Sita Aunty currently goes about cleaning tumblers of milk-turned-curd. In some time, the family will leave for the forest on top of the hill behind this one. I’m welcome to join. I’m game to go but I feel breathless almost all the time. My nose is dry and it almost burns when I breath in and I do that a lot and with a lot of effort. I want to hog on as much oxygen as I can lay my lungs on. Even when I’m just sitting about. Plus I think the momos have disagreed with my stomach. But I’m going alright. Can’t let a hiking opportunity go by like this.
After breakfast, Norzom and Padma apply pink nail polish on their hands and feet. Norzom is the second oldest daughter. I had initially thought she’s in 8th or 9th standard but later learn that she’s finished school and is dropping a year as she decides the next step. The eldest daughter is married and lives at Ki. Padma, too has finished school. Just got through with it. The boys, the tirruk chewing, green cycle romping Tandup and the responsible and quiet Tanzin, oil their hair. Their mother screams at them for pouring out too much oil.
Last night, we lay about the kitchen watching a TV soap called Piya Rangrez. About vamps and victims and about a man who is loved by too many women. It’s a weekday night ritual.
I did go for the walk. I must match my steps to the Khibber accustomed lungs of Sita and her troop. I can’t. I try for some time, breathing progressively harder with each step. Soon we have stopped for water at a chashm (spring). Some bottles are refilled. Empty biscuit packets too. There might not be water ahead. The chashma is sacred and appeared there by miracle after the death of a revered lama Sita is very commonplace about informing me. General trivial you must know about their village. No one know how but the water suddenly started flowing. And it has healing properties too. By the time Sita and Padma are done filling water, I’m still almost done catching my breath.
The walk starts again and I’m ashamed at the way I’m performing. But when nausea hits I decide there’s no point being so hard on myself. My head is throbbing and my eyes feel as though they are going to pop out of the sockets. I decide there’s no point delaying the team further. I tell them to go ahead. I’ll have to sit out this expedition. They tell me repeatedly to not stay where I am but head down. But I stay put waiting for the throbbing and the sickness to pass. But it won’t. I head down a bit. Each step a hammer on my head. I sit on a rock for some time till I dare to get up and start walking again. Not up but sideways, following the road that goes round the hill to the farms ahead but 10 minutes later it’s the same again.
Then I decide to leave Khibber. I don’t enjoy immobility and this place is too damned quiet. But on my way to the main road, I look back at Sita’s house. I would like to leave behind a contact and say thanks. But is there anyone at home? Yes! I see a face looking out of the stained glass window. But it disappears soon.
Back home, I’m glad I walked back. Only Norzom is here and she’s watching a Govinda film – Kuwara. Urmila, Kader Khan, Om Puri and many more familiar faces. We giggle a lot. The jokes don’t seem silly. The film however, is punctuated by power cuts during which Norzom and I chat about a variety of things.
She wants to be an airhostess. Nursing, doctor and police are a fashion when it comes to female employment in Spiti, she says. Even Padma is all decided about joining the police force. I picture Padma with her pigtails and pink cheeks hard at work with that typical frown of hers.
No, but Norzom would like to do something different. And information is hard to come by in this land without internet and email ids. Neither are there any local Spitian newspapers here. What is an ambitious girl in a fairly deprived family of eight members to do? She helps out with a few homestays in the neighbourhood. The money is good at times, depending on the number of guests that show up.
And she makes curry chawal for lunch. It smells like the lassi I was offered an hour back made from the milk turned curd lot of the morning. The rice seems too heavy and I’m full after a few bites. The rest of it goes in a dirty white drum in the corner which is a store for the cow’s food. Nothing’s wasted here. Even the plastic wrappers are used for fire.
Soon I was asleep under a cozy but coarse blanket. It was one deep sleep. When I woke up at around 4, the sun had shifted to the other side of the house and warm sunlight streamed in through the creamy pink curtains on the window. The entourage was back after collecting wild garlic and other seasonings from the top of the hill. They had even chanced upon a rabbit and both parties had got quite a shock.
The family is now watching Mann (an Aamir Khan and Manisha Koirala starrer) and is chewing on something that’s called lichi. It’s a red leaf but the stem is what’s being chewed. It’s sour as the Devil. As shocking as the innocent looking tirrukh.
Khibber is turning out to be very filmy that way. Padma even cried at the end when all the many misunderstanding are finally cleared away between Priya and Karan. She then gets up to make tea, her nose still red and eyes a little puffy. It was a sentimental film.