Perspectives from the Himalaya

Alchemy of Spring

Ramming stopped on the final wall and a cry was heard from 24 feet above ground.

Perched on the edge of worn-out formwork, a finger pointed down towards the muddy pathway between the thresholds where Surya stood. The little ones put a pause to their work play at the sand dune and leapfrogged toward the scene.

Surya had just stopped a slithering creature in its track. The dark green limbless shape retracted, haphazard patterns of a struggle imprinted on damp soil. Wild P hovered around it, an amusing smile materialised on his stained face revealing growing teeth and a scar on his cheek and forehead. He swayed around the injured reptile attempting to pinch the tip of its tail but the snake flinched in defence. Surya warned Wild P but undeterred, he grabbed a metal bar from him and gave a merciless bash on its head. It recoiled and twitched in agony, head smashed, bloody in its white underbelly. He poked around and with a curiously wicked glint in his eye, swiftly picked up the tail of the dark green and made a run towards the other boys, all four scattering in aimless directions. Wild P took chase after the loudest howler. A quick runner, it didn’t take long for Wild P to create mayhem holding the snake in his fingers like a wilted long bean. Big A’s long limbs took speed like never before leaving scents of disgust and fear. The howling fuelled the wild teaser in his boisterous act and his terrorising laughter filled the air. The Jumla boys perched high with their tampers at hand and took a break watching the entertaining commotion below them. Big A panting with desperation, beads of sweat dripping down his brow arrived at the kitchen door needing to catch his breath and to keep out of sight. Mama I shooed him away, and closed the insect screen door after him not wanting to attract a bloodied ophidian in her kitchen. Wild P’s immersion with living creatures pales the others beyond measure and she knows no limits to his mischief. Wild P sniffed out Big A’s presence and he made a dash around the house for the main entrance but was out of luck when he found the door locked. He sprinted out of sight with Wild P tyrannising on his fear.

After the ruckus finally came to a halt and Wild P had tossed the carcass down the terraces like a broken toy, Little A calls out for ice cubes. The other little bodies huddled around him like sweaty loyal dogs, bowl in hand full of ice saviours. He had made wild aucellu and mint leaf flavours in two ice trays the day before. The closest treat to Popsicle, he ensures fresh supplies are replenished regularly. And the occasional change of menu occurs from what is foraged from the becoming garden.

Thousands of cream-winged butterflies streaked and spotted with black, fluttered and swarmed across the site, at first, dotting the wilds daisies and then drowning the vegetable patch with their ungorgeous destruction leaving clumps of yellow eggs under leaves like Braille. And upon metamorphosis, their green younglings eat their way carving hieroglyphics perforations into the spinach. Then the goats left astray, hoofing their way into the patch to chew on the mottled leaves, now congregated with very hungry caterpillars and what is left thereafter is a rather unappetising sight for the humans. Observing this manifestation that occurred over two short weeks, it suddenly made utter sense why the villagers would laboriously harvest their greens at the end of winter before the hatching of butterflies take place. Stacks of edible greens, a common practice spotted around the village are dried in the alchemy of sunshine and their fibre beaten into disfiguration to make gundruk, a dried and preserved preparation often used in stew cooked with soya beans, sesame paste and potatoes.

A sinister war in the kitchen sizzles. Hideous pesky grown maggots with wings have a tendency to sunbathe by the kitchen door and invade in unforeseen numbers when the door is left ajar. With an empathetic heart, Big A thankfully has none for these pests. With nimble strokes and flicks of the trusty insect zapper they are meticulously sizzled. He feeds the roasted flies to his adopted pet ants who are building a healthy colony adjacent to the stone wall. He attends to them during breaks from math watching them build their majestic dwelling through their mysterious communication network.

Of late, he has been in a dilemma. He has rupees saved up hoping to buy out Ama’s goats before they are sold for a feast. Kryos and Leto have eaten into his heart. He has seen them grow from birth and his tenderness for them is of sweet affection. At the same time, he yearns to retrieve the time and space when they could once choose to purchase beyblades in a toy shop as their existing ones deteriorate from years of spinning. He checks his figures and concludes that he can only afford one or the other.

Little A has his own agitations. He craves for a drink of juice but none is to be found. He raids the fridge and decides a tomato would do. He slices one in half and sticks a saved plastic straw into the crimson juicy flesh, slurps the two halves dry and chomps the flesh. He licks his lips, momentarily satisfied. He asks for juice again the next day and does the same till there are no tomatoes left.

Next-door-A comes around when not at school with Little A to create their megacity. The rain had left the grey knoll soft and damp making conditions perfect for large sand balls. They dig deep into the fine grey mound like an impregnated turtle preparing to lay her eggs and attempt to carve a tunnel out through the other side. Hours passed and a composition of shapes and forms stand erect. Wild P and Quiet P show up diverting sandplay into catching grasshoppers and crickets. Wild P and Next-door-A show how it’s done. They watch with acuteness at the direction of its head making sure that the next jump would land in their palms and when in sync with the insects’ momentum, their hands reached out deftly clutching an inattentive victim. Little A, holding his breath, clutched the plastic container steadily for them to trap their catch. It wasn’t long before he came back with a chaotic cylinder of green and brown hoppers trapped in his container, eyes gleaming with excitement impatient to share his new stories. Big A insists that he lets them go before they run out of oxygen. Little A says he is giving them a new home, their freshly built majestic dwelling in the sand dune. A squabble takes place between the A’s with the fate of the hoppers.

With the towering bamboo and its gripping roots puckered out from the deep bowels, Papa G and the Jumla boys swiftly finished off the final structure – the septic tank half concrete half brickwork. The JCB, a fascinating earth manipulator, returns to clear the site, transport displaced soil, excavate trenches to bury pipes and cables, and establish mounds and footpaths carved naturally from human movement and material storage that occurred in the last 2 years and 4 months. The backhoe arm stretches out and dives deep, thrusting out gulps of earth and spewing it out into little heaps with its bucket. The driver swivels 180 degrees to manoeuvre the front loader, nudges into the ground giving the vehicle anchorage, and then swivels back to prod deeper into the soft belly. The mechanism becomes a cinematic display drawing a small crowd to witness its clever engineering. A handful of snakes were displaced from their shelter to the eastern terrain and the etchings of what the land once was – terraces of paddy – are temporarily scarred. Landscaping is finally taking form but Papa G and Mama I have yet to agree on different perspectives.

The torrid wind came from the North like a whip ripping the silent dark. Doors slammed and plastic sheets sheltering the mounds of sand and gravel pulled and tugged in the rage. The single light bulb went on and off flickering indecisively as branches of trees swayed by the wind tapped the precarious electric cables. The pre-dawn dew sucked from tips of moist green blades was left shaken. Elderflowers bloom in the inflorescence are tested on their tight embrace.

Sitting in the dark and watching the distant iridescent light whilst insects hover around it, mind adrift, the rising steam curls up from a cup of hot coffee, a mesmerising fluid formlessly becoming a part of ether, like the grace of an Odissi limb gesticulating the divine, twisting and oscillating about an invisible axis. Locked in another world, Mama I could tell not when it would all end or if there would be an end to it. Maybe it mattered not. In the new sphere of our making, dismantling the status quo and old patterns, realigning and making way for something anew is daunting and haunting. There is a tangibility to lose. Yet much of the intangible is gained in ways we could never have imagined before.

Like Spring, it is a rebirth and a journey anew. We can only continue to persist and try. Savour it. And wait.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Once again Ii Ling, really can picture the scenes you so vividly and powerfully painted!
    Wow! young ‘David Attenboroughs’ in the making! Such simple pleasures of life you teach without all the modern modcons! Such fortunate children to grow up in such a rich environment.
    Thank you again Ii Ling.

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