Perspectives from the Himalaya

An Internal Turmoil of Microscopic Proportions

It has been 121 days since we left the material comforts and conveniences of the tropical city. Living up on an altitude of 1400 meters, and very close to the elements, we cannot but be intimate with Mother Nature with every breath we take. Grasped in her hold and intertwining locks, we can choose to ride in accordance with her laws, rhythms and cycles. Or if not, be overwhelmed and crushed by her eventually.

This is not a realization, but a day-to-day living reality. Of feeling subdued and fragile in her tempestuous storms, of being incredibly alive when the first streak of sun penetrates her horizon, of utter annoyance of the countless crawling, flying, jumping and swimming insects for company, of feeling inexplicable fear of the gliding creatures, of being bewildered when the thick grounded clouds of mist hover the landscape and pass through you after the monsoon showers. The emotions that play out surface in waves of ups and down, in giggles and laughter, in tears and sorrow, and everything else in between. A complete spectrum would be sufficient to stage a spectacular Bollywood drama.

And a cosmic play it is afterall!

“Don’t be dead serious about your life – it’s just a play!” I have Sadhguru reminding me of this when I had a fridge in my kitchen once upon a time. His quote and cheeky expression printed on paper would be on my face every time I reached for the fridge door.

It is mind-boggling, watching and playing back from a distance, how human-centric we have evolved as Homo sapiens. Especially the city brats, like myself. Cocooned and bubbled up like a fragile vase in its packaging, it is easy to put aside and shield the fact that we are very much a part of the magnanimous creation of nature. I recall the drill clearly – in and out of air-conditioned shopping malls, rolling through aisles of packaged edibles flown in from around the globe and organized by foreign workers in supermarkets, sweating it out in artificial sports grounds and adventure parks, sterile plastic indoor playgrounds, landscaped parks and gardens that survive on artificial fertilisations, online shopping and delivery, thousands of hours on electronic screens at work and off work, and the lists goes on. In my simple truth, it feeds our massive consumption of goods and services, most of which we truly could do without. It is also convenient to forget that this has come as a consequence of eradicating vast natural habitats of our co-occupants of this planet.

Admittedly, this post has taken much more time to write and re-write. In multiple versions. In multiple tones. Almost as if I was trying to speak in multiple voices on one platform. And sounding almost schizophrenic if you may. When I asked myself what I truly wanted to voice out, I found layers of answers that responded to different groups of people I am hoping to address. Sometimes, it was layers of narrative that were written at that point in time with a certain emotion that had emerged from a situation. It wasn’t necessarily words that were reflecting truth, just overwhelmed by my train of thoughts with that emotion held high. It was sometimes about filling in other people’s expectations or finding justifications for my actions. It sometimes appeared to have a superficial undertone for concern of being politically incorrect, and ultimately not conveying the essence of the matter.

Other times, I feel the need to be adequately informed and a little too smart-ass for my liking. There are versions of these smart-ass writings that I have attempted but which is really just plain boring. I am concerned about water conservation, the environment and reckless exploitations. I read about the dire situations in the Himalayas, especially where pockets of communities, villages and towns that rely on glaciers-fed rivers. I read about how global warming affects these Himalayan communities first-hand and how they have to move to lower grounds in the dry seasons to survive. There are plenty of writings often shared by NGOs that are laced all over the internet, recycled and probably reformatted to death. I am not able to verify the facts in these writings. But there is Google for people who want to read smart-ass articles. I figured it would make more sense to just share what goes on in my makeshift converted bedroom-to-kitchen DIY setup here in Astam.

Here is a little glimpse of what really goes on when stripped bare.

I put the act of water conservation into practice at home. I consciously count the number of times the bucket under the kitchen sink has to be emptied out daily. Water is recycled as much as possible, by creating a line of water-filled vessels to prep meals. First to go in line are the green leaves, then the root vegetables like potatoes, beetroot and ginger before dishing out the water into the terraces. The same cycle goes with washing the lentils and rice and giving it all a final rinse from the last vessel in line. There is also a method of washing the dishes with minimal water. This can be learnt by observing how things are done here by the local folks. I remind myself that the more water I use, the more frequently I would need to empty that damn bucket! Of course, there were moments when I would drop everything and cry silently for what I had left behind – my full-fledged kitchen in KL!

But eventually, as with all things in life, the distress irons itself out. What is not normal becomes normal and memories of how it was, slowly fade. I have come to terms that we can do just fine without the fridge, oven, blender, water filter and that whole cabinet of utensils and gadgets. Just for now. Until we are reunited with our belongings. I am not disregarding efficiency.

And waste management. Don’t expect the garbage truck to pick up your trash. They don’t exist here. What do you do with non-organic matter if you choose not to burn them into toxic fumes? We have 3 separate buckets for managing this. 1st for fresh vegetable scrapings and stems for Madam Cow and Madam Buffalo, the 2nd bucket for the organic compost and the third one goes into a 6 feet hole to be buried. I cringe every time dry goods come in lots of little plastic packages. And emptying out soiled toilet paper that would fill up the 3rd bucket too quickly. Using 2 sheets is really sufficient. No one stocks up, let alone hoards of toilet paper unless you have tourists staying.

Did I mention that we used to limit our baths to 1 bucket of water per person during the winter? Big A was horrified at this prospect considering how he used to take the longest power showers.

I think when we accept the way things are, not out of helplessness but as a new set of benchmarks, with a little tinkering and a dash of creativity, we allow a new set of possibilities to come into play. When there is responsibility in place, we choose to act consciously. When there are limited options on the plate, we opt to find new means of working things out. Putting things in the village perspective, the DIY setup we have here is rather posh. It is not uncommon to see a person squatting and washing the dishes under a single tap outside their homes in all seasons, including the peak of winter in freezing cold water and harsh weather. Neither is it common to see a person stand and wash in a sheltered space safe from the elements.

After several re-writes. And many dawns. And the rooster’s sunrise songs. And cups of masala chai. I figured.

Putting aside the wannabe voice of an environmentalist advocate, or dabble in social psychology, or having the need to identify with certain learning or schooling groups, or even being a readable blogger – if I can accept myself with knowing what I do know and what I do not know, and that I am always open to all that comes our way, then I think I can just be. It matters little who reads what I write. But it matters to me that I have a space to organize my thoughts, to spill my guts, to document this journey, to share with family and friends, to learn a new skill. If I could overcome my vulnerability of feeling that I am not a good enough writer, which shouldn’t have much reason to be there in the first place and lose the fear of being judged, identified and perceived, and that if I have nothing to hide and truly nothing to lose, I could just speak my mind loud and clear.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Water conservation in Mongolia and Sudan would be a completely different ball game, I think. There is plenty of rain here during monsoon and if there were effective solutions to store the water, there would be no shortages. I respect your conscious choice of still showering with one bucket! There is something about bucket baths that brings fraction into place. Every scoop of water has a part to play.

  2. Ii Ling, love this post! And that bucket to bucket experience of being :))
    It sparked some old traveling memories of Mongolian & Sudan countryside. Yes, there’s play with limitations!

    PS — I now shower with one bucket of water. Twice a day though.

  3. Dear Bella, hope you and your family are well in Oxford(?). So lovely to hear from you after a couple of decades!

  4. Thank you Nabilla and same to you!

  5. Hi Iling! It’s Bella here from London AYL days – half a lifetime ago! I love reading your blog – please just write for you and we will all enjoy it! It’s wonderful to be transported to a remote natural place through your writing. You’ve taken an amazing step and one which makes a lot of sense ❤️ Love to you all

  6. Love this, and thank you for sharing it as it is Ii Ling! I write a bit too sometimes, and it doesn’t see light outside of my own private Evernote for all the same reasons you mentioned above, so to put your thoughts out here as it is, to me, is already one brave step forward (of course again this doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if all we ever want is to write so that we can organize our own thoughts more than to care what others might think of it). I think when we let the words flow directly from the heart and into written words, people who read it will more often be able to fell and pick up on the essence of what we are trying to communicate.

    In short, please keep writing! 🙂

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