There is a Hindi movie called “Dhundh”. It has Danny Dengzongpa in it. There is a song in it which went somewhat like this …”we come out of the mist, and we go back into it…”. Every time it is fall in England, I remember the time we trudged up the hills from our summer vacations. The fog greeting us at Rajpur to become our travelling companion to Oak Grove. We see the precipices dripping with water, their gnarled edges slick, edged by moss. The water, dripping constant, forming rivulets at their base, travelling at speed against the direction of the bus, as if in a hurry to reach the destination we left behind, Dehradun.

That last turn before Toll-Tax gate and the wafting smell of fried potato fritters. The stopping of the bus there and the handing up of fritters in a paper clasp by Dad. The clank of the drive shaft as the smell of burnt petrol mixes with the aroma of the fritters as we continue our climb. The slight shiver that passes through, when I look up to see a flash of that white cross at the top of the hill – the never ending vigil of an Irish soldier, before the mist envelopes it protectively.

The fog is densest in Jharipani. Visible five metres to either side, as if you have travelled to a place amongst clouds. We are all gods here, walking in and out of the little stage it has set for us, with the halo of godliness around our mortal selves. We hear things that we don’t see and in the pensive silence of the fog, a lot remains unsaid. We are all touched by the “Dhundh”. The coolies are the angels that show us direction, their cloth slings carrying the impossibility of trunks and tuck boxes as they walk up the hill. They speak in monosyllables as we pass through the valley. I look to my left as I pass, the fog hung over the valley as well. Beyond that fog it may as well be an abyss, a nothingness. The mist envelopes you, makes your world smaller, the view of it, bigger. It allows you to gather your thoughts, yet constantly get disrupted by things that come out of it. As if it were a travelling silent opera, with actors coming in and out with their pre-planned lines and demeanours. It gives you the space to experience Oak Grove.

As the turns become familiar, and you get older, the fog plays mind games with you. You see yourselves, 20 years younger, come out of the corner of the Rajah’s Palace gate, not looking at you, just exerting, hard, to finish the marathon race. Detached, you see yourselves, twenty years apart in that fleeting moment. Tempted to follow, raise a hand and stop that lanky chap, galloping away, stop him, before he disappears into the fog. That momentary rendezvous with your past, those unsaid assurances and stories you wanted to tell him, tongue tied in the mist.

The fog in Jharipani is older than time itself, and, like age rings on a tree, encapsulates memories within it. Of people who have come here in penury, of fathers and mothers who have disappeared into the mist, only to come out of them, older, with rings around their eyes. Of warm hugs exchanged, soft whispers – one whispers in the mist, unsure who else will hear. Of boys coming out of it as men, of men going into it, never to return. The mist swallows everything. They are constant autumn vigil in Jharipani, together with the soldier in that modest white mausoleum. Sitting here in England, I drive into their cousin, warm and ensconced in its embrace.

– Manoj Panikkar (1991)


This piece was written by Manoj Panikkar on October 25, 2019. It was shared by him on email.

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