitting, gargling and speeding off with a picturesque sprinkling of litter in their wake, like the fallen flowers of the champa tree after a rainstorm.
And then it becomes clear to me. I have lost all physical connection with this hill station. It has followed the narrative of everything that was once beautiful about this country. We have pillaged it, stripped it every year to find more beauty, and when we have not found enough of it, dug even deeper till the bones of the hill station have cried out to be left alone. In our violent, manic greed to get our hands on innocence and beauty before anybody else, we have trampled laws, humanity, any moral compass we may have been gifted, crushed and buried deep in the soft mountain loam. Through all this, a few people have amassed money, and cleverly built their gaudy palaces away from the place that is their golden goose. All that remains is a strong nostalgia awakened by the smell of fresh rain on mountain grass, a pine cone still fragrant with sap, the call of the mountain eagle. The generous, warm lap of my mountain home that was once a place of celebration at the end of a day full of sweat, excitement, laughter, and wonder, has now become the last place of refuge.
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