MY LAND, MY PEOPLE
Dear Shubumta, as I close my eyes, all I can sense is the cool and pleasant air blowing across my cheeks… greenery and serenity surrounds me, White Mountains shine as the sunlight sweeps through its surface; the intoxicating smell of fresh wet mud sets my pulse racing. The chilliness of air is complimented by the warmth of a cup of hot Darjeeling tea and a plate full of hot steaming momos. I am surrounded by people who look like me and speak the same language: there is a sense of belonging. With people so friendly, there never arises a question of insecurity.
You know how I’ve spent my childhood in Kurseong: playing in the tea gardens of Kumsiri with our gang: whether it was hiding behind the tea bushes, chasing each other or just simply walking by the narrow red mud lanes to Bagkhore; tripping on raw mud, getting leeches stuck to the foot, fearing that with a slip of the foot we might fall down the cliff, excited our adrenalin.
We were a group of 10 friends sharing a strong bond- Dingraj, Bunu, Anurag, Dipu, Aman, Ishaan and Bhumika etc., you and me of course. We grew up together and age difference was never a matter; from early dawn till late evening we’d stay together; planning our own expeditions seeking the end of the narrow lane that passed through Kumsiri, but time would never permit and the path was endless…
I hope you remember our frequent visits Durpin –dara; the end of the pucca road. Instead of the conventional route by this road, I guess you can recall the one time we took a different route: walking our way through Kaman-Bari to somehow reach our destination. It was a steep way up, and the mud was slippery, we found a huge bamboo stick, which helped us to hold onto each other. The bamboo stick stood as a symbol of our camaraderie. As we finally reached Durpin-dara we had that big smile across our cheeks: the glorious feeling of accomplishment.
There we would first climb the tower and see the whole town below; the cold wind would blow freezing us, but as we filled the air with our chitter-chatter and laughter, the atmosphere remained warm amongst us.
The soul tries to capture those moments of falls and achievements, cries and laughter; and store it for eternity.
When exhausted, we’d refuel ourselves with plates of Bhagu’s momos and a packet of wai-wai snack. Its flavour still lingers in my mouth.
As dusk would set in we’d bid goodbye to Durpin-dara. On our way home, we’d share a 2L bottle of Sprite. We’d take a sip and pass it around, making weird faces as the carbon-dioxide would reach to our nose. The distinct faces still remain fresh in my mind. Shubumta, I still remember your face going red as you took a sip.
As night would fall, friends would tell me all the ghost stories they knew, and real (!) encounters with them. Do you recall the time you told me about that headless ghost? Ugh you made me go completely numb. The night of Kurseong is spooky yet magnificent, the sky is so clear; that you can see innumerable shinning stars and moon appears nearer and its beauty so breathtaking…
As the night passes, morning takes over and the cycle continues, and life moves forward. But feelings remain, the emotions, the laughter, the tears but largely the community-life that I so identify with.
With the passage of time, everything changes, gone are those days when I’d stay in Kurseong for the whole summer and winter vacations, now I hardly stay for 5-days.
With the change of seasons and years that have past; we too have changed, growing up in different lifestyles, our common identity seems to have changed: from the playful kid-like nature, to the more mature teenager, though sharing the same roots.
We no longer get much time to interact with each other, and the major part of our common identity: playing; is lost in this business of growing up. We hardly find anything common to talk about. Durpin-Dara’s slide is now barred and Bhagu ko dukan too has closed down. You know how Anurag and Ishaan have shied away to their local gang of guys.
Yet with all the differences and changes that have occurred, however far we may go, however different we may seem, the deep rooted memories of childhood will never fade away. They live in Kurseong and I live in Delhi, yet the strong bond we share cannot be diluted with distance or time.
As the Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling continues, things aren’t the same as before, there is tension in the air and people have different affiliations with their leaders, insecurity is in the air.
But the green hills, forest, snow-clad mountains, the toy-train that winds upto Darjeeling, and aroma of the golden Darjeeling tea remain timeless… and indeed priceless. The instability present today will also pass with time to give way once again to the peaceful, calm, secure Kurseong that I so fondly remember.
I still love Kurseong, no matter how many changes occur, it is apart of my soul, my land, my people…
Living in Delhi, I have merged with people of all caste, creed, religion and ethnicity. I relish my chatpata chole-bhatura, dosas and dhoklas. Yes, I do have a multiple identity.
Yet, each day as I look into the mirror, what I see are the hills, the snow-clad mountains radiant in the sunlight, smiling faces with rosy cheeks What I hear is the tinkling laughter, and soft strains of local folk song Vari Jamuna, Pari Jamuna …and smell Thukpa and Selroti; I can smell the air and breathe the beauty that swallows me in its depths. My heart and soul call out to the hills of Kurseong; the hills where I belong…
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