There are some holidays you go for that are planned. I mean day one, sight seeing, break for lunch, visit to the park planned and then there are some, where you buy your ticket as you board your train and find your next bed, when it’s time.
I suppose there’s a school of thought that says the first kind of holiday helps you make the most of your time. When you reach Kasar Devi though, it hits you is that time isn't running anywhere.
It’s the kind of place that doesn’t dole out its time to you in tiny rations. The people have plenty and share it with the same pleasure a self reproaching heir would his wealth. Though perhaps not with the same guilt, because here everyone’s time is their own.
I met a few people here and the impression I got was that everybody is a character, or rather everyone I met had character. It wasn’t always beautiful or benevolent, unless of course you consider any sort of a strong will beautiful. A lot of people do that.
The owner of the guest house where I stayed was a character too. In the same way that all hosts are I think. He laughed with us and then turned around to bark orders so that we wouldn’t have to. By we, I don’t mean any particular group. He ran the place in such a way that everyone came in separately but left together. To every guest, he was a friend indeed and with him, they shared their weed. (sorry, couldn’t resist)
Because I’ve never been one, I think its a skill to be a good host. It requires magnanimity of soul and a real tolerance for people. To a good host, nobody’s uninvited and everyone is the life of the party. It’s a heavy crown, in my opinion and he wore it well.
Here, I met a Swedish woman, she sounds like the Godfather. Her throat is ailing and so she weezes her words at you. Still, every word hits you with an authority fit for a Drill Sergeant. She’s been here before so she knows every trick the Devi has up her sleeve. She notices and immediately corrects the slightest of slights and jogs your hoodwinking conscience awake. She notices the briefest of exchanges as well, and the tiniest of sparks. To her, no one is invisible.
I met a child who looks like a pixie but instead of prancing about in the forest, he works in the village all day long. Then he comes to work in the guest house at night and here, everyone teases him about being lazy. He’s got no shoes but his eyes sparkle and he laughs at the people who deride him undeservedly.
I met a beautiful old man, who told me he was lucky to keep his youth. He added right after that he meant mentally and spiritually and not just physically. He told me about past and present lovers and because I wonder, as I think a lot of women wonder, I asked him, ‘So when do men grow out of the phase where they chase a million women?’
I don’t ask this question a lot but I’ve asked it some so I do have comparisons enough to say that I liked his answer, almost the best. He said (No drum roll please, because the best things in life are simple), ‘They stop when they realise it takes more out of you than it gives you.’ He’s just a guy who lives in a village, makes music and watches movies, but I thought that was pretty well observed.
I also thought it was sad (for women) that men come to this realisation as late as he admittedly did because then they’re only pretty for another fifteen years (on the max). It reminded me of Malay Bakawali flowers that bloom briefly and only once before they wilt. If you replace bloom with enlightenment, maybe that describes all of us, so I shouldn’t be so stately with my feminist pride parade.
In general, pride is a dangerous thing. It sneaks up on you and makes you alienate everyone who loves you. Its got a voice as smooth as honey too, so you mistake it for its more charitable cousins such as justice or righteousness.
Speaking of which, I met another man who is incredibly talented and just as full of pride about it. He does what he pleases with his art and says what he pleases with his words. There was no censorship about him, so even minor causes are colored red across his face. Though, I think he would say, ‘there are no minor causes.’ and perhaps he might be right.
I met two young boys. One is beautiful and so disappointed with himself that he looks at the stars for some release. Another, you may never notice in the kind of place where time has a blackberry. He’s disappointed too, but at the world and so he’s looking for a way to change it. Maybe because you have more time to think here, but it occurred to me that the concept of beauty deserves a re-haul.
Not that either activity is good or bad. The stars are just stars and the world will never change. I don’t think they need to realize this just yet though, like I said they’re young, we should let them enjoy it while they can.
On my way out, I met a taxi driver. By which I mean, he drove me to the station. This is a four hour drive and he was my radio through all of it. He was estranged from his family when he was six and drifted around a lot of places till he settled near Kasar Devi. He likes his drink and kept offering to stop for one. He also liked Punjabis so he listened to me when I said I’d be too scared to sit in a car if the driver was drinking. He never insisted too much and listened to reason almost immediately. It’s good when you hold the purse strings.
Another thing he liked doing was observing people and he told me that one must observe every minute detail. Some people, he said, look at life through a telescope. Always thinking about how it looks from a distance, how it should be or could be and worrying about the ideal.
It doesn’t seem to bring them much joy so he decided to try it the other way. He looks at life up close. So when he sees foreign children cliquing together, he understands that they feel less safe than the people around them. Or when an Army wife takes on an illicit affair, he sees that she’s lonely and has needs.
Sounds like a creepy conversation for a Taxi guy to be having with a woman passenger but I didn’t feel unsafe. Maybe its because when I asked for a quote for the taxi ride, he gave me an amount that was (surprisingly) fair. If you’re honest in business... who said that? was it Jeffery Archer?
Maybe it's because your brain is oxygen deprived or perhaps its that everyone moves too slowly to try anything untoward, but you tend to trust people here. Not in the stupid, unconditional way but in a smart, worldly way that acknowledges everyones’ shortcomings and doesn’t give them the opportunity to transgress. In that way, the Swedish woman is most in tune with her environment.
There were times that I didn’t stop talking and times I went days without saying a word. Both were wonderful times because neither were lonely. It felt like achieving verbal balance.
I’ve been back a day now and maybe the fact that I haven’t stopped smiling is a co-incidence or maybe it was just a much needed break from the city. Or maybe I’m just happy that for a few days, I didn’t have to kill time or waste it and neither did I feel that it was running away and trying to abandon me somehow.
More so, till its very last breathe, I felt like the time in Kasar Devi was on my side and even as I was leaving, I knew I could always come back. Not just in the ‘I could make my way back’ sense. Perhaps I should say, you leave thinking ‘well, I’ll always be welcome here.’ In that sense, Kasar Devi is like a sincere and serene woman who knows without doubt that she’s loved.