The last bell had gone piercing the noise of students. The student-leaders of all houses were busy returning their tools and gardening paraphernalia. The store was at the ground floor of the school building of this little sleepy hill-station somewhere in some desolate hills of the Eastern Himalayas. A part of the ground floor was used to keep old and broken furniture while another part was being used as a granary by the nearby army-base. Small kids had already reached the large kitchen cum dining-hall cum barn-house for their day’s grub. Their cacophony had filled the air of the surroundings. By the time the little ones complete their lunch at least half a dozen of dogs appeared form the vicinity nearby. A little later the bigger pupil joined for their lunch and finally Aataa karma, the cook of the school, who would also eat with them. The word ‘Aataa’ they would utter to address as a mark of respect to an elder-brother in their dialect. For the grown-up boys Aataa was a ‘friend, philosopher and guide’. They did sincerely respect him because he had come across many people as well as incidents during his span of life. In his youth Aataa had served in the Indian Army. He had no opportunity to complete even his education in a primary school. The hamlet in which he was born had no school in those days. He would vividly recollect the days of yore and share his experiences with the bigger boys. He used to guide them and advise them to become educated because he strongly believed that everyone at all places would admire a truly educated person. Whether it was rain, cold-wind or snowfall Aataa would invariably reach school early in the morning without fail. A few early-comers would help him in his daily chore before the morning assembly conducted on the little stretch of terraced plain in front of the main school-building. Boys would love to help him. Girls would always eagerly listen to his amazing anecdotes out of his memories.
One by one the last couple of boys came out of the kitchen. They washed their hands and month, cleaned their dishes under the taps outside. Three of them, Wangdi, Sonam and Rinchen were waiting for Aataa to walk together while going back home. Aataa looked the Kitchen over, inspected the surroundings, the four different kitchen-gardens, which were raised by the students of four houses. He would look for useful articles carelessly left by the students. Wangdi wondered, “How does Aataa get up so early every morning without fail?” He took his soiled shoulder bag and gestured the three boys to start walking. Keeping flat rock-pieces a couple of steps was made, which ascends up to the cemented road near Tshering Aamaa’s shop. Some people also called Aam-Tshering’s shop. Sonam bought few pieces of churpi (Hardened cheese) and distributed among them. They exchanged a few words. Aamaa offered domaa (A betel leaf, a piece of raw betel nut with a little lime spread on the leaf) to Aataa Karma and wished him. Aataa thanked her for the good gesture. People used to say, “She is the best weaver out here.” She would create wonderful designs on the clothes she used to make by the help of her traditional loom affixed in one corner of the shop cum drawing room. A man was seen going up at the far end of the road, there’s a serpentine track around a chorten (Buddhist stupa) there stood a few prayer flags. The steps of that man trembled as he struggled to walk on the hilly track. He might have had aaraa (a locally made hard-drink out of malt) a little more than the usual quota. His wife draped in Keera, a bright chequered robe usually made in a traditional handloom, was following him and persistently nagging him.
While inspecting his foreign bow Aum-Tshering’s husband asked something from Aamaa. Looking at the expressive bow Wangdi enquired, “When did you buy it Aapaa?
During the last “Losaar”, the ‘blessed-rainy-day’ festival
Do you have an archery match today?
Yes, didn’t you see people have already gathered near the “Lhakhang” (a monastery)?
Let’s go Aataa, Wangdi proposed.
Then I have to bring my bow and arrows.
Rinchen will do that, you just tell him where you have kept those.
While munching his domaa, Aataa took time to think, …wait I try to remember, most probably arrows are on the loft of kitchen near that part where I had kept strips of meat for drying a few days back and the bow is kept hanging in one corner.
Don’t you need to change your dress? Sonam suggested.
It’s O.K. for a pretty old man like me.
People in that part would love the traditional handmade bright attire more than the Western-clothes. Even an educated youth would be dying for such gorgeously colored ones especially during festive days. Rinchen borrowed one such robe and all three of them insisted Aataa to put that on. Aataa as usual was very reluctant to don that. Finally the trio succeeded. They enjoyed that afternoon merrily shouting and running from one target end to the other. Later they joined the evening prayer in the Lhakhang, theirs monastery. There were the exotic drums, which were played by some peculiar curved beaters, the unusually long horns, the sound of all the said instruments was echoing in the mystic premises and spreading His message of peace and non-violence.
Twinkling light of the distant hamlets around the valley started appearing through the dark woods. A good number of people came to attend a special ceremony from the nearby hamlets. They noted many unknown faces. Lamas decorated altars and the idols inside the sanctum sanctorum of the monastery. The thick smoke of incense was there everywhere. Sonam found Aamaa Tshomo’s son, Sherub Tashi talking to an unknown girl. Aamaa Tshomo was the most self-reliant lady of the locality. She lived in a big house with her two children, a son and a daughter, they had a very big kitchen, and their house stood on the left of the road right at the entrance of that picturesque Hill-station. A Goorkha family lived in a part of ground floor on rent some time earlier. In one small part of that they had a shop. From time to time Aama Tshomo would give the other rooms also on rent. She had a very hard time working in the fields raising potato, maize, beans, lettuce etc. looking after a few cattle & cooking. She didn’t tolerate an indecent act of her husband. People say she had caught him red handed, embracing a neighboring girl in almost dishabille with whom he had an affair. Though promiscuity was not very rare out there but the lady asked him to leave the house at that very instant. Since then she had been living single with her two children.
The girl, with whom Sherub Tashi was moving around, possibly came from Rinkchengompa, a nearby hamlet, situated at a distance of about five to six hours walk towards North West. Sherub Tashi was a very good student of the school. Most of his school days he used to live in teachers’ quarters helping them in their domestic work especially bringing firewood, milk, eggs etc. and lighting the Bukhaari, an indigenous grate. In return of his help he was bestowed with food, clothes and occasional monetary help too. After his high school graduation he had a training somewhere and expecting a job in near future. Sonam bought a foreign chewing gum from a temporary stall nearby. The wrapper of the gum had a picture of a scantily dressed Western girl. Sonam wondered, “Do they move around like this?” The next day he talked with a few reasonably grown up friends but no one exactly knew about those people and theirs society. The ceremony and the fete continued in the monastery premises a few more days.
Sherub Tashi made a good relationship with Pema, the said girl from Rinkchengompa, meeting her a few more times knowing more about her, her family, friends and favourite things. One evening the trio discussed with Aataa about their budding relationship. Aataa never showed interest discussing matters related to other people or their activities. They came to know that Sherub Tashi had already requested Aataa for his help. He also conveyed Aataa that her parents were very simple & deeply religious. They would be happy if she would get married with a Lama or even a simple illiterate but well-built rural folk. Finding a solution for the said problem was not an easy task. Aataa recollected Sherub’s childhood days. He was a very obedient boy. Football was his favorite game. The school won several tournaments owing to his excellent performance. Aataa assured him that he would find a way-out within a few days.
That evening he had been to the Lhakhang. He came to know that the girl and the people with whom she came for the ceremony they all left. Sitting in one corner he prayed and meditated for quite some time. And then he borrowed a set of complete out fit of a lama, a Buddhist-monk, from someone he knew since his childhood and requested him not to disclose that to anyone out there. Before that he had already told the three boys to inform their teacher-in-charge for housekeeping about his one-day-leave. He even instructed the trio how to manage the kitchen work in his absence.
Next morning a lama arrived in the little sleepy hamlet, Rinkchengompa. He blessed all the souls whom he came across on the way. He prayed for the well being of them. Finally he arrived near the courtyard of Pema’s house. He stood under the peach tree, which was adorned with celestial blossoms. On the slope below their house there were a pretty good number of apple and peach trees. Deep down that orchard a few houses of another small settlement could be seen. Beyond the lower hills he looked further down there was a little valley very far away from that house (at least about three days walk) and found the river Tsangmechu in the golden sunrays amidst the lush green serene surroundings. While going out to work in the fields Pema’s father saw him. He bowed him with sincere respect and requested him to come in “kindly pray for our well-being. Please rest a while.”
He said, “Lord Rimpochey bless you, you are very devoted people”
While talking to them he found their daughter Pema, she came near and bowed him as per their traditional etiquette demands. He sat on a carpet and took out a prayer book from his side-bag. Before opening the book while untying the string he started chanting the prayers. They offered him fruits, nuts, cheese, and suja, (Salty herbal butter –tea).
He announced “you are indeed very devoted couple; I tell you that a great soul is very much pleased with you, please keep in mind, your daughter Pema would be the mother of this great-soul”.
People in this part of the world do believe in reincarnations. His words strengthened their faith. He had foretold them that the groom-in-waiting is the only son of a pious mother living quite near a monastery. The girl would meet him before their nuptial-knot. He further added that he had come from a distant place and had to go a long way. Saying these words, he left that pristine beautiful sylvan surrounding.
The couple felt that they were bestowed by the fortuitous meeting. Thus Pema’s parents decided to worship together and planned to conduct a very special prayer at home. Pema was instructed to make all the necessary arrangements.
Aataa-in-disguise was walking back home as fast as he could.