Photo by Shreya Sharma
It was around 5:40 am when I decided to quickly gear up and set out for the morning tea at the mall, while the other family members were still getting their heads down. I had to put almost no efforts to psyche up myself for the walk, even though it was freezing cold and would be such a pleasure to cover up the body with the soft, beige blanket, facing the mountains. I had to put on decently warm clothes and a shoe, which I had gotten especially for this trip. I only carried my cell-phone, my wallet, a spare gasper packet from my father and a matchbox.
It hardly took me a couple of minutes to reach since we were putting up nearby. It is so amusing that despite being to this place so many times before, every time i come here, i get to see things from a different angle and it never fails to surprise me. The leisurely walk to the heart of the town left me spellbound, like all the other times. Standing in front of the Wind house or the ‘Hawa Ghar’ as they call it, I wondered how this particular site has witnessed countless social gatherings, multifarious cultural and educational activities and numerous political rhetorics, yet it stands as strong as one of the most beautiful public squares of India since the Victorian era. Formerly called the’Band Stand’ and currently known as the ‘Chowrasta’ is the most vibrant corner of the town.
My thoughts were interrupted by Milan Dada, who sells tea in that area since the last twenty years of his life. I was handed over a large-sized white glass of ‘Darjeeling Oolong’. Sitting along the railing, I took a sip of my tea and lighted a cigarette. It was such a heavenly sensation. Meanwhile a number of local boys were feeding their pony, brushing their hair and preparing for the rides. I looked at the Oxford Book house, Habeeb mullick and sons,The Chalet Hotel and the Nathmulls, thinking how some curios remain as attractive as they used to be during the British Rule. I then took the last sip of my tea and headed towards the Mall road. I could smell the fresh air and every time I looked down I could see the mini-cycling curves of the roads. At times I looked far up, keenly searching for one glimpse of Mt Kanchenjunga.
I espied a middle-aged woman, sitting with a mucktoo surrounded by multiple noodle packets, egg trays and water bottles in a tiny, decrepit hut made up of bamboo shoots and wood, Naturally the hut was in a poor shape. She was wearing printed, red long skirt and a black top. Her hair was tied with a silver bun-pin. Her earrings were long and heavy, made of pebble stone. Such people have a remarkable charm, through which they can easily regale their customers. I stood there, astonished and gave a fleeting thought to this concept. People back in my hometown or any other metropolitan lead an independent and lavish life, still seem to be frowning or cribbing most of the times. And here, these people, who struggle to earn two squares of meal a day are so effortlessly presentable, cheerful and warm.
While she gave me a bright smile, I went towards the shop and sat beside her. Once we started conversing, she beguiled me with her life experiences and vast knowledge. She narrated to me about their troublesome lifestyle and how she still loves it. She briefed me about the difficulties they faced because of the fancy cafe and restaurants started mushrooming around the chowrasta. She recounted the first toy train ride of her life and how she loves the whistle of the train. She asserted how the Gorkhas came into darjeeling and started getting recruited for military services. She also mentioned certain personal aspects of her life, like she is a tibetan refugee who used to cook in the Tibetan Refugee Self-help centre 13 years back. This compelled me to ask her more about the difference between the Lepchas, Khampas, Bhutias and Tibetans also the Dalai Lama and the British Architecture of Darjeeling.
I checked my phone after long three hours when i suddenly remembered that i had left the hotel when nobody got up. There were 3 missed calls and 1 message from my mom which read, “Have been calling you since we woke up. Since your Dad was sure that you’d be somewhere in Chowrasta he has asked you to come soon, as he has booked a table in Shangrila for some good Shanghai Chicken Noodles and Port Wine.” She had already made my day but I didn’t want to leave Maya Aunty behind. I gave her a tight hug, promising her to bring my parents to her shop. Before leaving she handed me two packets of Chicken Momo refusing to take any money.
While walking back to the hotel, I reflected on something that she told, she said. “If you want to love Darjeeling permanently, not just come and go, then each time you come here, come here as an explorer, as a rover. Don’t come as a mere visitor or vacationer”.
Inspired from my real life events,
songs of Anjan Dutta and
my bengali novellete
Chyapta Thnoter Muchki Haashi”