Friday, 22 January 2010

Who Else am I not-"The Two Idiots"

The next decade was a blur of places, names, people, schools, uniforms, teachers, exams, report cards.....

The one thing that remained constant in our lives were the Himalayas.

In this time, my father went from Udhampur, through Kalimpong(a second time), and Phuntsholing(Bhutan) to Thimphu (Bhutan)

By now I had started taking the weather, always ranging from pleasant to cold, the breath taking view, and the non polluted environment for granted.

Whenever we visited our cousins in the plains, I longed to get back to ‘our’ side of the continent.

Academics appeared to be the only black lining in our silver cloud, as we joined our new schools at any time of the year. Sometimes, after more than half the academic session had elapsed!

It never occurred to my father that my mother, my brother and I should stay back in a place to complete a session, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

In a way that was good for all of us in the long run, he felt strongly about the family staying together at all times, whatever the consequences.

Our regular traipsing all over the Himalayas with our parents had two very happy consequences, in my opinion.

The first was that academics became an inconsequential matter in our household, though not deliberately.

Our school life just could not match our experiences outside the classroom.

Though our parents sang the usual refrain of “you must come first with 90%”, they were easily distracted by the other options available.

Udhampur saw my father come into his own (he was a trained classical singer, an amateur actor, and a stand up comedian), whether it was announcing tambola at the Chinar Officers’ Institute, singing popular duets with officers’ wives and /or daughters, having musical evenings at home (where everyone sat on mattresses covered with white sheets, and ate pakodas while listening to classical and film music), or writing and acting in humorous plays.

He was all over the place, and, as a consequence, so were we.

The second was that, with my father’s penchant for travel, and despite my mother’s distaste for it, we were enjoying holiday weekends long before the phrase became popular in India.

Srinagar was on our monthly calendar, so, at least once a month, sometimes twice, breakfast would be in Batote (two hours from Udhampur), late lunch in Verinag (just after the Banihal tunnel-now called the Jawahar tunnel), evening would include a shikara ride on the (then) beautiful Dal Lake, and dinner would be in the cosy Officers’ mess situated on the main road running along the lake.

This was also the time were visited by dozens of relatives and friends.

Kashmir, and the expansive and generous nature of my father was too loaded a combination to miss out on! Thanks to them, we visited Vaishno Devi four times, and seemed to practically live in Pahalgam and Gulmarg!

How could school and boring text books ever match up with this?

The occasions when our father would glare at us before signing our report cards were tiny blips dismissed by the radar of our minds!

Kalimpong the second time round was very different compared to our previous stay there.

This time, we had to stay in a colony built by my father's organisation for its personnel. While my brother and I did have a good time, I missed staying in our previous house on the hill above the 'Kali Mandir'. In my mind, that was the ‘real’ Kalimpong.

I believe that the beauty of a place can only be felt by seeking out and absorbing its native, local flavour, which was absent in the colony.

After the gay abandon in Udhampur, with the happy informality of the Indian nuns, getting back to the strict and at times unsmiling demeanour of the European nuns was difficult.

Academics could not be overlooked here, as long as they could help it. So, life did get a little tough for my brother and I, when we failed in, of all things, Moral Science(I had to read up the Holy Bible in a couple of months) and Nepali!

Though I got back with my old classmates, I noticed now what I had missed, and what may not have been as distinct, earlier.

The boarders were THE people to be in the school and dayscholars merely incidental (I saw the other side of this world only after I attended another school as a boarder myself, later on). For the boarders, spending five hours a day with 'dayskis' as we were called, could not compare with spending every waking moment with each other.

I remember being extremely envious of their midnight feasts and after-school activities.

Some other things about round two of Kalimpong will remain forever etched in my mind.

The omnipresent Kanchenjunga was everywhere. I didn't remember taking notice of it as a child, but now its beauty seemed inescapable. Like the sea, this majestic mountain had different moods, and just when you thought you had seen them all, it surprised you with a completely new one!

Our school song, which I loved to sing, was sung to the tune of the Scottish National Anthem (of which I learnt only a couple of years ago!).

Our uniform included a light blue beret, and made our uniform look the smartest I've ever worn to any school.

On the 15th of August in 1978, we girls put up an 'Ai-Ki-Do' (a martial art form) performance in front of the Town Hall, to the tune of 'Kungfu Fighting' by Carl Douglas!

At home, life continued as before. My father was undeterred in his zest for travel. So, it was no big deal to visit Gangtok for the weekend, or to be woken at 2 a.m. in the night, be bundled in the back of a Willys jeep, and be driven to Darjeeling in time to see the sun rising behind Tiger Hill!

Like I mentioned before, my cloud was made of special sterling silver!

Very soon, we were off again, this time to tranquil and breathtakingly beautiful Bhutan...!!