|A MONTH IN A HILLY SIKKIM VILLAGE
This is the first time I am writing a travelogue. I have been to various places in the world, but have never penned a record of my travels. One of the reasons is that I am not a writer in the usual sense. I have written quite a lot, but that has been in connection with science. For last seven years I have taken to poetry and have written a lot and published two Hindi ghazal books, the third one scheduled to be in print in about 2-3 months. I have never written fiction accept a single story of a semi- autobiographical nature. It can be viewed here:
THE OLD WOODEN BOX: a 1000 word story—"THE OLD WOODEN BOX: a 1000 word story" , 7 August 2009
[The story of a missed treasure.]
Lately, many persons have suggested that I should expand my horizon of writing and not restrict myself to prose. However, I am not mentally tuned towards writing fiction. My niece, Professor Manjula Dass, D. Litt. (Hindi), who herself has written about 45 books, including poetry, story, novel, drama etc., has suggested a way out, at least to start with. She has advised me to do two things during my travels: ONE, to start travelogues; TWO, to talk to people and use that interaction to write stories based, at least partly, on their life experiences. I am thankful to her. The present travelogue is my first one. I intend to write a daily piece.
DAY ONE—22 May 2010, Saturday
I left Delhi on 22 May 2010 by Mahananda Express, a train that starts from Delhi at 6-35 a.m. and is scheduled to reach New Jalpaiguri junction at 1-30 p.m. the next day. The railway information web-site says that the average late arrival for this train was three and a half hours. It reached my destination at 8-20 p.m., upsetting all the travel calculations. But this journey had important lessons and observations:
ONE, it is better to travel reserved than unreserved, maybe by whichever train available. There were 4-5 other trains that were much faster and regular, including the prestigious Rajdhani train. The reservation chart in all those trains showed that I was wait- listed for allotment of a berth. In one of them, my wait list number on the date of booking, 3rd May, was 8. It is likely that there might have been 8 cancellations between May 3 and 22, but that introduces an element of uncertainty that is best avoided for peace of mind. It has happened that I purchased a wait listed ticket from Delhi to Allahabad where I was no. 2 on the waiting list. I had to travel standing, that too illegally, because entering a reserved train compartment without reservation is not permissible as per rules. Life teaches us that we should not take anything for granted.
TWO, mixing up with people is an experience in itself. I can remember two experiences distinctly which left a distinct impression on me.
FIRSTLY, I came across a young man, Mr., Chaturvedi, about 38 years, who had a remarkable background. He had been: a good sportsman; a sports teacher; a sports goods salesman; a pharma industry sales manager; and was currently a manager in an infrastructure development company with a pay package of about Rs. 100,000/- (about $ 2000) per month, which is pretty good by Indian salary standards, especially for a person who does not have a professional or postgraduate degree. But what impressed me even more were three attributes. Firstly, he did not take any alcoholic drinks at all and did not eat food that contained onion or garlic, even though his job involved touring several places and staying in five star hotels and moving in high society. Secondly, he was a sort of expert in share market and had made Rs. 4 lakh into Rs. 45 lakh in 6-7 years. He said it was not difficult, but one has to be systematic and methodical. He daily checks the share trends from US, European, Asian and India markets, which open and close at different times. Thus he keeps a track of international market trends, which influence Indian trends, and rarely loses. This is in spite of the fact that he has not had formal or professional training or experience in stocks and is not even from a business or trading family. This was quite a feat. Thirdly, he was full of devotion for his parents, seeing to it that they get all the physical and mental comforts. This sort of devotion to parents is rare now-a-days, particularly in well to do urban educated families. I will remember Mr. Chaturvedi for a long time.
SECONDLY, my companion on the adjoining berth was a Muslim family—a lady, her brother and three children. The lady was going to her parental village near Barsoi, a station midway between Katihar and New Jalpaiguri. The eldest child, a boy of about 12 years, was very bright and borrowed from me for reading a rather difficult Hindi treatise on Kabir written as a literary research thesis. I was surprised by his quick speed and correct pronunciation. The boy’s parents were obviously neo-rich and uneducated. The characteristics of such a social group can be imagined and I need not describe them here. There were other persons on adjoining berths, Mr. Chaturvedi and an 80 years old gentleman. A certain degree of familiarity and empathy developed between us and the Muslim family over the 36 hours journey. The two adults were constantly harassing and rebuking and hurting the boy mentally as well physically. At one stage, I even wondered whether the boy is a stepson of the lady, but that was not the case.
DAY TWO—23 May 2010, Sunday
The train is running late. It is keeping true to its name: a popular variant of the name Mahananda Express is Mahaganda Express ( mahaganda means-- very bad). It is supposed to reach New Jalpaiguri at 1-30 p.m. It is likely to be delayed by 5-6 hours. By the way, the river Teesta, which originates in North Sikkim, terminates in / merges in / is known in its course in West Bengal as Mahananda River.
The Muslim family has just disembarked. After it left, all three of us other passengers felt sorry for the boy. The octogenarian even said that the boy would run away from home one day. As the family disembarked, I was suddenly reminded of the recent trend in France, Belgium and some other European countries to ban the use of the veil by the Muslims in public. While the lady was quite like any other passenger throughout the journey, she took out from her bag and donned a burqa about 15 minutes before getting down the train. A sudden thought came to my mind that the problem with the Muslim world today is: their persistence in obsolete customs; neglect of education; and a tendency to keep intact their identity to the extent that it prevents their moving ahead along with others on the road to modernity.
We reached New Jalpaiguri at 8-15 p.m. The train was about six and quarter hours late. It started raining heavily a few minutes before reaching station. When the train stopped, our coach was far away from the engine, with the result that all of us would be heavily drenched the moment we stepped out of the train. Hence we decided to walk further ahead through the interconnected compartments till we reached the covered area of the platform. As I got out, I was wondering how I would recognise the person who was supposed to receive me. However, there was no problem whatsoever. A young man immediately came forward and called me by name. My trick had worked. I had asked Mr. Gurung of ECOSS to tell the person concerned to look for a white haired man with a white steel chain dangling from his right front pants-pocket. Sh. Gita Nath Koirala later told me that because of this classical description, he had no problem whatsoever identifying me.
Siliguri has a special place in my life. It was the place of my first posting after joining Army. I joined the Army medical Corps on 5th October 1965, just 88 days before I was scheduled to join my postgraduate course leading to the degree of MD. Why and in what circumstances I joined Army, and why I quit it, is a long story which is better told separately. After joining Army, I spent six weeks at the OTW (Officers Training Wing), Lucknow, and from there I was sent to Siliguri. I was almost 24 years old at that time, scheduled to enter unchartered waters. I stayed in Siliguri for about a year.
Our plans were all disrupted due to the late reaching of train. Gita Nath had planned to take me from New Jalpaiguri to the village where I was supposed to work and stay. That would have taken about five hours, but this time was already taken up by the train. Hence we had to stay in Siliguri overnight. We stayed in a hotel by the name Saluja Hotel. It is a big, 4-storeyed place, in the main business area, having perhaps about 200 rooms. I later came to know that there is a Saluja Hotel in Gangtok also. Besides, there were many eateries in Siliguri owned by Sikhs, as evident from the photos of Guru Nanak etc. prominently displayed there. This set me thinking about the power of commerce and the consequent changes in cultural milieu. While staying in the hotel, as I got up in the morning, I heard the musical rendering of Gurbani, the Sikh devotional music. I would never have expected to hear it in Siliguri, but here it was. The clear presence of Sikhs in Siliguri at a commercial level had taken care of that. (In actual practice, I came across very few Sikhs there). But an obvious commercial presence has its own value, compared to, say, hundreds of Bihari labourers, rickshaw pullers and petty vendors who sell sattu (a drink made of ground Bengal gram powder) or tea or pan etc. If there were no restrictions against people from the rest of India settling in tribal areas, the whole of such areas would be swamped overnight by commercial and political forces. The large scale immigration from Bangla Desh, at that time overlooked and even encouraged by the Congress government for its potential vote bank value, comes to mind in this context.
Gita Nath Koirala is about 31 years old, an MA in political science. About two centuries ago his ancestors came to Sikkim from Bihar. Now he speaks Nepali and probably has forgotten Bhojpuri. He is a simple person. Since he had come to New Jalpaiguri with the idea of taking me back to the village the same day, he came empty handed. He did not have any clothes other than what he was wearing. I helped him with a little clothing of mine to make him sleep in a relaxed manner. He told me that he lost his wife, aged 27 years, this January. She died of excessive bleeding within 48 hours of childbirth at a well -known, probably the best hospital in Tadong, Gangtok, the central Referral Hospital affiliated to Sikkim Manipal University. Without going into the merits of the case as to whether there was proper treatment or not, what was shocking was that the hospital refused to give him a copy of the medical case record despite a written request, followed by an application under the Right to Information Act. I promised to give him free legal help regarding his wife’s case.
We had dinner at an ordinary middle class restaurant. Siliguri proved to be not very cheap. The bill was about Rs. 250 for very simple fare. A bowl of plain boiled rice, sufficient for one person, was Rs. 35. Gita Nath had ordered some dal, sabzi and salad also. Of course, there would be cheaper places too. The hotel was owned by a Sikh and the bearers were Nepali.
DAY THREE—24 May 2010, Monday
Gita Nath had to buy a printer for a friend of his, so we went to the Siliguri market. Siliguri is a well- known city and trade center. The local markets open up by 10-10:30 a.m., so we had to wander around a bit. I decided not to have regular breakfast but to try sattu, which was available Rs. Five a glass. It was made from ground roasted Bengal gram powder. I thought it was pretty cheap and wholesome a drink. He also had onion sliced into small pieces and I was wondering what it was for. The sattu he prepared was saltish. I asked him whether he could prepare sweet sattu. He said, yes, but I would have to get sugar from a shop nearby. I noted that that is what many of his customers did. I asked him if he had any sugar with him. He said, yes, and that sweet sattu would cost Rs. 7.50. I asked him to prepare two glasses of sweet sattu also and both of us had it and relished it. As I was going, I asked him what he prepared with the onion. He said it was to be added to salt-sattu. On my asking why he did not add it to mine, he said I never asked for it! I did not know that the option had to be exercised by the buyer. I made a mental note to try onion sattu next time.
One thing that surprised me was that at many places, I saw eateries named like: Ganesh Pice Restaurant; Sarita Pice Hotel etc. This was a new word—pice restaurant—that I had never heard earlier. Ultimately, I asked one of the owners and came to know that these places referred to meals served as per plate / thali system. Every place has some new experiences to give.
Gita Nath did not get the printer he wanted. We decided to return to the hotel. On the way back, I stopped at a fairly large book shop to look for a book to learn Nepali language. There was none. Then I asked him for a Nepali-Hindi and a Hindi-Nepali dictionary. Ultimately I had to settle for a Nepali-English consonants and different shape.
As we vacated the hotel and went to the taxi stand in a three wheeler, I saw an unbelievable sight. At the main crossing on the main road, adjacent to a traffic police woman and another traffic warden, there was a man deputed to clean the road. As the traffic stopped in one direction, he moved across the road, picking with bare hands small bits of paper etc. that were lying there. Such road cleaning sense!
We took a shared taxi from Siliguri to Singtam, a distance of about 4 hours but that took seven hours. The reason was a road block caused by a land slide. There was long traffic jam on both sides of the road. There were some army vehicles also with army personnel. They even tried to use dynamite to clear the road block. People were advised to take safe positions to escape any possible injury from the blast. However, the plan was abandoned at the last minute. An alternative was found by allowing one way traffic for smaller vehicles like cars, jeeps etc. for some time (the road was only partly blocked). . After this, the congestion would decrease and traffic in the opposite direction would be permitted. I think it was a wise move on the part of the military officers to abandon the plan for blasting the blocking rock. If everything went fine, nobody would even care to propose a vote of thanks for the army. However, one civilian person or vehicle hit would be sufficient for a hue and cry to be raised, forcing the army to order a court of inquiry against the concerned officers. That is how democracy functions.
We reached Singtam, a small town, around 7-30 in the evening. In fact, it was night. The sun rises early in the East and sets early as well. We decided to have a quick dinner. The first place we went was already closed for the day. Life after dark is rather dull in a small town, especially if it is a hilly area and the state is sparsely populated, like Sikkim, whose total population is just about half a million!
The second place we tried was still open. It was managed by a lady. The place served food as well as liquor. I learnt that drinks are a common and regular part of Sikkim life. We had simple fare, paid and were lucky to be able to get a taxi for Lingee village, our destination. Otherwise, we would have to spend the night at Singtam. Gita Nath knew a taxi owner and was able to ensure the trip.
Singtam-Lingee journey takes about one and a half hours. We reached the place where I had to stay for a month at about 10 p.m. Arrangements had been made for my stay at Mr. Madhav Lamichani’s house. We chatted for about 15 minutes. Then Gita Nath went to his own village, which was about 30 minutes away by foot along hilly paths. I also retired to my room.
I had brought me two pack up bags made of synthetic cloth, the type one can carry on the back. When I opened them to take out the clothes for changing in the night, I was in for a surprise. They had been kept at the roof of the taxi for last 9-10 hours, during which it had been raining now and then. All the clothes had gone wet.
DAY FOUR—25 May 2010, Tuesday
I got up around 5 a.m. to the sounds of an orchestra of avian cacophony found only in pristine nature, the expanse of which was visible through my window and balcony no end. The house is built amidst woods and, like most houses in the hills, is built on a slope. A part of the rock provides a setting for a wall. It is a fairly big house, built in an area about 55 feet by 25 feet. It is mainly a single storied house, with sloping wooden roof, usual in the hills, and has a small portion which might be called, say, a lower ground floor, which has a toilet also. Another toilet on the main ground floor is of the European / Western type. I had requested this facility from the sponsoring organisation, ECOSS. They had to look for a house of this type and, in fact, had asked me if such a facility was a must. I had replied in the affirmative, giving my leg injury, sustained during army service, as the reason. It is difficult for me to squat. The problem aggravated further after my injury in 1984 (fracture, right tibia and fibula).
After admiring the setting of the house, the first task was to spread out the wet clothes all over my room for drying. The process of drying would be obviously slow, with rains already setting in and sun shine being accordingly uncertain. I was told that these are pre-monsoon showers. By Delhi standards, it is much more than we have in the entire rainy season. The rain fall in Sikkim is about 300 inches in a year. The real rains are yet to start. July is the rainiest month. Road blocks due to landslides, along with frequent interruption of electric supply make the rainy season pretty difficult in the hills. But, this is the season when work must be done. June-July is the time for sowing paddy. It is harvested in November.
Mr. Lamichaini as well and his wife are both primary school teachers, about 50 and 45 years in age. They have only one child, a boy aged about 21 years, studying in final semester of BBA course in Calcutta. His schooling has been outside the village Lingee since the beginning. This is certainly a sacrifice on the part of the family for the welfare of the child. The educational facilities and environment in a remote hilly village and a town do differ and often markedly so. He plans to go abroad for higher studies.
It had been planned that I would reach Lingee village on Sunday, get adjusted over a day and start my training class on Tuesday, the 25th. But on this day, as I went for the class, I found that Mr. RP Gurung, Chief Executive Officer, Ecotourism & Conservation Society of Sikkim, ECOSS, was there with visitors from Indian Institutes of Management, Kolkata (Prof. Anup Kumar Sinha); Reserve Bank of India, Sikkim (Mr. Karthik) and, NABARD (Mrs. Anjana Lama). A presentation about the ecotourism project, which was sponsored by NABARD, was made. Discussion and interaction with villagers followed and much time was taken up by this. No class could be held today.
In the afternoon, a small cultural show was organised for the benefit of the visitors. The programme was performed by school children. It consisted of Nepali song and dance. Another person, a farmer, gave a flute presentation also. Some of it I recorded on my video camera.
DAY FIVE—26 May 2010, Wednesday
Today I started the training programme. It is a programme to train villagers in spoken English. The aim is to enable them to converse with tourists who might like to stay in the village homes as a paying guest. Sikkim is culturally rich and some tourists are interested in experiencing the local culture first hand. Besides having to know basic English, the host villagers would also have to provide basic amenities, including a Western type toilet. That is where the banking system comes in. There has been envisaged a scheme to advance loans to villagers so that they may incur expenditure on necessary renovation of the home. All this has been necessitated by the fact that over last 8 years or so, the villagers are facing an economic crisis. Cardamom crop, which is the main export crop of Sikkim, has been destroyed by 97% because of a viral disease and no solution is in sight. An alternative tried to some extent was cutting timber from forests, but this cannot be encouraged much as deforestation has its own perils. The Eco-tourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim—ECOSS—therefore stepped in with projects to help villagers with alternate income generation models. The Spoken English Training Programme is a part of such efforts.
It is interesting the way world is changing through the communication revolution. I would probably not have come to Sikkim if there was no internet connectivity here. I have been thinking over last one year that I should find time out of my busy schedule to move out of Delhi to see different places, but not as an ordinary tourist staying in hotels and going sight-seeing. What I would like is to stay for 1-2 weeks in remote, peaceful places amidst nature, maybe doing some reading and writing, including poetry. If my stay in such places could be useful in some way to the local people, that would be much welcome to me. It was while searching the internet looking for a possibility of combining voluntary service with living close to nature that I came across an advertisement by ECOSS for a volunteer to teach spoken English for a month. They offered to arrange for food and lodging in the village where training was to be held. It suited me.
The organisers have planned that the training would be held in two different, though nearby villages. Each village would have 10 training sessions of 2 hours each. A booklet has been prepared by the organisation having 20 lessons in spoken English. The booklet has simple conversational sentences in English as well as Nepali. Each trainee has been provided a copy of the booklet.
The village where I had the class today is called Payong. It is about 40 minutes’ walk from the village Lingee where I am residing. The walk is along hilly paths, wide enough for a jeep to pass. It is just a stone path, cobbled with stones of various sizes 2-10 inches in size, occurring naturally, usually rounded up by flow of water. The path has water flowing at several places, coming down from heights. I am told it is not possible to walk on this path in the rainy season, July-August, when the water current is too strong to be traversed on foot. People have to take recourse to a small shaky bridge across a ravine. Life must be pretty tough for people. It is alright for city folks to be enchanted by green woods and chirping birds and steep slopes and streams, while on a few days visit in spring or summer season. It is a pretty different thing to face the elements of nature in all their fury.
There were eight villagers in the class, varying in educational background from an illiterate lady to those who had had 3, 5, 8 or even 10 years schooling. The heterogeneity of the group was certainly a challenge for any trainer. I started with the first lesson in the booklet. It soon became clear that training them was not going to be easy, in spite of the obvious enthusiasm on their part.
I had brought my Tata Indicom internet stick / USB modem from Delhi so that I might use it with my laptop. It worked fine till Siliguri. When I reached Sikkim, it did not work. I thought the connectivity problem was because Sikkim state not being served by Tata Indicom. But I learnt later that the real reason was the absence of a proper linking tower near Lingee village, and that this modem works fine in Singtam and Gangtok. For the last few days I tried accessing the internet at Lingee Panchayat computer, but there the computer speed was very slow, maybe 133 kHz, badly affecting internet availability. Moreover, working on another computer is not the same thing as working on one’s own computer. I must think of some alternative. I understand that there is an Airtel tower that beams adequate signals to the village. Tomorrow I will go to buy an Airtel USB modem.
DAY SIX—27 May 2010, Thursday
I started early in the morning at 6 a.m. from Lingee to go to Singtam to buy the USB modem. I reached there at 8 a.m. After some inquiries, I was able to locate a shop where it might be available. The man at the counter, one Mr. Rahul, said he could supply a Reliance USB modem for Rs. 2000/-. He said it works at Lingee. However, it would be available only after 10 a.m. when the shop owner came. I decided to wait. For 2 hours, I checked my mails on my computer, using my Tata Indicom modem. It worked fine in Singtam. By now it had started dawning upon me why life is slow in peripheral areas. A poor villager has to do with so many deprivations in the village that he gets fed up and opts to go to cities, even as a labourer, leaving behind his land and farm. The internet experience made it vivid. Here was I, a Delhi doctor-lawyer, wanting to do some socially useful work in a remote village, while keeping connected with the world. I was connected throughout my train journey and in the Siliguri hotel, but was disconnected in the village. Singtam, a fairly big town, offered connectivity.
Around 10 a.m., I decided to go around a bit. There was a sattu shop nearby. This time I told him beforehand that I wanted sattu with onion. It was tasty. He asked for Rs. Ten. On being queried, he said it might have been only Rs. Five at Siliguri because it was a big city with plenty of population and buyers. He had a valid point. Another difference that I realized later was that in Siliguri, I had taken it from a roadside mobile cart vendor, a Rehri wala, while this one was a regular shop for which he was paying a monthly rent. While taking the sattu, the thought came to me how practical and useful was the idea of sattu. Here was a RTE (ready to eat), cheap, healthy, nutritious and tasty food with easy transportability and sufficient shelf life that could be reconstituted without any hassles by simply mixing with water! Not only this, if the traveller does not have a glass or utensil, he can simply put a little powder on a leaf or other clean surface, add a spoonful or two of water, make it into a thick paste and eat it, adding a bit of salt and onion for taste. It can even form a tasty sweet dish if some sugar is added to it!
I wonder when the ever greedy cultural predators in the West would think of registering sattu as a patent held by some American company. They have already done so with items like dosa, idli, turmeric and neem.
When I went back to the computer shop, the owner had come by that time. He told me that the device I wanted was not available with them and that he would have to send someone to a place half an hour away to check whether it is available there. It was at this point that I realized the flaw in my planning. As soon as the shop-keeper told me that I would have to wait for 2 hours, I should have taken the decision to move on to Gangtok, the capital, which was just an hour away. I could then have seen a bit of Gangtok, got whatever I wanted, and returned back to the village in time for the class at 2 p.m. This is what is called planning and management. A good manager should never take things for granted. He should think of and provide for eventualities by having alternate plans ready beforehand. Strategies and tactics are an essential part of planning and management. I should have spent more years in the army. Planning and management are part of army life. Every ex-army officer is a manager of sorts.
From Singtam, I went to Gangtok. It was about an hour’s ride in the taxi. The common system of transport in the hills is a shared taxi with fixed rates per passenger. These are jeep like vehicles, duly licenced by the government, that accommodate about a dozen passengers at a time. They can traverse the hilly roads more easily than regular size buses in the plains. Moreover, the population being sparse, there are just not enough people to fill a bus with a seating capacity of 50-60. Landslides can easily and at any time disrupt the road network. If the road is partly blocked, a small vehicle can still manage to find its way.
Gangtok is certainly a city big enough to be called the capital of a small hill state. The main bus / taxi terminus has a large number of buses, taxis and passengers with much hustle and bustle. This is the tourist season—up to the end of June. Then things may be a bit different. There is only one main market, the Mahatma Gandhi Marg, which is also the main street where the tourists may go for a stroll and shopping or having snacks or meals. I had a hard time in Gangtok. Being a hilly area, one needs to go to different parts of the bazar, at various heights, for different needs. The stairways connecting two bazars may consist of as many as 100 or more stairs. I had to traverse these several times, following whatever directions I was given by different shopkeepers. I could find the device nowhere. Just as I was thinking of going back to the village, I was guided to a shop which had it. And, then, calamity struck. I discovered that I did not have sufficient money. I had only a thousand rupees to spare, while the modem cost Rs. 2500!
The above is again, a typical example of lack of planning and management. I should have checked how much money was there in my purse and how much was needed. But what was to be done now? I suddenly realized that Mr. Gurung, the executive officer of ECOSS, lives in Gangtok. I called him on my cell phone and told about my problem. In15 minutes flat, I had Rs. 1500/- with me. By the way, I did not tell him I did not have enough money in my purse. That would have looked foolish. I just told him I forgot to bring my purse. Every lawyer learns to treat mild distortions as acceptable:)
The story of the USB modem did not end here. After I purchased the modem, it was also necessary to purchase a SIM card from a cell phone service provider so that I could use mobile internet connectivity. This entailed another hunt for a shop from where I could get it. After a few referrals, I located a place. It took another hour here to complete the formalities, including a photo, copy of driving licence, providing the details of my residence in Sikkim and filling up an application form. Ultimately, by the time I finished, I found it was almost 2 p.m. I called the people in the village (Lingee) to let out the information that there would be no class today and that, in its place, the class will be held next morning.
DAY SEVEN—28 May 2010, Friday
Yesterday’s class was to be held at village Lingee, about 8 minutes’ walk from where I am staying. The classes are held at the Lingee Panchayat Bhawan. There seems to be a good system of Panchayats in Sikkim. The sarpanch in Payong Panchayat is a smart unmarried young man of about 35 years. He has held the position for 15 years. Another student in Payong, a lady of about 45, was also an ex-sarpanch. She came to the class twice or thrice but, having studied only till about 6-7 classes, her English was rather poor and she would not have probably been able to benefit much from this course. She stopped coming later. It was encouraging to see young, educated and serious villagers taking part in the political system. After the cultural programme at Payong, a young boy, who had just passed class twelfth examination, told me that he wanted to study law but was not sure how. He told me his aim was to enter politics. His parents were village farmers. It was most surprising to have such an aspiration from a boy in his teens. I told him the two ways of getting the LL.B. degree—the 3 year and 5 year route—and advised him to go for the former. I advised him that the knowledge of political science would be useful to him and that he should go for the 3 year LL.B. course after graduating, with political science as a subject.
At the house of the sarpanch, I saw, after decades, what I used to see in my childhood—a wheat crushing stone or chakki, called jhaanto, झांतो. I was told it was used even now.
At Lingee, the student strength was 25. This was three times the number at Payong. Initial test revealed that the basic level of knowledge was slightly less here, but the difference was marginal. Today I had two classes—in the morning at Lingee and in the afternoon at Payong.
At the house of the sarpanch in Payong, where the classes are held, I saw a marriage invitation card for Sunday at a nearby place. I later mentioned to Gita Nath about it and wondered as to whether I might also go there, just to see the local marriage customs. He suggested, instead, that he was to go to a friend’s marriage reception party on Sunday and that I was welcome to accompany him. So my first Sunday in Sikkim was not going to be idle.
DAY EIGHT—29 May 2010, Saturday
Let me write a bit today about the place where I am staying. I am literally living in the hills. The house is built on a hill slope. The houses and the farms in hilly areas are built on slopes wherever some flat area can be found or created. Beneath and above are other scattered houses. All around the house and all over the hill there is dense vegetation which includes bamboo and various types of local trees and ferns. In some spots there are patches of maize plants and some vegetables. There are also some orange, peach and papaya trees. I would never have imagined that I would spend a month in hill forests. There is nature all around. I can see the Teesta River from the balcony. There is the constant roar of a water fall nearby that I can hear all day. It rains for long hours almost on daily basis. However, monsoons have yet to arrive. There are two hills at the bottom of which flows the Teesta. It is wonderful to see the houses on the hills and the forest and the river clearly at times, only to find everything covered by a dense fog after some time, nothing being visible except the fog. Usually, such scenes can only be imagined or seen in the movies.
DAY NINE—30 May 2010, Sunday
Today I went with Gita Nath to the marriage reception ceremony of a friend of his. He had arranged a taxi. The village was about half an hour drive away, on a height. On the way, he purchased gifts for the couple, including khada, a thin silken scarf. (Probably the scarf was originally made of khadi, a hand-woven cloth). He purchased a pair of khadas for me also, to be presented to the bride and the groom. There were quite a few persons present. Both the groom and the bride are teachers. The tilak ceremony consisted of each guest applying some flower petals mixed in rice and curd paste to the forehead of the groom and the bride and offer them a khada and some gift or cash. The lunch was simple and tasty with some variety. Food in Sikkim is rice based. Variety is introduced by making varied use of the locally available things. For example, all the three parts of pumpkin, called Farsi locally, are made use of. I had tasted pumpkin sabzi as also pumpkin leaves sabzi earlier at Mr. Lamichaini’s place. Today I found a white powder as a part of the lunch menu. I was told it is called dhaula achar and is prepared by frying pumpkin seeds and crushing them and mixing some spices with it. There was a sweet preparation that was shaped like a jalebi but was not made of maida or was not dripping in chashni / syrup. It appeared to have been prepared the way a mal-pua (sweet bread, fried) is prepared. It is supposed to be a Nepali delicacy.
During the ceremony, there was live music going on, played by a village band with the help of seven instruments. One of them was a narsingha, which is a large pipe instrument, curved, about 4-5 feet long. It was in two parts, one part being fitted in front of the other. I could see that blowing it was quite a feat.
DAY TEN—31 May 2010, Monday
The training has some inbuilt defects that I must bring to the notice of ECOSS and suggest remedial changes for the success of the training. Some of the areas that need to be addressed are as follows:
a—No training need assessment has been carried out.
b—No eligibility / selection criteria for trainees exist.
c-- General objective has not been stated.
c—Specific objectives in behavioral terms have not been developed.
d-- No evaluation scheme has been formulated.
e--Time available is too short. The situation can be partly remedied by holding daily training sessions at the same location.
f—There is too much variability in trainees’ educational background. Some weeding is necessary.
g—The number of trainees is too large. A proper group size for successful training is generally accepted to be between 12 and 20.
h—General and specific objectives of the training in behavioral terms, along with an evaluation plan, need to be urgently developed and implemented for use in the present training itself to ensure its better outcome.
i—I think the two groups should be merged. Daily training should be held at the same location.
j—The eligibility criteria for trainees should be fixed as 8th class pass.
I would suggest the above to ECOSS.
DAY ELEVEN—1 June 2010, Tuesday
My suggestions have been accepted by ECOSS. I will implement them from today. I will regard today as day one of the training which would be conducted as per the new general and behavioral objectives developed by me.
DAY TWELVE—2 June 2010, Wednesday
The revised course programme is fine. I am now feeling more at ease. After all, the aim of my coming here was not simply to live in the hills for a month. That would be quite boring, with no aim and nothing to do. I have a stake in this training. As the trainer, I must prove (to myself) that I have done well the job I took in hand.
DAY THIRTEEN—3 June 2010, Thursday
Let me write a bit today about Sikkim and its people. Sikkim was independent till 1975. Bhutan had applied for membership of UN in 1971. Nepal had been getting too cozy with China, which had already attacked India in 1962. Bangla Desh, created in 1971, had started showing anti-India tendencies. It was anybody’s guess what would be the stance and fate of Sikkim, the border state between India and Tibet, which had already been usurped by China. It was in this scenario that in 1975, Sikkim merged with India. How the merger came about or was effected may have different versions and opinions, but it is on record that it was peaceful and at the formal request of the King of Sikkim and was wholly welcomed by the people of Sikkim. There were no visible protests from the international community, including China. Many people believe that had the merger not happened, Sikkim would have been usurped by China or otherwise sucked into its sphere.
There are about ten languages in Sikkim. The more prominent are Nepali, the official language, and Lepcha and Bhutia. Limbo and Rai are some others. Rai is somewhat akin to Nepali but has a script of its own. Nepali Rai’s are the warrior class from the Mongoloid stock, somewhat like khshatriyas, while Nepali Brahmins are Aryans. I was surprised to learn that while Nepalis in general, as also the Bhutias and Lepchas cremate their dead, the Rai’s and the Subbas bury them, though both are Hindus. The reason is that they are later converts to Hinduism and still retain a few initial practices and rites.
Though Sikkim is a part of the North East, I find some distinct differences. ONE, Nepali language, culture and religion (Hinduism) are uniquely prominent here. That being so, it is easy for the rest of the North India to identify with Sikkim people, even though they comprise both the Mongoloid and the non-Mongoloid stock. Nepali language has unified the two groups. Nepali being very close to Hindi language, Sikkim as such has found an easy and natural affinity with the rest of India. I have not been able to discern any trace of resentment against India or the Indians, or any longing for the erstwhile Sikkim kingdom or any soft corner for China. There is a fair interaction with Nepal at the peoples’ level. People from Sikkim keep on visiting Nepal and many families have relatives settled there whom they keep on visiting and vice versa.
Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are not much visible here. There are a few churches and monasteries. I did not see a masjid. Christianity has swamped almost the whole of Nagaland and is widely present in other NE states. All this has been a result of active conversion by the missionaries during last six decades. I have spent a week in Kohima. It is dotted with churches everywhere. Hindu temples are very few.
DAY FOURTEEN—4 June 2010, Friday
I have been two weeks away from home. I have been talking to Namit, my younger son who is a doctor and Deepti, his wife, on phone. Maneesh, my elder son, a software engineer, has also been calling from USA. Nice of them and thanks to the inventor of the cell phone concept. My life is as busy here as in Delhi or Sunnyvale. My ability to continue here without feeling much home-sick may be attributed to three factors. ONE, my being perpetually busy (courtesy the computer and the internet) and not having time to brood. TWO, my having no one to brood about. I do surely think of my wife often, but I do not need to be at home for those memories. They are with me wherever I am. THREE, my conscious decision to adopt a simple life style, including the food / eating style (I told my hosts here that I want no special food preparations and formalities at all. I even told them to serve me food in the same utensils they use-- a small metal plate about 9 inches in diameter, made of the alloy kansa, with about 3 inches high sloping margins. It is called Kasa. To a north Indian, it is nothing but a small paraat. By the way, it is surprising that it has not been replaced here by a stainless steel equivalent, which would probably be even cheaper). A small bowel of the same metal for serving dishes is called bato. A simple life style ensures that one does not miss the amenities available at home. The food here consists of rice and local vegetables not known in the plains, prepared without much elaborate cooking or spices and without much taste by Delhi / North Indian standards, but that does not bother me at all. They do prepare chapatti sometimes for my sake but I have told them not to bother about it. I don’t even use the spoon, something unthinkable in Delhi. I don’t use bathing soap or shaving cream and I am none the worse for that. I have been washing my clothes, mostly, in plain water. (Hot water is available for soaking them first). That seems to be serving me well. Ironing of clothes is not missed at all. The bathing towel is nothing but a white thin cotton angochcha measuring 36x18 inches. I am quite happy with it. As a matter of fact, I wonder why at all man needs so many paraphernalia for living, thereby creating wealth and poverty in society at the same time. The “need” for the unnecessary things is created by the capitalist-consumerist culture whose fountainhead is the USA. To maintain its blown up materialistic, eco-destructive life style, that country, sitting on a trillion dollar debt, invades other countries to ensure continued flow of cheap oil and to gear up its war machinery industry, which can be profitable only if world peace is continuously kept disturbed.
DAY FIFTTEEN— 5 June 2010, Saturday
The training course is now well on rails. I am enjoying it too. It is a long time, almost ten years, since I have planned and conducted a training course. This was my routine job at NIHFW.
DAY SIXTEEN— 6 June 2010, Sunday
Today I went with the Lamichaini’s (Mr. Lamichaini, his son Nishchal and his 74 years old mother, visiting from Nepal) to the Gupteshwar Temple at upper Lingee. It is a temple of Lord Shiva. There is a cave nearby, maybe 3 centuries old, where a Shiva Linga has been worshipped by the local people. The entry to the cave is very narrow. May be a very thin man can enter it. We did not go to the cave. The term Gupteshwar probably refers to this rather concealed nature of the cave. We went only to the temple. Mrs. Lamichaini did not come because there was a death in the family and, apparently, it was forbidden to go there for one year.
It was a unique lesson about a remote hill temple. Mr. Lamichaini collected the key to the temple from some house on the way. When we reached there, the door was locked. We opened it. The way to the temple was full of vegetation and weeds at places. This was not surprising. I have found that people are not bothered about keeping the pathways clean and trim. This is just in keeping with the Hindu habit of keeping one’s own house clean but not bothering about the common path. The inside of the temple verandah was full of dirt. It was obvious that visitors were few. Those who might come simply came up to the outskirts and went back. We had come to offer puja because Nishchal so desired, he having scored 75% marks and top position in his class in the pre-final semester. We had brought puja stuff with us.
Half an hour was spent in cleaning the floor and removing the dust, dirt and the spider webs etc. Then the main temple door was opened and the floor was cleaned and washed with a few buckets of water that were arranged with the help of neighbourhood children. Mr. Lamichaini, being a Brahmin, knew how to conduct the pooja in style with rituals and mantras. It was fascinating to watch. It was all over in about one and a half to two hours. Then we returned.
DAY SEVENTEEN— 7 June 2010, Monday
I learnt that the condition in the times of the Sikkim king were very bad. Mr. Lamichaini told me that his father, who was a devout Brahmin and did not even touch meat as food, and to whom the cow is sacred, akin to one’s mother, was forced by the Bhutia king to carry on his head pork and beef from Lingee to Gangtok on foot as an offering to the king!
DAY EIGHTEEN—8 June 2010, Tuesday
I just came back from the class. It is less of a tension now. The schedule has been streamlined as a result of the revised program made by me. It is progressing satisfactorily.
DAY NINETEEN—9 June 2010, Wednesday
I was told that the Lepchas are very simple people and do not think of foul things or devices. Bhutias, on the other hand, are more prone to be cunning. However, the Lepchas were not civilized earlier and had homes and a life style rather dirty and unhygienic.
DAY TWENTY—10 June 2010, Thursday
I have been suffering badly last 10 days from cough, expectoration, fever and asthma. I have started taking an antibiotic (Ciplox) and anti-asthmatics (Asthalin inhaler and Deriphyllin tablets), but am not benefitting much.
DAY TWENTY ONE—11 June 2010, Friday
Sikkim became part of India in 1975. For 15 years, Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Congress, was the chief minister. For 20 years, Pawan Chamling of SDF is the CM. All the 32 seats in the Assembly belong to SDF. To me, it is highly undemocratic. Total absence of opposition in the legislature is always suspect and to be frowned upon. I understand there is plenty of corruption and even unfair elections.
DAY TWENTY TWO—12 June 2010, Saturday
Nothing to report except that tomorrow will probably be my only Sunday spent on my own, exploring a bit of Sikkim. I plan to go to Namchi tomorrow.
DAY TWENTY THREE—13 June 2010, Sunday
Today is Sunday, my day off. I decided to visit Namchi, the head quarter of South Sikkim district. I started off at 6 a.m. Mrs. Lamichaini had told me to start back from Namchi by 1-2 p.m. so as to reach Singtam by 3-30 p.m., otherwise I would be stuck at Singtam for the night. I was told there are four places to be visited in Namchi: Namchi market; char dham (some sort of replica of the 4 dhams); Rock Garden and Guru Padma Sambhav temple. I was advised to start with the last, which was some distance before Namchi. The ticket to Namchi from Singtam was Rs. 70/-. I got down at a point 5 km. from Namchi, from where a 2 km uphill road went up to Sam Duptse, a hill top where there is a temple and statue of Guru Padma Sambhav, the state deity of Sikkim. It was inaugurated / consecrated by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a few years ago. There was no vehicle available. I had to walk up. It took me about 50 minutes to reach the temple. I tried to flag several vehicles, private as well taxis, but none stopped. It seems even the taxis were privately reserved ones. I thought once I reach the top, some taxi might be available for going on to Namchi.
The temple consisted of a sanctorium hall, at the roof of which was a large statue of what looked like, rather obviously, Lord Shiva. There was no information plaque at the site to tell the visitors about the place or its significance. (Rather a poor reflection on those managing it, as also the government of Sikkim, who got it inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. I learned later that Guru Padma Sambhav is supposed to be an incarnation of Lord Buddha who visited Sikkim, probably from Tibet. His foot prints are, till today, preserved in North Sikkim in memory of that visit. It is said that he had blessed the people of Sikkim that they would never suffer from scarcity of water or food.
There was no priest at the site. There was an entry fee of Rs. 20/-, charged by the government. In the sanctorium, there was a place for depositing offerings. The atmosphere was serene.
As I came out of the temple, I made inquiries at the taxi stand to find out if any taxi was available. All of them were privately reserved and I had to commence the downhill journey on foot. I did not mind walking. It was a pleasant walk. But time was the constraint. I had to get back to Singtam in time.
On reaching the main road to Namchi, I waited for 15 minutes, hoping some taxi going to Namchi will take me in. None came. I then reasoned that I might spend an hour there with nothing materializing. Hence I started walking towards Namchi, thinking that I would flag a vehicle on the way. However, that was not to be. Both private vehicles and taxis came and passed by without stopping. I almost felt like a beggar who is neglected and looked down upon by others. At least, I was not stranded. I am a man of means and had my purse and mobile phone and my IDs as member, Supreme Court Bar Association and as a doctor. I could always arrange help when in real difficulty. I shudder to think how a real beggar would feel. I am reminded of the words of my father who said that he had passed through such poverty that he decided to work and save hard and hard and hard so that his children may not have to pass through such phase in life. I bow to him.
When I had walked 3 km., I found a place where taxis and other vehicles were stopping. I decided to go and look what it is. It happened to be the Rock Garden I had heard about. I decided to have a look at it. I also had a faint hope that I might get some taxi from here to Namchi. I spent about 20 minutes going down and down a long flight of stairs, in the hope that there would be a garden somewhere. So far there were neither any rocks nor any real garden. It is true that the whole terrain being hilly, there were rocks in the hills. Also, along the stairs, there were some flower plants planted by the side. I think the two sufficed the government to give it the fancy name of Rock Garden. Those who have been to Rock Garden in Chandigarh and might visit this place to find something of the sort would certainly curse their decision to visit the place. Mercifully, there was no ticket.
Coming up the stairs was naturally more taxing and time consuming. When I came out, there was no taxi to be found and I decided to walk on further for 2 km. to Namchi. Yet, I continued to flag vehicles. Ultimately, a vehicle did stop. I am not sure whether it was a private vehicle or a taxi (what poor observation!). The driver asked for Rs. 30 and I agreed, more to save time than to avoid tiredness. When I reached Namchi, it was 1 p.m. I thought I would go around the bazar for an hour and get a taxi for Singtam at 2 p.m. I had snacks at two shops. There was something called Pyaazee at both places. It is basically a preparation much like dal vada with a lot of onion and no dal as such—something like a flat besan-onoin pakora. I understand that this name is common in Sikkim (mainly Namchi) and some parts of Bihar. One piece cost Rs. 5 in a fast food place and Rs. 3 (Rs. 10 for 3 pieces) in a usual tea-pakora type restaurant.
When I came to the taxi stand at 2 p.m., I was told at the ticket counter that the next and last taxi was scheduled for 3-30 p.m. I should have purchased the ticket for the taxi as soon as I reached Namchi. Then I would have got the earlier taxi. Now that I was forced to wait for one and a half hours, I went around the bazar again with a more relaxed look. It is a small bazar with a central park where there are some plants and benches. There is also a well maintained aquarium there. For somebody from Delhi, the market hardly had any attraction.
I started from Namchi at 3-30 p.m. At the same time, I called up Gita Nath Koirala to tell him about predicament that no taxi for Lingee would be available from Singtam when I reach there. He was kind to make some special arrangement with a taxi owner to take me from Singtam onward. The taxi was waiting for me when I reached there. I reached back to my place at 7 p.m.
Someone told me that 30% population of Namchi is Muslim. Having been there, I can say I did not find many people with obvious Islamic traits in Namchi market. However, I saw about 4-5 (out of, say, a total of 100-150) commercial establishments bearing Muslim names there. On the other hand, there is a big influx of Muslims from Bangla Desh in Bengal, Assam and other North Eastern states. I think the common occurrence and availability and popularity of pyaazee is a pointer to Muslim presence / influence.
DAY TWENTY FOUR—14 June 2010, Monday
Today I gave Rs. 400/- as loan for a day to Thakur Thapa, a 25 year old young man living in the neighbourhood. He said he would return the next day.
DAY TWENTY FIVE —15 June 2010, Tuesday
He did not come to return the loan. I am told the people here are very honest. Maybe he will come tomorrow.
As per newspaper reports, a class 8th boy committed suicide by hanging in the wood near his home because he had hit his father during a family quarrel and the father complained to the Panchayat, which imposed a fine of prayaschit pooja (repentance prayer) and gau-daan (donating a cow) on him, all of which would cost thousands of rupees, to be done through his own money. The school principal turned him away from school till he fulfilled the Panchayat decision. Ostracised by everybody, he was driven to suicide. The SP gave a clean chit to everybody and registered it as a case of simple suicide!
Incidents like this prove to me time and again why knowledge and practice of law are so important for a society.
DAY TWENTY SIX—16 June 2010, Wednesday
Today was a busy day. I took leave from the course for a day. Mrs. Lamichaini had told me earlier that her brother, Mr. Bhandari, is a lawyer working as OSD (Law), Officer on special duty to the chief minister, and would like me to meet him. Yesterday we went to Gangtok.
We were three people in the vehicle, a Tata Scorpio belonging to Lamichainis—Mr. Lamichaini, her son Nishchal and myself, along with a driver Vir Bahadur. The son writes his name as Nishchal Sharma. He is a 20 years old young man, tall, well built, handsome, serious, talkative and witty when he wants to be. He is pursuing a BBA [Bachelor of Business Administration] course in a college in Calcutta. After this, he has plans to go in for MBA. I have also suggested to him that he might consider studying law also. He has included this also in his plans.
We left Lingee at 10-30 a.m. and reached Singtam at 12 noon, on way to Gangtok, which was another one hour away. All the while I was thinking about a remarkable attribute of the Nepali people. They are very simple and innocent looking with always a smiling face. I have seen hill people in Himachal, Garhwal and Nainital. They also look simple and innocent, but not as much as and not as smiling as Nepalis. I have seen hill people in Nagaland also. They, too, don’t match up to the Nepalis in this respect. As Vir Bahadur drove, to Gangtok and back, he was either actually smiling or laughing uninhibitedly all the time as he talked, or, while I could not see his face, seated at the back, I had a perpetual feeling that he was smiling. I am sure Nepalis must be having a low incidence of stress, suicide and stress related diseases like hypertension etc. I must look up the literature to confirm this.
Nathu-la is 50 km. from Gangtok. It is a mountain pass connecting Lhasa (Tibet) to India. There is obviously some military presence on the road to Nathu-la. I think Nathu-la must be at quite a height. I got a taste of the height when we visited two places, Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok. There are Ganesh and Hanuman temples at these places. Both are at steep heights, the latter higher than the former. It is rather scary to go in a vehicle on such heights, especially when the road is not a perfect one. I must admire Nishchal for his grit. He and Vir Bahadur drove alternately.
There is something that evokes a feeling of devotion when a temple is at a remote, high, hilly place. I had that feeling at both the places and also at Guru Padma Sambhav temple, Sam Duptse, which I visited on 13th June.
In the afternoon, I visited, along with Mrs. Lamichaini, the office of Sh. Bhandari, OSD (Law) to the CM. He is Mrs. Lamichani’s brother. It was a nice meeting. He told me that he liaises with Sh. Devendra Pareekh, President, SCBA, for Sikkim state cases. Earlier he used to in touch with Sh. R K Jain, who is now no more. He also informed that Sh. Mariaputtam was the standing counsel for Sikkim in the Supreme Court but he has recently taken over as advocate general of Sikkim and his wife Aruna Mathur is currently the standing counsel.
Finally, I had a meeting, along with Mrs. Lamichaini, with the Power and Culture Minister of Sikkim, Sh. Lepcha. I must say he as well as his office were pretty unassuming and simple. He is Mrs. Lamichani’s dharm-bhai.
DAY TWENTY SEVEN—17June 2010, Thursday
Today, for the most part of the day, I felt a bit sad. The course is coming to an end. There are two classes more—on Friday and Saturday. Monday is the concluding day, with post-test and a bit of official feed -back and distribution of certificates and prizes etc. I have put in a lot of sincere efforts in this training course and the trainees can see that. They, 18 ladies and 2 men, have been equally interested and committed. I have learnt a lot from them. The life they lead is so simple. When asked what shopping they do at Singtam, 50 km. down the hills, all they have to say is—vegetables, spices, cardamom etc. About the daily routine, besides farming, washing the cow etc., one girl said she has to go to the woods to look for and bring yam. Some ladies said they are taking this course because it would help them teach English to their children. It is remarkable how much a mother does for the sake of her children. A woman always has her family in her mind. So unlike men!
DAY TWENTY EIGHT—18 June 2010, Friday
Today was the last but one class. I have learnt myself during this training. That is how it should be. For example, I used to wonder why students used to write correctly but speak incorrectly. For example, they might write builds but say build. I realized only later that Nepalis have pronunciational difficulty with certain words. Today I had to spend 15 minutes trying to make them speak ‘consists’ correctly. They tended to pronounce it just as ‘consist’, being unable to pronounce ‘ts’. I also realized how the focus changes with the aim. Had it been a class for teaching ordinary English, not spoken English, class work done correctly in the notebook would have been sufficient and the written and pronunciational mismatch would not have become apparent.
DAY TWENTY NINE—19 June 2010, Saturday
The course was over today. Monday is scheduled for the closing function. A job well done!
Let me talk today of cows and milk. It was the first time I had a chance here to drink pure cow milk and taste cow ghee. The routine in the plains is to rear buffaloes because they give more milk. Most dairies that keep cattle in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Western UP etc. mainly rear buffaloes. If one wants to buy cow milk in Delhi, it might be just impossible. (For that matter, buying ANY pure milk in Delhi might be very difficult now-a-days. Cattle cannot be kept in residential areas in urban Delhi as per law. Time was when stray cows, stray in the sense that they used to roam around in the streets and would ultimately return to the owner in the evening, could be seen in Delhi. Now, it might have been a year since I saw a cow for the last time in Delhi!)
Cow milk is really tasty. Certainly far tastier than the low fat, toned, and double toned milks that are processed in milk plants and sold in bottles or polythene packs. Cow milk, with about 4% fat content, and cow milk curds, is what I partook in Sikkim on a daily basis. The buttermilk in Nepali is known as mai. The cow ghee has a slightly yellowish tinge because of its higher carotene content.
DAY THIRTY—20 June 2010, Sunday
Today is the last Sunday in Sikkim. Gita Nath arranged a 4-5 hour “walk through the woods” for me, going around some places of interest. Mr. Tika Ram Adhikari had agreed to offer his time for this. We went to an old traditional Nepali house; from there, around a Lepcha house; then to the Payong Panchayat, Junior High School, Payong, and the residence of Payong Panchayat president Kuber Tinsimha. At his residence, we were served sweets and refreshments. As I departed, Kuber’s mother applied Tilak on my forehead and presented me a Khada.
I learnt the following new things today:
1—There are some Hindus (Rai’s and Subba’s) who bury their dead;
2—Lepchas and Bhutias cremate their dead. I saw a mania near a Lepcha house. The mania was the place where the ashes of the cremated person are kept, along with some gold / silver etc. The Mania is a compound about 20x12 feet lined by
Stone walls and at an end was the place, covered with stones, where the ash and gold etc. are kept. I was told that last year there was a theft at this mania and somebody has dug out the gold.
3—Pomegranate is grown in the area. I saw a pomegranate tree with unripe fruit also. There are two types of pomegranates here—sweet and sour. I saw a pear tree and a peach tree also, as also a pine apple tree. There are some varieties of ferns that are edible.
4--Eating too much bamboo shoot vegetable can cause headache. Bamboo shoot is Rs. 20-30 /- per kg. There are only a few varieties with edible shoots. Sale of bamboo shoots is discouraged by the forest department. Largest bamboo size in Sikkim is with diameter 15 inches. I have seen up to 6 inches so far. Bamboo grows in length for a year, at the rate of about a foot per week. Then the gain in height stops but the maturing and strengthening of the bamboo stem continues for 4-5 years more. A bamboo, measuring about 40-50 feet, might sell for Rs. 30-150 depending upon its diameter and maturity. Bamboo cultivation is more profitable than maize. It needs no care at all. Sometimes forest fires occur due to friction of bamboo stems. Thick bamboo stems are used in village homes, in what is called a dheri, to store water, rice etc. and also to store and make milk, curds etc.
5—Broom stick plant looks like a thin bamboo reed plant with similar leaves. There springs a special structure from the stem which bears, at the end, what is made into brooms. The broom material sells for Rs. 70 a kg. Three or four brooms can be made from a kg.
DAY THIRTY ONE—21 June 2010, Monday
Today was the last day in Lingee / Sikkim. Tomorrow early morning I will start from here around 6 a.m., reach Singtam around 7-30 a.m. and, from there, leave for Siliguri, West Bengal, reaching there around 11 a.m. I will stay there overnight and catch the train to Delhi next day at 11 a.m.
The day started today at 11 a.m. I started from home for the work place, Lingee Panchayat Bhawan. On the way, I decided to investigate for the final time what were those shining paths on the steep hills in front. I had often wondered whether they were rivers / streams, water falls, or some man- made structures like roads or a pipe line etc. The sun was shining, the visibility was good and I spent 5-6 minutes staring at them intently. Then I was able to observe some reflections and waves in the shiny paths, the tell- tale sign that water flowed there. Thus, fortunately, on the last day I did confirm that they were water falls flowing down steep hills, ultimately to join some rivulet merging in the Teesta. I bet it would be a roaring sound within hearing distance of those falls.
Thrilled with this discovery, I moved on. Soon I felt that the road and the view were a bit different from the usual. There were a few buildings that I had not noticed earlier. Then two small shops appeared. Now I was sure I had come further ahead than the Panchayat Bhawan. I retraced my steps, wondering all the time how I could miss the staircase going up to the Panchayat Bhawan, where I went 6 days a week for a month. When ultimately I reached there, this is what I found—the staircase was exactly opposite the point where I was making my monumental discoveries about the water paths on the opposite side of the road! I should not have gone ahead at all. From the observation point, I should simply have crossed the road and ascended the stairs.
The above incident immediately reminded me that in school and college, friends often called me as “absent minded professor”. They were right. Here I was—both a professor and an absent minded person! At this point I started thinking how lucky I was. I often tend to ignore my own interests and to forget others’ misdeeds towards me. This forgetfulness is what has probably enabled me in life to not be too much attached to my own pleasures and sorrows and to work towards doing my duty and attaining the ultimate goals. While some of this tendency might be innate, at least a part is shaped by Gita which I used to read since early school days. The advice of Geeta—to keep on doing one’s duty without coveting for reward, has been deeply ingrained in me. This must be, to an extent, responsible for my having achieved what little I have: good results in class eleven and the inter exams.; admission to all the 3 medical colleges where I applied, including the AIIMS; passing all exams, in MBBS, MD, LL. B., MPH, LL. B., LL. M., etc. in first attempts and with good marks. The trend has, by the grace of god, continued in the new vocations I chose for myself: legal practice; legal consultancy; law writing; English poetry writing; Hindi poetry writing; and, lastly, volunteer service, the present one in Sikkim.
Today was the concluding day for the training. Mr. Gurung, chief executive of ECOSS, came from Gangtok. The program started with post-evaluation. I was thrilled to see how some of the trainees fared in the role- play carried out as conversation between a villager and a visitor, which was the focus and objective of the training. There was obvious improvement, documented by increase in scores, for the group as a whole and for most individual trainees. This was followed by presentation of views by some of the trainees. They showered unbelievable love and praise on me. I could see that what they said was not mere rhetoric. It came from their hearts. I was overwhelmed. When my turn came to express my views, I spoke of various things. In the end, when it came to expressing my thanks for the love and affection and the respect showered by the trainees on me, I choked out of emotion. That rarely happens to me. It just shows how deeply I have been involved in the training. Well, that is how it should be. Maybe such emotional attachment might not have been there had this been a group of males. The group had 18 ladies (16 married) and 2 men. It was a unique and new experience. I believe each new experience, pleasant or unpleasant, is worth it. What matters is the newness of the experience, not its pain-pleasure dimension. New experience means new learning, which may be in all the three domains, to a variable extent—cognitive, affective and motor.
Each student, and some other persons, offered me a khada as a mark of respect. The group of students presented me, collectively, a gift in a large box. Sh. Gurung also presented me a gift on behalf of ECOSS. I decided not to open the boxes but to carry them to Delhi and ask my son and daughter in law to open them. A hidden agenda in this was to let them realise that I do have some love and respect for me:)
Thakur Thapa has not returned the loan. Gita Nath kindly paid me from his own pocket and said he would try to recover the amount from him later. For this purpose, he got a letter written from me, addressed to the Presidents, CTDC and LTDC, lodging a formal complaint with them.
DAY THIRTY TWO—22 June 2010, Tuesday
I was supposed to travel to Siliguri along with the Lamichainis, who wanted to go there in their car. We were ready to go when we got the news that the road is blocked due to land slide. Hence, they had to cancel the visit. [Such are the vagaries of nature in the hills. We can never be sure of the next moment. This is very different from the much more assured life of the plains and the cities. It is easy to blame the people from the villages, hills and remote areas for the “slow life” there. It is they who live in nature and know it, love it and save it for the sake of the city dwellers].
I told Sh. Gita Nath about it. He came to meet me. After much discussion, it was decided that since my reaching Delhi is a must, he would somehow arrange for me to reach up to the point of road block. There I and he would walk on foot across the road obstruction and then we would try to arrange some other transport from there to Singtam. From there to Siliguri would not be a problem.
As we reached the road block, the driver / owner of the taxi thought he would be able to ride over the block after a little adjustment of the stones and the rubble. After arranging things for half an hour, he started over it in the first gear. The vehicle got stuck midway. Efforts for next three hours to set things right failed. Then there came a vehicle from the opposite side but it had to turn back because of the block. Gita Nath managed to put me in that. That is how I reached Singtam. From there I got a taxi for Siliguri. I reached Siliguri at 5 p.m. As I neared Siliguri, it was a unique experience. After staying for a month in the hills, with nothing to see but hills and slopes and woods and streams 24 hours a day, here I was able to have, for the first time after a month, to have an unrestricted view of the plains, as far as the eye could go, till the horizon. For the past one month, the eyes could go only as far as the next hill!
I stayed in Siliguri for the night. Again, it was a different experience after a month, sleeping with a fan over the head. In Sikkim, I was using a blanket and there were no fans in the house.
DAY THIRTY THREE—23 June 2010, Wednesday
Now I am in the train. I boarded at 11 a.m. It is supposed to reach Delhi at 6 p. m. tomorrow. I am told it is usually 6-7 hours late.
DAY THIRTY FOUR—24 Jun e 2010, Thursday
Today is the last day away from home. The train will reach Delhi around 10 to 10-30 p.m. I should be home by 11-30 p.m. This is the last entry of this travelogue.
When I reached Delhi, life suddenly became hectic, as before. There were letters; pending tasks; forthcoming court dates etc. Moreover, I was already late for a book already with the publisher and had to correct the proofs (A medico-legal question-answer book for doctors). Another book, “Medicine and Law” under joint authorship with another, needed urgent attention, the co-author already having written his part before I left for Sikkim. A Hindi ghazal collection, the third one of mine, needed to be given to the publisher. I had completed the compilation in February, before leaving the USA, but it needed some final touches. I had also to complete the compilation of my first English poetry book.
Namit and Deepti found time after three days to open the gift packets. Both were lovely gifts. The one from ECOSS was an art piece displaying a Chinese dragon in white stone. The students had given me a lovely carved portrait of Radha-Krishna, along with a cow, mounted on a mirror in the background.
For about three or four days, I was not able to get the memories and scenes of Sikkim, including the hills and the students, off my mind. Two students, Songmita (the singer of the class) and Ambika (who got two prizes for best performance) sent me SMS messages for a few days. Songmita and Tilarupa even called me on my cell phone. I would very much like to be there once again. It seems I have left behind a part of myself there.
I wrote four poems about Sikkim, one in English and three in Hindi.
SUMMER HOLIDAYS—"SUMMER HOLIDAYS" , 7 July 2010
[How I spent this summer—working in the hills!]
The Hindi poems are given below--
२७२९. याद आते हैं वो दिन जो पहाड़ों में गुज़ारे
याद आते हैं वो दिन जो पहाड़ों में गुज़ारे
बहता है मेरा दिल तीस्ता के किनारे
वो भोर की बेला में परिंदों का चहकना
और्किड का सरे-शाम फ़िज़ाओं में महकना
बादल के परे रात में छिपते हुए तारे
याद आते हैं वो दिन........
हर मोड़ पे झरनों का वो संगीत सुनाना
बन जाता है रुकने का घड़ी भर को बहाना
भूले से न भूलेंगे वो कुदरत के नज़ारे
याद आते हैं वो दिन........
दिल करता है सिक्किम से नहीं लौट के जाऊँ
शहरों में रखा क्या है यहाँ घर मैं बनाऊँ
लग जाए नज़र न ये ख़लिश भाव छिपा रे
याद आते हैं वो दिन........
महेश चन्द्र गुप्त ’ख़लिश’
२४ मई २०१०
२७३०. बरसात का है मौसम, सिक्किम में रह रहा हूँ
बरसात का है मौसम, सिक्किम में रह रहा हूँ
तीस्ता भी बह रही है, संग मैं भी बह रहा हूँ
चारों तरफ़ हैं जंगल और आसमाँ खुला है
सुन पक्षियों का कलरव मैं हर सुबह रहा हूँ
मेघों की हैं कतारें, कुछ दूर, पास कुछ हैं
कितनी हैं बादलों की, मैं गिन तह रहा हूँ
धाराएं शोर करतीं पर्वत से गिर रहीं हैं
गिरतीं कहाँ हैं ढूँढ मैं वो ज़गह रहा हूँ
जी चाहता यही है मैं लौट के न जाऊँ
दिल्ली में ज्यों ख़लिश मैं रह बिन वज़ह रहा हूँ.
महेश चन्द्र गुप्त ’ख़लिश’
२५ मई २०१०
२७३१. जुगनू का चमकना वो सुनसान अंधेरे में
जुगनू का चमकना वो सुनसान अंधेरे में
आवाज़ टिटहरी की जंगल के घेरे में
बारिश की बूँदों का टप-टप करके गिरना
गिर कर फिर बह जाना नदिया के डेरे में
बिजली जब कड़के है शोला ज्यों भड़के है
जग रौशन हो जाता लमहे के फेरे मे
लगते हैं तिलस्मी से कुदरती करिश्मे ये
न पाओगे शहरी रात और सवेरे में
ये फ़िज़ा पहाड़ों की बस्ती ये गाँवों की
चमकेगी रोज़ ख़लिश यादों के चेहरे में.
महेश चन्द्र गुप्त ’ख़लिश’
२६ मई २०१०
M C Gupta
7 July 2010