The Perennial Refugees
After a close tryst with the God of Death, I spent the night in Tiuni, a place not often mentioned in the places to visit in Uttarakhand. I woke up early next morning and went for a stroll in the small town. I was quite surprised to see jopadpattis (slums) in the outskirts of the town. Indeed, I never imagined seeingjopadpattisin the Himalayas, let alone a small town like Tiuni. Something struck me in the slums though. The little kids were just the little kids you come across anywhere in the world. They were running around and playing their games with utter joy. Some of them were chatting about worldly matters that only 8-year-olds possess. They were oblivious to their present and future. Innocence – the seasonal beauty of mankind!
So, at what age will their humble minds kneel to the world and its harsh realities? When will they realize that their lives are different from other children who have a permanent roof over their heads and schools that supposedly prepare them for a brighter future? At what point, if at all, will they switch from being kids to kids of the slums? And, to what extent are they the prisoners of their parents’ decisions?
I found out that thejopadpattis belonged to Nepalis who had migrated in search of work. They were tending to local farms and providing construction labor. A theme that will be repeated as I progress. But, more on that later.
The Invisible Man
I left Tiuni for my next undecided destination at around 11 am. The road forward was smooth as silk and with no wine shops since it fell in Uttarakhand. Some 8 km prior to Rohru, I encountered heavy traffic due to the Ramnavmi fair taking place. A Himalayan fair, why not. Just as I parked my bike a guy came from nowhere, “Chalen bhaiya (Let’s go),”he said with a smile of familiarity. We explored the fair together and he even bought mepanipuri.All along, he acted as if we were some lost friends from the past reunited.
I stopped at the heart of the fair to click some portraits. With my eyes focused on strangers in traditional Himachali dresses, I lost sight of the familiar smile of Hafeez. I looked around and I couldn’t find him. All I know about him is his name, profession and that he recently got married. In a world of purposeful relationships, what is the meaning of such an encounter?.
A crowd was gathered around Ram, the dwarf. He was performing funny acts along with the occasional cartwheel. I have developed a respect for dwarves and midgets thanks to Tyrion Lannister. Ram seemed pretty jolly despite having some medical condition in his arms and legs. After he finished his act, we climbed the stairs together to exit the fair. Snake-charmers, python ladies, saffron-clad Hanumans, and hakims with weight machines line up the stairs. All of them except the Hanumans wanted to chat with Ram. But, he was getting late.
The hakim with weight machine held his hand and insisted. Ram sat next to the hakim and so did I. From their conversation, I found out that they visit many fairs all across northern India. But, the snake charmers, python ladies, hakims and the Hanumans never enter any fair. They always stay on the fringes of the fairs. Which is why they are all so fond of Ram because he is the one who shares with them what happens in the fairs.
We know so little about our surroundings. Do we ever think about the lives of the snake charmers and the python ladies? Where do they keep the snakes and the pythons? What about the Hanumans? They paint their faces in saffron because it’s Ramnavmi. What color do they wear during Eid fairs? The hakims and their weight machines. Why would you pay someone who will make you realize that you are probably fat? Someday I will travel with them to see our great nation from their perspective and understand what life on the road really means.
These are my stories and observations from offbeat places to visit in Uttarakhand and Himachal. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.