All these pictures were clicked by me in the last two months since the lockdown began. These are all scenes near my home. I didn’t even have to venture more than 500m for these photos. This is how the lockdown looks like when you live in a small Indian village. 😊
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
I didn’t know her. She was born after I left my hometown. But I knew her dad, her uncles, her cousins and everyone else in her family. I never saw her that is until I saw her pictures all over my Facebook feed: pictures of a dead girl, raped and tortured, left to die in a jungle.Her body was in the jungle for five days and no one found her… neither humans nor animals in the jungle. And that picture is engrossed in my mind since that day.
I was in the same town when I was seven: that was seventeen years ago. Seventeen…the number of years she would have lived to be my age but she didn’t. Instead, she was brutally murdered. I have no intention of glorifying the death of a little kid. All I want to do is to get these feelings out of my mind. I don’t want to imagine the seven year old me going through everything she did.
What is it that make humans turn into monsters? How psychopaths who rape kids, people who molest girls on roads, uncles who sexually harass little kids stay amongst us yet manage to hide their intentions? How do we tolerate such things? Do we think that it could never happen to us? At least I thought so, until this time. Yes, I do get affected every time I read about a rape, I discuss it with other people, I curse the criminals, talk about the inefficiency of police in our country, and in another two- four days I forget about it, until the cycle starts again with a new case. But it isn’t the same this time. Is it because she was someone I knew? Is it because I never thought that such a thing could happen in my small, peaceful town? Was I thinking that Uttarakhand being devbhoomi ( the land of the Gods) is above these things? Well, I guess I was wrong.
If there is something that is above everything, it is evil. Sexual crimes exist every where, whether you are roaming alone in a dark street or you are inside your house. Any person, regardless of his/her age, class, caste or nationality could be a molester, a psychopath. You need not be wearing a short dress to invite unwanted attention, even 7 year olds get raped. I can never understand what goes inside the mind of a molester, what makes them do what they do? Why is it that evil prevails over sanity? I don’t know if anyone could ever answer these questions for me but I know that time and again I’ll be forced to ask these questions. And every time I’ll hear about a new case, the pictures of this girl will cross my mind taking me to the small town where I once lived safely.
Far away in the abode of the Himalayas, lies a small town, a place where I spent my entire childhood. That was the time when I didn’t know that something exists beyond those mountains. Even when I am miles away from that place I still feel it, I see it in my dreams almost every day. I’ve a different kind of connection to that place, a connection that has remain intact even after a decade I left it.
There are memories associated with every single thing, each one igniting a beautiful emotion within me. You know, a particular smell engulfs my hometown, a different kind of smell. It’s a mixture of the smell of wet mud, smoke and wood. No place that I have ever been to equals the aroma and ambiance of my place. I feel like, we the natives of that town, somehow own that aroma.
And the air, it has a different kind of calmness to it. The way it flows and touches your skin, you can feel the tenderness; you can feel its love for you.The unending sky especially during the months of October or November takes your breath away. You can spend hours just gazing at it. The picturesque nights during Diwali when the entire town is lightened with different kind of bulbs twinkling all over the valley are mesmerizing, nothing could be more beautiful than that.
Winters are the best times of the year. I can’t describe the way I used to wait for the snowfall each year and the moment I would see one or two snowflakes in the sky, I would shout with joy, “oye barf padne lag gyi”. It was fun. Every day was a new day, every moment filled with a little surprise.
All those memories are still there in my mind: Shopping at Gandhi Chauk, running through the streets of Siltham, our school bus going all around the town, walking to school sometimes through the narrow lanes of Dharamshala line, the crowded markets during Diwali, the fairs at moshtamanu , all those pahadi Holi songs, Kumauni folk dance at school, the chilling cold in winters, those plums and peaches, kafals and hisalu (local fruits), that bhatt ka saag and gauhat ki daal (local cuisine). How can I ever forget that? After all, those were the best things and the best moments of my life.
On the eve of leaving my place about a decade ago, I sat on the roof top and looked all around the town, trying to capture everything on my mind. I was sad but didn’t cry until the last moment when I got to see the last glimpse of my town. That was the moment I actually realized that my childhood is over. That was the time to enter the real world away from my paradise.
My hometown taught me to see dreams, to rise above those mountains and to cross every roadblock. Its beauty, its culture, its authenticity, all made me a peaceful person, as calm as the winds blowing during winters, as soft as the snowflakes falling off the sky.
For me it’s the best place in the world. And I would love to go back there someday and never leave again. Life would be so much more beautiful.
“If tomorrow will be the end of the world,I’ll spend my today by looking at the pictures of my past!” -Mehmet Murat ildan
In the Himalayan foothills, amidst vast forests, lies my maternal village, a place i fall in love with, again and again. I miss it so intensely that I find myself there almost everyday in my dreams.
I dream about this house we have, which is almost two centuries old. The fireplace, the traditional Indian mortar and pestle, the Himalayan view from the terrace, the balcony which is my favorite place in this world- the memories of childhood.
I dream about the enormous fields, and fruit orchards, my aunt cutting grass with a sickle, the water canals, and the smell of burning wood mixed with that of green leaves, and mud.
I dream of the school my mother attended, the one built by my grandfather. I visualize the stories my mother told me of her childhood, the pranks she played, her mischief and adventures.
I dream of the pet cat we have, the tiny one who is scared of rats. and the cows we own, the new born calf which would have grown up since the last time I saw her, almost four years back.
I see those temples in my dreams, the Shiva temple located atop a hill, the one I visited with a little girl, who by some complex relationship was my aunt.
There are places which become a part of your identity, a part of what you see yourself to be- my mother’s village is such a place for me. I can go places, see big cities and metros but I’ll always be a village girl in my heart. I long to visit that place, to spend quite evenings sitting at the terrace with a cup of tea, lay back and enjoy the beauty of nature, without worrying about the rest of the world.
I’ve a wish- to be able to live the last days of my life there, to attain peace as my life comes to an end.
Being a kid, I used to be terrified watching videos of floods in the northern plains of the country, and my mom used to assure me that mountains are exempted from floods, we can have earthquakes, landslides but floods, they are out of question and I believed her till 6 days ago when all those myths were broken by a tragic catastrophe in our state. None of us, neither me nor my parents have ever seen something like this, a disaster of such a large scale when four of our districts are washed away in the water of our own holy rivers. The place which used to be a pilgrimage for millions of devotees around the world has turned into their burial ground.
Thousands have lost their lives and more than 50,000 remain stranded waiting to be rescued. The videos in television seem to be from a Hollywood movie, something we witness in those end of the world films. The local newspapers are filled with heart wrenching stories of people, a couple who saw all three of their children wash away right in front of their eyes, a family who has lost 9 of its members, a husband whose wife was washed away from 2 stairs below him, stories of loss, tragedy, damage. There is nothing left except debris and dead bodies in the land of Gods.
And it hurts me, to witness this tragedy, to see the level of destruction, the amount of lives lost. And more than being angry, frustrated, sad, I am scared, because I don’t know when I’ll have to encounter something like this, I fear that someday I’ll see my own hometown in ruins. Pithoragarh, where several lives have been lost, and several villages have been washed away even this time, may have to encounter something bigger like the floods in Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag. Because I’ve seen it grow from a small town with few houses to an over populated region, filled with hotels, multistory buildings, tourist spots and what not. I’ve seen the declining forest ranges, the burnt jungles, the encroached lands, and I fear that my own place is inviting nature’s fury, something yet to be seen. Having spent my childhood there, being a pahaadi, I can’t ignore it anymore.
Who is responsible for this? Was it nature’s way to revenge the damage man has done to it? Was it the result of excessive encroachment, illegal constructions and commercialization of pilgrimages and tourist places? Each one of us is responsible for this destruction. Every time we overuse our natural resources we must take the blame of a life lost. We have disturbed the ecosystem and so the same ecosystem is keen on destroying us. For it is taking revenge- the hotels and houses we made on the banks of rivers are taken away with it, the roads we built encroaching mountains are damaged by the same, are all washed away, we cleared forests to built dams, bridges, so, rivers have cleared all those constructions. We commercialized God, temples, we made different queues for poor and the rich, but with this tragedy, God has shown that each one of us meets the same end either rich or poor, there is no discrimination in His place, neither do we bring anything with us to this world, nor do we take away anything with us.
With more than 5000 people presumed to be dead this is going to be one of the worst disasters of our country. Nearly 50,000 people are still stranded and with warnings of fresh rains, the rescue operations are only going to be hindered. We all need your prayers and your help. Pray for our people, our mountains, the Land of Gods. You can also make donations to the Prime Minister’s National relief fund here. This is the least we can do.