The Himalayan Writing Retreat is nestled between mist smeared mountains and the elusive Himalayas. Mountains covered in snow with the sunlight streaming through the magnanimity of the forces of nature. I found this post on Facebook by Chetan Mahajan. It had all the promise of the writing seclusion that I was searching for.
Tired having played roles for years. Never having ever done a solo trip ever. And with strangers stuck in a place called Sathkol. It wasn’t my regular idea of tripping. But fate has a way of propelling you to your destination. I gingerly dialled the phone number from the Facebook post. Was pleasantly greeted with a nice voice that had the warmth of a wooden log on a nippy night. I tried imagining the person on the other end of the line. He was polite and encouraging. It just seemed doable. I booked myself for the single room and told him I wasn’t exactly friendly in the mornings. My marriage has rules and rule one is, no one greets me in the morning. They know I don’t fancy enthusiastic roommates in the morning. It’s my angst hour. I am angry about female feoticide, rape, inequality and with my weighing scale too.
I decided that I will go to Sathkol and for Himalayan Writing Workshop. As luck would have it. All that could go wrong with my travel happened this time. The airlines cancelled the early morning flight at 5.00 pm. I wasn’t meant to go. I didn’t join the rest in the train because I wasn’t exactly excited to have conversations all the way. This motley group of writers were all exuberant and happy unlike me. I was a grouch. The one person that I looked most suspiciously at, was another participant called Rahul.
Also, truth be told. I have always had a thing for this name Raahuuul. He was the photographer in my favourite film of Aparna Sen’s Parama. Rahul the photographer in her film was the catalyst and also the one who bought delicious doom in the much-married Rakhi’s life. And typical me, I liked the rebellious rake Rahul of Aparna Sen’s Parama.
This Rahul was willing to send his car to drive me 10 hours into Sathkol for the writing workshop. I kept thinking what does he want in return. And suddenly in a flash, you lose logic. I agreed to take up his offer and his car with his driver. My parents were again heaving in fear. Saying, there she goes again! Now, this Rahul.
I was duly warned about North Indian men. But I had already strapped the seat belt into my ride to the unknown. I had already said, “Teri Aisi Ki Taisi” in my mind.
Rahul’s driver Mithilesh was an amiable chap and I tried bonding with him. It was midway into midnight, empty roads into the badlands of Uttar Pradesh I knew I was mocking luck and divinity. Between Mithilesh and I, we both can’t read maps and it didn’t help that he asked for directions to Google in his Bihari accent English. I was tired and realised I had an insane stubborn streak to myself that few would understand.
My parents told me that my Bengali upbringing was no good. When I should have studied I didn’t and now trusting a stranger called Rahul and it doesn’t help that he is from Delhi. They were stricken and said they shouldn’t live another day. The words fell off my ears like cacophony. They are dramatic quintessential Bengalis with a constant existential crisis. They aren’t the ones you seek when in trouble. Was most glad my phone connection was playing up. I lied saying I knew Rahul and Chetan from my advertising days. They bellowed when they heard Chetan was a Mahajan. Punjabi was always a big No, No!
We halted for the night in Rudrapur at 2.00 am. It was a cool night with stars above my head and nothingness ahead. An unknown destination with danger lurking at every bend we traversed. Mithilesh and I.
By now I had reached my sweet spot of leaving everyone behind without a care. It was Mithilesh and the unknown Rahul and the somewhat dependable voiced Chetan. My girlfriends were most excited with both the names. They kept saying, tell us more!
The morning I started again with Mithilesh towards my Himalayan Writing workshop. Few hours into the road and I found myself breathing the mountain air and little streams gushing out from nooks and corners. More mountain people with the easy step of familiarity and simplicity. I was in love with love again. It was 14th February, Valentine’s Day. As I passed curves and bends. Suddenly I was greeted with clearer skies and my path to destiny. I could tell my past had died a little death right there in the right now. What was ahead was the doom of finding me. Which is not easy for a troubled heart like mine. Losing the past was like a piece of your intestine cut away from you. You can’t digest it all without the sour dull feeling of being full from past pain. I was resisting this clarity and divinity. What would I hold on to, from here?
We reached The Himalayan Writing Workshop and strangers greeted me with a warmth that I was unaccustomed with. Over the years I had mastered my fake real smile. But each of them broke my resolve bit by bit. The fireplace in the corner and the floor seating was familiar from before. I did my writing with the wonderful group of 9. Realised I maybe did know how to write enough to be appreciated and read. I cried among them. The debris of the past they each took turns to heal me. The familiar word “Dumb” became a distant sound in my head. The same harsh sentence, “don’t worry your pretty head. Just enjoy life!” Those words had bruised me & broken me. Here I was again among strangers with love. I was being healed.
After a day of writing. Chetan and Vandita took us for a bit of retail therapy. We walked through the hilly road towards the store. I found wollen shawls, tea, honey and handmade soaps. I choose a beige wollen shawl. As I wrap the woven shawl by the Kumaoni women from Chirag, the NGO shop. The brand is called Kilmora and the profits from the sale of Kilmora helps run a school and a community hospital set up by Chirag. I understood again the simplicity of those meanderings of the mountains. The lights flickered ahead as dusk fell. I knew again I was face to face with divinity. I forgot my sense of self as I opened my heart at the altar of this godly abode.
As I finished my writing workshop. I recall Chetan’s words to me, “Don’t be afraid, get naked on paper”. I took his words very seriously and wrote those few days without control. It came gushing from corners that the sunlight hadn’t touched. The dark spots of my past. The numerous emotionally unavailable relationships, that I had nurtured and accepted over the years died a death there. I wasn’t accepting this second-hand love anymore. The bruised inner child came back slightly healed, slightly lost but massively hopeful.
The shawl covered my bruises and revealed the blood-soaked sides of my heart that dripped near this motley crew of Krish, Ravi, Viral, Vandita, Shabnam, Souniya, Ashwini, Karan, Rahul and Chetan. I was delirious without me knowing, that they could smell the stale blood mixed with tears on the little corners of me. They saw me like no one had in a long time.