It’s past 8 p.m. Sita and Norzom have left for Ki to water the fields and run other agricultural errands (I heard something about grinding Jamuns, I’m sure). Tandup has been taken too, in case he bawls without his mother. A cousin brother is here now. Smoking cigarette after cigarette. He’s supposed to be a kind of baby sit. To make sure the household doesn’t run amok in the absence of the mother but the arrangement has its flip side. A bottle of alcohol has been brought out and tea glasses have been passed around. Soon Padma’s cheeks are more pink and the girls are marveling about smoking and how they can never do it because of the neighbors always prying. And then of course something about health.
It’s definitely more fun today. There’s a lot of pinching and kicking between Dolkar and Tanzin. They stream in and out of the kitchen and eventually I realize the fight is regarding who gets more time playing games on my phone (which is on charge in the other room).
There’s also the TV in the background but we sit around talking. Mostly the cousins discuss some upcoming wedding and then everyone peers over a phone screen looking at photos of faraway relatives. Well not so far away either. Some uncle from Kullu, his wife and her sister and the children and their cousins and their parents who is the elder brother of Padma’s cousin brother on who’s phone we are seeing all these pictures. Everyone is related.
The warmth in this room is a reminder that this isn’t my reality and that experiences like these don’t come by so easily. I soak up every minute of the evening. I realize what it means to grow up with siblings. How secure it can feel. When my mother wasn’t around, my sin was to chew on sugar and sit around with a story book instead of preparing for the upcoming exam. Here, it’s about spraying the room with powder and secretly finishing off the forbidden Patanjali anardanas and some kick boxing with the elder brother and then not knowing when everyone’s rolled over and drifted off in their sleep.
Tomorrow, I return to Kaza before Sita is back. I while away an extremely frustrating day, watching Game Of Thrones and Sultan before the clock strikes 6 the next morning. Then I head to the bus stand with my bag and boots. I find myself an extremely uncomfortable spot in the bus, but I make my way down to Manali. The green, the rain drenched green that re-surfaces near Rohtang top, I can’t get enough of it. So green. So wild. And the rains too. So much of it. There are all kinds of bikers here, and trucks and cars. There’s almost a traffic jam. The sudden increase in the number of people I see around me is comforting to say the least.
In Manali, I feel as though I’ve returned from another planet. It’s almost something I can’t explain to anyone else. The sights I have seen, the silence that’s pierced my ears and the loneliness I’ve felt over the past few days, can’t be explained just by words. It’s a feeling that one can only experience while standing amidst the barren mountains that I have left behind.
Why have I left it behind? Because Sita and her family, made me miss my own. That morning, before going out for the trek, I called home. There’s one point by the window where Sita’s phone hangs from a nail on the wall. That’s the only place you’ll find network. Keep your neck in the correct angle, lean in to the window and you might get the line. I did, after seven tries. I head my mother’s voice. Very faint, very excited at hearing from me, and so far away.
This is officially bidding farewell to Spiti. It’s time for a different voyage maybe. Seems like an opportune moment for this wonderful Mike Sowden quote I found sometime back: Endings are the great unsung heroes of travel experiences: without them, everything worsens.