I woke up before sun, like every day. Other than slight tinge in my stomach, it was a usual morning. I turned around in the hope of cuddling with my mother, just to find her missing. “Does she ever sleep?” I wondered.
“Ija..aa” I shouted (we call our mothers Ija)
“I am cooking Sudheer. Get ready for school and I will fix you some breakfast.” I could picture her sitting near chulha and speaking without turning her face.
I got up from bed, feeling less energetic than usual. It was cold, but what else do you expect in Kausani, a small village in Uttarakhand, in the month of December. Ija had already kept warm water and I swear I was planning to bathe; until a chilling shiver ran down my spine as I looked at the water. I was forced to change my plan. Therefore, I wetted my hair and sprinkled a few drops of water on my clothes.
“That should do.” I said to myself and ran out for warm breakfast.
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Ija asked serving pickle to go with Gahat paranthe.
“Ija, he skipped bathing again.” Shubi tattled
“Stop lying. My hair is wet.”
“Why didn’t I heard any sound of water then?”
“Stop fighting both of you. Every day in this house starts with a fight.” Ija had to intervene, “And why are you not eating?”
“I don’t know. My stomach hurts.” I replied
“Show me.. That should take care of it.” She applied some warm water and asafetida paste on my naval.
“I don’t feel well Ija. I would hardly be able to study even if I go to school.”
“Why? I won’t go either if he doesn’t.” Shubi shouted
“I am sick. What happened to you?”
“I told you both to stop fighting. Shubi is going to school and you can stay back only if you promise to stay at home and rest rather than running around.”
I went inside to enjoy my day off. I knew Ija would leave for taking care of our tea plants soon and I can sneak away then.
After about an hour I was at Kaka’s (Uncle) stall, amidst the tea garden. It used to be one of my favourite spots to hangout. Every now and then tourists would appear and order for Maggie or pakodis or tea. They would talk about the beauty of tea garden or dangers of leopards around. Some would just look at Himalayas, completely mesmerized.
“Why tourists are so smitten by Himalayas, Kaka?” Only Kaka had the patience to listen and answer me.
“Smitten," he smiled “How do you know they are smitten?”
“Baju (Father) tells stories of his hotel.”
“It’s not Baju’s hotel son. He works there.”
“Our Kausani has 300 km wide panoramic view of Himalayan peaks; Trishul, Nanda Devi and Panchchuli.” I said in dramatic tone while pointing to the respectable peaks," Baju repeats this statement almost every day to his tourists.
“Must be tiring”
“Who named these mountains, Kaka?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know these tourists in Baju’s hotel.. they are willing to pay a thousand more rupees just to have a view of Himalayas from their windows.”
“Well, they have money and that’s what they come here for.”
“A THOUSAND RUPEES; I wonder how does it look like. If I ever had that kind of money, I would buy sweets rather than a view.”
“Unless you find a view worth thousand rupees,” Kaka chuckled.
“Uncle, one paneer Maggie and two green teas please.”
There she was, in pink jacket and brown pants. I could only imagine how beautiful her smile would be and I understood how tourists must feel looking at Himalayas.
“Can I go around and play?” She asked her folks after finishing the Maggie.
“Is it safe nearby? Do leopards come here?” her father asked.
“It’s mostly safe during daytime. Also, there are wired boundaries that leopards can’t cross,” Kaka replied.
“Don’t go very far.” Her mother warned and she dashed.
I was too young to understand opposite gender attraction. I followed her like I would chase a colorful butterfly, with the aim of admiring for as long as possible rather than catching. She ran for a few minutes, climbed a couple of steps and stopped.
“Do these plants belong to you?” she asked as she turned to face me.
I wondered how long she has been aware of my presence.
“Part of this garden belongs to us. It’s there.” I pointed, “I can show you”.
What’s your name?” she asked as she joined me.
“I am Siya.”
“Siya was Lord Rama’s wife.”
“I am no one’s wife,” she halted.
“Sorry.” I did not like to annoy her.
“OK. When is your B’day?” she resumed.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know your B’day date,” Her big eyes widened.
“No, I don’t.”
“Then how do you celebrate it?” I could still hear the surprise in her voice.
“Mine is 27th February.”
“Look, that is my house,” I pointed excitedly.
“You live here.” She was clearly surprised.
“Houses are really different in Mumbai.”
“Mumbai?” now I felt alienated.
“Far away from here.”
“Do you have tea gardens there?”
“No. It’s very different from here. I came here to see snowfall. Have you ever seen snow?”
“I haven’t,” she shook her head.
“You are lucky.”
“Are you telling me, you don’t like snow fall. I went to Snow Kingdom once and I loved it there."
“I have to stay locked up in the house till all the snow gets cleared.”
“We have to leave day after tomorrow. I don’t want to go without seeing snowfall.”
I wanted to see her smile but after lots of shocking expressions she switched to sad.
“Do you like tea? My Ija collects leaves from our garden. I can give you some.” I wanted to do or say something that would make her happy and ultimately smile.
“My parents love it. They are taking loads of it from here. Green tea, black tea, herbal tea, orthodox tea, infusions..” She was counting on her fingers and was clearly bored of teas, “Dad says it’s really good and almost one-tenth of the cost in Mumbai. In Mumbai, it costs a thousand rupees.”
“A thousand rupees,” it was my turn to widen eyes now.
“Thousand rupees,” she repeated casually.
“Have you seen a thousand rupees?”
“I haven’t. Will you show me?”
“There must be some Rs.2000 notes in Mom’s purse or Dad’s wallet. I can bring one for you tomorrow. They wouldn’t notice.”
“Can’t you bring it today?” I was eager.
“We have plans to visit Shawl factory now and Stargate Observatory in the evening. I can show you tomorrow, but on one condition.”
“What?” In that moment I would have killed to see Rs.2000 note.
“You will have to show me snowfall.”
“I should go now. I am not allowed to talk to strangers.”
“Mom says strangers are dangerous.”
I was amused by tourists’ ideas of dangers. They find everything dangerous. Animals, roads, mountains, strangers, everything is dangerous.
“But you are my friend,” she said as she waved.
That night I pray for snowfall and I have never been more sincere in my prayers. Also, I devise a plan to bunk school next morning.
“Ija, I don’t feel well today either,” I scream from bed.
“You don’t need to pretend to be sick. There is heavy snowfall. Therefore, going to school is already off the limits today.” Shubi jumped in my bed.
“What are you saying?” I leap from the bed and run outside.
My prayers are answered. Everything is covered in snow that appears to be like soft white cotton balls.
Then I see her, playing and smiling in her pink jacket and brown pants. Snowflakes rolling down her hair, look no less than big white pearls. I never knew snowfall could be beautiful. Yes, it was a view worth a thousand rupees.
“What are you looking at? Have you never seen snow before?” Shubi punched and I landed on reality.
There was no sign of Siya around, only snow. I knew Siya is leaving next day and snow won’t get cleared till then. I started scraping snow with my bare hands, as if trying to find my dreams of smiling Siya and 2000 rupees note, that were buried somewhere under all this snow.
“What are you doing? You can play after breakfast.” Ija whacked, held me from my elbow and pulled.
“I love snow fall, Ija,” I said tearfully.
“What? Have you lost your mind?”
I wasn’t lying, I really loved snow at that moment but at the same moment, I hated snowfall more than I have ever hated anything. I realized there is always a considerable amount of hatred in the most sincere loves.
I was happy I could keep my promise and I was sure she must have smiled looking at the snow. That night I went to bed with another most sincere prayer, “O Bholenath, O Gwalla Devata please let me visit Mumbai someday.”