Follow Us:

The blue-eyed folk

PC Bodh |

One late evening, as with a drizzle, the valley’s temperature nose-dived, and the people rushed back to the warmth of their homes, shivering and fearing a terribly cold night ahead.

I was returning home after my evening outing. As usual, I had concluded it with picking up the newspaper from the road head tea stall and looking at the headlines while sipping a cup of hot milk tea. Now, with the newspaper tucked under my arm to prevent it from getting wet, I was walking swiftly towards my home before it started raining heavily. Scurrying on the muddy, slippery trail that wound through the wheat fields, I neared uncle Saptu’s hut.

My house was was visible from there —it overlooked the orchard while letting out a leisurely blow of smoke from the chimney. Bare, leafless apple trees added to the orchard’s wintery stance, and the plum trees, in full bloom, rendered a silvery glow to surroundings.

Uncle Saptu’s old tin-roofhut, as always, drew my attention and I found myself heading towards it, with no particular purpose. Dropping in to meet old uncle Saptu and his wife, aunty Nimi, in any case, did not require a reason. He epitomised humour, satire and fantasy. Born a seven month preterm baby, his name Saptu stemmed from the Hindi saat or seven. Witty comic remarks would flow from his tongue with poetic ease and elation. His art was so consummate and his acceptance so wide that whatever he uttered was an instant hit in the gossip circles. High priests or powerful men or women, nobody escaped his humour.

Equally gifted was aunty Nimi. Popular as the village’s self-appointed doctor, the wandering spirit, and the universal relative, she joked and gossiped with all and sundry, irrespective of age and status. She kept her acquaintances fed with constant pleasantries. Her generous concern for the people she knew or at least, she claimed to, won her numerous patrons. Clad in her beautiful, long flowing, woolen chhuba, she was visible everywhere —cracking jokes, pulling and pushing; or nursing a man or woman with a sprained foot or stomachache. Her identity was unmistakable and her popularity enviable. I had developed a curious rapport with the old couple. It had become customary with me to drop in to greet the old couple, share a few words, or gossip whenever I passed by their hut.

At times, when I tried rush by in a hurry, aunty Nimi would appear from a corner and command me to stop over. She might just force me to guzzle a cup of salt tea or have a bowl of mutton thukpa with dried cheese. Violation of the custom ran the risk of attracting her annoyance, and uncle Saptu’s rather sweet taunt. And, above all, hurting the old couple’s feelings, whom I held so close to my heart, was the last thing I could afford. Now before nearing their house, I was tempted to conjure up the scene there — aunty Nimi turning her spindle into a furious spinning motion on the bamboo joint as it stood making a lovely sound. Her right hand turning the spindle, growing fat with the yarn at the middle, and her left hand releasing the wool from the pad. Her cup of steaming salt tea with a thick layer of butter and plenty of milk would be lying by the oven. And, while she would be humming a folk song from the past, uncle Saptu, a perfect prototype of the natives of Shangri-La, would be dozing off in the heat and glow of the crackling fire. Or he, as always, would be either stirring the burning coals, rearranging the unburnt logs or digging out coals to heap them on the edge of the fire.

Seeking some relief from backache or aching joints were his sole preoccupations whether sitting under the sun or by the fire. And then, as I drew close to their home, it struck me to have fun and cheer them up. Possessed by an idea, I tiptoed to the door, opened it with a deliberate bang, and stepped into the room, reading headlines of the English language daily newspaper loudly like a radio-jockey — “India Celebrating the 50th Republic Day. The President highlights the social and economic achievements…” Hearing me, his eyes turned smaller, his lips pursed and stuck out in curiosity, his neck stretched forward, trying to figure out what I was reading. He was all ears, away from his usual narrations of his days in the Himalayan meadows and valleys when he grazed his horses, became part of the long mule and horse caravan to faraway destinations, forgetting about narrating to me still another of his amusing wild life stories, his close witness of nature in action. Even as he remained in trance, and I continued reading out the news, my mind flashed back to his fascinating tales.

A black Himalayan bear, in an alpine meadow, going wild amidst a flock of sheep, frightening them to jump off a sheer canyon; a group of monkeys pinning down a long snake, one of them holding it by the neck; subjecting it to a long ordeal of torture — grinding its head meticulously on a rock by a stream. And dipping the writhing body of the reptile into the stream while staring at it its head; and again rubbing its head on the rock. And the sight of a snake strangulating a cat to death unaware that it was such a sin as even offering one butter lamp for every hair would not get you atonement. And when he returned from the trance that my loud reading of the English daily had put him in, uncle Saptu sat up, wriggling out of his cozy posture, stressing his mind still further to relate the things to an enlivening memory. And, finally, pursing his lips harder, squeezing his eyes further, he quizzed, “Isn’t it the language of the blue-eyed, monkey-like fellows? The ones who played polo on the backs of horses?” I nodded in confirmation and continued reading the news in the lamp light.

I raised my voice to annoy aunty Nimi, who had by that time poured tea for me and shouted several times to keep quiet. As she showed her intolerance, I got engaged in news stories claiming prosperity, equality, social security, old age cares, and provision of basic facilities. And uncle Saptu, not able to hold his curiosity, jumped up with a child’s curiosity, and shouted, “There, I remember those fellows. But, I don’t remember seeing them anymore! Where have they all disappeared? Strange fellows! They had their own curious ways. Strict, honest, and little crazy about things they loved. They played polo on velvet smooth grounds along rivers flowing through the high valleys.”

Uncle Saptu’s unkempt grey beard shone like silver in the glow of ambers, and his wrinkles deepened with nostalgia. A sturdy horseman himself, uncle Saptu had played polo with the blue-eyed folk and who he never believed could ride a horse furiously and better than him. Regretting their sudden disappearance, with no hint of the half a century of time passing, he said, “Theirs was a good time. Things moved fast. Everything was straight and simple.

Laws meant laws. The hard working and the honest ones were rewarded and the dishonest were instantly punished!” I listened to him thinking of the two periods — British rule and free India. Scores of points could have been put up for or against his opinions and impressions. But amused by his disorientation of history, and his lopsided memory of British life, I kept quiet, letting him speak uninterrupted.

He continued, “Do you think, these engineers and thekedars could have ganged up and connived to fleece the public? These days, bridges and government buildings collapse before they are inaugurated. They wouldn’t have allowed that! I have seen Kalu Thekedar, a great contractor now, being thrashed publicly by a blue-eyed officer for a slight mistake. These engineers and contra ctors today need the same treatment.” His remarks, memories and nostalgia made me contemplate, painfully, whether it was a sad commentary on our long claims of development —social and economic, and fulfillment of a dream for a just and fair system or another symptom of the irreversible advancement of senility in uncle Saptu’s person.

Lost in his village world with his unlit and unrepaired ancestral house – – uncle Saptu either seemed to have failed to notice the awakening of the nation to “freedom and glory” at the auspicious mid-nightly moment or the awakening had left him out mysteriously.

The timeless plane of his village world seemed to have made an error of 50 years. Poor uncle Saptu, disabled by his utter simplicity, failed to have noticed that a band of natives who had quietly learnt the blue-eyed folk’s language, their ways, had occupied their place. Whereas the blue-eyed folk looked down upon everybody as a native, this local offshoot of them divided the land along several lines. They began to evolve a new kind of polo. They played for greed and ambition, rode the horses of mindless multitudes, and meticulously set new rules of opportunism, dishonesty, and discrimination.