Everything is quiet. Leaves on trees are all motionless. We hear shuffling of the dead leaves as we are walking on a narrow trail through the forest. The other faint sound is a call of Collared Owlet from the distant. As the morning sunlight penetrates the mist between trees, series of light and dark patterns are shooting down like arrows. I am suffocating. Dark jumper on my shoulder not much of a help to keep me warm from the cold. The fraying edge of black coat-sleeves of Som Bahadur is moving like dragonfly. We are walking down-hill to town to find the work to sustain our family.
Exodus is age old practice of the people in the hills when their stores run out of grains. I began this journey last year after my father's untimely demise. The responsibility of taking care of poor health of mother and study of younger brother and sister came upon my shoulder. This year we are leaving the village early because of poor yield of corn due to severe weather. It is sad to leave family and friends but unlike last year, I am much relaxed and calm.
We come down to a small stream and walk uphill again through the bush. Seru, a village dog, who was following us all this morning, comes up to the stream, looks our face making moaning call and then returns back to village. With the warmth of morning light, tiny warblers and prinias come out of the bush chattering and flitting around. Sunbirds in their brilliant colors are suckling the nectars from the wild flowers. We walk along the cultivated land on the north facing slope that overlooks the Himalayan range with touch of morning ray.
Last year had been different for me despite all the challenges I experienced. I was in a contract as a labor for road construction project in Damauli. I started the job with loading and unloading the pebbles from the truck but later I involved in various other works under the supervision of peti-thekedars (smaller contractors). Most of these thekedars misbehaved poor labors, forcing them to work like animal and not paying them in time. One of them did not pay us the wages for two weeks of working days as he disappeared after completing his contract. After that I moved to house construction site.
We lived in the outskirts of the main bazaar. There were more people in a single room than it could actually accommodate and we had to sleep on the floor. But we enjoyed our time playing cards in our room or drinking rakshi in Kanchhi's Restaurant. My colleagues spent much time in mobile talking with their girlfriends. First time, I viewed the erotic scenes in mobiles and went to cinema hall in downtown to watch Hindi movie. I was slowly getting into urban life. But after three months of hard work, there was no money left in my pocket. Then, I realized I needed to save some for my family.
Work at building construction went smoothly as Maila-dai, a mason, encouraged me to upgrade my work. "How could you improve working as a labor?” he would say. “You have to learn to become skilled mason." He also taught me some technical skills. He was very lively and full of fun and humor. He sang, danced and cracked jokes, while working. I really enjoyed working with him.
The sun is on its zenith as we descend down to wide river valley and our warm clothes are gradually stuffed into the backpack. We clean ourselves in the river and have our lunch. Now, we start to chatter and laugh after lunch. We cross the shallow river and again start uphill walk. Leaving our villages and families behind, we are moving into new environment.
Aaitram asks me, "Santosh, where will you go, Damauli or Kawasoti?" This question agitates me. I am trying my best to avoid the issue but I know it keeps haunting me, forever.
Along the way, we will soon come to Chautara from where the trail splits into two: one goes to Damauli and other to Kawasoti. We will also split into two groups: one goes to Damauli and other to Kawasoti. And I am not decided yet where to go.
I have heard fairy tales about the angel who descends down to earth from the heaven. I never think I could ever meet her in my real life. But I met her, in fact she came in my real life. Strange things happen in life and it is hard to believe. I still think it is just a wildest dream.
My horizon is limited so as my knowledge. I am not learned man so I know nothing. What I know is you have to find the space in your own horizon. I close my eyes dreaming you are out there ever happy, ever smiling. I wonder how two opposite extremes exist on same realm. I am dying to see you yet I secretly wish I never meet you again. I think it is good for you. I am not sure what is right, though. I really wish if I could bring smile on your face.
My life is all about struggle. I enjoy my work as it brings happiness to my family. I also enjoy my songs as they entertain my friends. Where the day ends, there my life begins. I am on my own and I could freely roam around like a bird. I could meet you, see you, kiss you and enjoy every moment without any thought, without any barrier. Night is so beautiful. I wish it never ends for me.
We come to small Gurung village where villagers offer us water and jaad (local beer). Some of the friends have their relatives in this village. Then we walk through the mixed forest. Glittering rays are striking us from opposite direction that are occasionally interrupted by tall sal trees. As I come closer to the Chautara, the memory of last year events is flickering in my brain.
Prabha, niece of the owner of house that we were building in Damauli, frequently visited the site to gain the practical knowledge of construction as she was studying engineering in college. When I first saw her, she was in kurta-suruwal of yellowish color with white flower prints that perfectly fit on the slim body. I realized that woman could be such a beautiful being. She talked mostly with Maila-dai about the design of the house and drew lines on the paper. She also worked with us as Maila-dai instructed her, "You have to lift stones to learn practical lesson." She was quickly familiar with the environment and she also enjoyed work and fun. I talked about life and culture in the hills and she informed me about her studies. I was dumfounded by her presence in my room when I was lying on bed falling ill for a week or so. She provided me medicines. I saw her standing by the bus stop, when we were leaving the town for village. I was speechless when she asked me when I would be back again. She said softly, "I will be waiting for you..
My day dream is interrupted by loud call. A group of boys preceded by numerous goats are coming toward us. One of them is calling their friend who seems lost in the forest. I could hear the beautiful song of Cutia. Now the trail slightly bends in right direction and then straight before we come to Chautara. My pace is getting slower. My friends walk ahead trailing me behind. I see them shaking their hands before splitting into two groups and moving in different directions. I try to ignore the call of Cutia. I stand at a cross section for a while, take deep breath and follow the trail that leads me to Kawasoti.