Perspectives from the Himalaya

A Pendulum Shift in Winter

In the play of sunlight filtering down through the shady fig trees, a troop of little feet powered by an apparition of arching wild bamboo and a generous length of hemp rope, sauntering at first, then taking bolder strides, broke their locomotion into a mad run towards the swathe of cracked mud. There was an immediate urgency to fly and the many soaring spirits held nothing back and mayhem broke loose for want of being the first to take off.

In a world where Time comes to a halt, it is a big, blue, blur. Far away in a land of the pendulum where nothing bears any resemblance to real life, the trajectory of a bob reaches out towards the lofty pointed peak of the Machhapuchre. The sky soars away higher and higher, beyond the wing of the falcon, then falling back, falling down and one could almost reach out for the feathery companion. Then welled by thrill, another surge on the bob swings on and on forever and never halts its rhythm – spellbound by white spires, the billowing play of clouds and cloudmen, and the shifting of shadows from the arc of the sun playing in a light bath. There lies a kind of beauty, of desolation. The hypnotic pendulum swings with no customs no traditions no names. Just between an inhale and an exhale. The kid on the bob lives in the land of magic where anything is possible. Until, drawn back by the ringing in the ears at unsuspecting altitudes or the sound of an impatient cry from far below, breaking the spell and calling out for a turn.

Rewinding Time a handful of hours earlier, Little A was euphoric at the little project given to the stonemasons for the day to build a bamboo swing known as ping. It kept him occupied and out all day. He ate his breakfast steamed bun on a worn-out tyre stool whilst watching the four men cut down and manoeuvre freshly cut bamboo stalks as a framework. Sketched out on paper what he thought they should do, he shared his instructions in sparse Nepali explaining what his drawing meant. The men graciously accommodated his enthusiasm and gave their nods of approval. They dug out four deep cavities, toiled the hollow stalks into place, then slid up the bamboo with ease akin to monkeys, and tied the pairs of stalks with rope all the while perched with the robust grip of their feet. Little A who had stationed himself strategically, observing attentively at first, got impatient and wanted to help. There was not much he could do so he resolved to mimic their actions alongside, putting on a puppet show. His interminable wait for a ping was finally materialising.

Now and then some cosmic disturbance will cause Time to bend back on itself. Kindred spirits are unearthed. A world where time is dictated by calendars, life is scattered in fragments of conversation, hasty episodes. Clouds overhead come together, move apart, come together again not quite allowing the rays to settle. Friends that enliven each other came knocking on our door just as the horizon had set to a shade of burgundy. They came trudging up across the gravel mess with 4 large boxes and their little backpacks that had traversed the Bay of Bengal but there was no sight of their single piece of luggage or the 5th box. I stood by the doorway, stoked by their first day of travel with 2 younglings, a recovering W from food poisoning and lost luggage. J, who seemed unshaken by the outcome nonchalantly gave us his familiar grin.

The 3 A’s stomped down the stairs cheering on the undefeated young family on unfamiliar terrain. It didn’t take long for the two little S’ to get acquainted with the rowdiness of the A’s and the opening of the boxes broke the ice. Whilst W finally had a chance to rest, the children were breaking out in peals of laughter punctured with wow’s and woah’s as they tore off the brown wrappers. It was like receiving early presents from the red-bellied, white-bearded man who, undisguised was a madly generous sister. J pointed to a special box that was meant for the kids and that Mama I should keep her distance. As the messenger, he dutifully conveyed the gist of the message and said that I could be in rage for this. Those few words were enough to trigger the A’s. Guessing what they meant and without hesitation, five pairs of young fingers dived into the depths of the box. An uproar broke out and anarchy let loose as they discovered its contents.

As the days trailed, there was an air of a new pulse. The more open to life, the more everything feels like a heightened adventure. J and W sought them off the beaten track with their children and in return found courage and independence embedded in their little ones. New friendships were made, old ones were enriched. The exchange of gifts in stories and experiences, breaking out of usual rhythms and trying out new ones, working through new chemistries, tantrums and emotions, and just taking little steps one at a time had brought a striking journey of families coming together.

The sky gave way to the colour of muddy water and temperatures took a dive. Bodies tucked in the pockets of heat huddled together under duvets, sleeping the sleep of the dead. Even the woodworkers nor Nandaji were nowhere to be seen. Not a whiff of food trailed from their dwelling. Time tells us that it is a new day in a new year in the Gregorian calendar. Winter grins teasingly letting us know it is truly yet another icy grey morning plunged in the peak of her omnipresence. Sensible creatures continue to dwell in hibernation. In the village where work revolves around the seasons, Time works hand in hand with Mother Nature and submits to her will. Winter spells rest, introspection, inward mending, and re-creating order.

Mid-morning approaches. The cry of a goat is heard in the distance as it struggles to free itself from butchering hands. It was the kind of cry that brought cringe and a flash of gory visuals. A neck slashed, then bloodshedding, skinning, gutting, cleaving, amputation, disembowelment. There came the stifled cry of dissipated life-energy ebbing away until silence crackles. It was the cry of a creature brought to life for ingesting and robbing, and never knowing it.

Big A reports unusual numbers of sparrows, likely russet sparrows crashing into his window pane. He is unsure if they were at play or simply disillusioned by the reflective glass. He thought the first crash would have given them the dizzies or a hint but it didn’t stop. Then he noticed the deliberate fluttering of wings against the pane and their beaks pecking. Do birds play because they are intelligent or are they intelligent because they play?

There is a Time when one is inevitably invited into another’s darkness. Generations are prone to cultural practices not even understood amongst themselves. Undercurrents of Nepali life have origins and meaning that baffle the modern mind. It flows deep down among the people often unquestionably. G recognises the mysterious force that drives people to act in the name of superiority. His spirit, impervious to what he encounters, refuses to submit to the sort. He wonders when put to the test if they could be berated away until arrogance would give way to compassion. R takes on a different approach. His lenses are of a different shade and he sniffs out nonsense like a hound. Present me a flower and I will gift you two. Approach me with a muzzle and I will rain you down with fangs.

Shrouded by dreary clouds, winter has a tendency to bring the penetrating Russians through like a brooding blanket for comfort and companionship. Some thicker days evoke images of Tarkovsky’s oblique scenes in Stalker. Chekhov promises silence on stage and staggering moments of self-realisation on bleak days. When frost takes the bite, Rachmaninoff’s outpourings stir the insides so deeply that it gives beauty to everything defying all rationality. ‘If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.’ Last winter brought Dostoevsky back, coming to a sublime height of the psychological kind, the kind that makes the head spins in spirals and knows not where the beginning or end is. This year, Tolstoy lounged in and refused to leave for a long time and when he did finally leave, Time came to an end or felt like it did.

The experience of War and Peace was like watching a silent horizon transformed into a plethora of sweeping emotions for kilometres. It was an epic read from intimate perspectives and moral dilemmas, expanding out into the vastness of the European battlefield through tumultuous bloodbaths of soldiers put into play like mindless pieces of broken chess, side by side and all at once with the intoxicating banquets and carousals of aristocracies except that the spirit of humanity in all its beauty, pain and horror cannot be defeated no matter how dark or glittering the landscape transforms. Tolstoy reveals to us what truly matters in our lives, what holds, even if just a flicker or a glimpse before our last breath is drawn away or drowned in the messiness of it all. I wish I had read War and Peace in college. Any student of history or humanities simply should. It gives a wholesome perspective on transfiguring and interpreting history; it provides a revolving frame of mind from all players, nationhoods, the powerful and the mad and the survivors, and if given time for mastication one could just about digest it in bite sizes with a magnanimous sense of awe. I may not have understood all of it or its subtleties for lack of life experience back then, but it would have set an underlying language or impression for what life was, can be, and is.

Russian Masters L-R: Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Rachmaninoff, Tarkovsky, Tolstoy

Although Tolstoy has left my reading latitude for the moment, his voice continues to ring through subconsciously in clean syllables.

We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.’