There’s this little-known book At Home in the Himalayas that I read sometime back. It’s a non-fiction, sort of an autobiography, that chronicles the life of the author, Christina Noble, who comes from Scotland to the little town of Manali in the ’70s on a hiking trip. What began as a hiking trip soon became a way of life for her – she went about setting a business of arranging adventure trips, got involved in the local life, married and settled down with two young children, and spent a significant amount of years in the high Himalayas. In this book she recounts the experiences of those years – from the awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur of the high mountains, to the practicalities of setting up business with the help of local folks and dealing with the challenges of going about daily life. But, the most interesting bits come in the form of those little observations she has of the place and the people as well as her personal equations with them; she’s not an aloof observer and her tone is caring yet critical. So, there we get glimpses of domesticity, festival and feast, marriages and deaths, trust and betrayal – all noted with candid detail.
This is a long preamble, but probably a necessary one. What I wanted to write about is a section of this book – just a few odd paragraphs, really – that has uncannily stayed with me for a long time. In those paragraphs is described the scene and mood of a picnic. It’s towards the end of the book, and the author had already lived in the place for many long years, and has already formed a close-knit group of people who she deals with – her domestic helps, families she had known and lived with, her employees of the trekking business, her milkwomen, suppliers, and some other acquaintances. So, on the picnic day, we see all these people, along with their families and children, scrambling up the hill to a grassy meadow. Up there, frenetic activity is going on – a makeshift chulha is being dug, firewood is being gathered, pots and plates are being gathered, wild mushrooms are being plucked, vegetables are being cut, meat is being cleaned, and local brew is being poured. It’s busy yet leisurely and the bonhomie is captured with a detail that’s endearing and, in certain way, poignant. After the cooking and feasting, women sing and dance putting their sleeping babies on the grass, people laugh freely, and memories are reminisced. It’s plain, simple, and merry.
I’ve often thought about the scene and wondered what’s it that makes it so appealing to me. Given my unsocial self, it should just read like a plain high-spirited revelry. But, for some reason, it doesn’t; rather, I wonder what it’ll be like to have a day of such unadulterated fun.
Anyway, what brought this scene back to me tonight is a little endearing film named Pieces of April, which I watched while eating my cold leftover dinner from a small bowl.