Life takes turns. Life also has its steeps & slopes. Many a times, life pops up a pushta to sit & rest a while. And sometimes, life takes us to a place that we can just smell & proclaim, we are home. I was missing home. And the first thing you do when you miss home is, call someone who you are sure is missing home too. So, we spoke. As always, to the point. Short & not so sweet. We cursed each other for not calling earlier with this surging pinch in the heart & finally made our decision. Not about the travel. That was a surety. I don’t remember who gave that phrase, but we decided that this time our visit needed to be ‘pointless’. The moment it was mentioned, we knew what was coming. Or rather, why were we going! We reached Doon railway station almost on the same time, with little waiting, from our respective cities. Immediately, took a cab & hit the road, driving through a still-waking Doon city roads, to Rajpur road, passing the waiting hilly turns & reached Jharipani by 9:45 AM. We were staying at Jharipani Castles, nestled right on the head of Jharipani, barely 200 steps from the main gate. It used to be called Patiala House for a while, before it was bought by the current owner to build a tavern. We were almost home. We could smell it.
From the moment we stepped onto Jharipani, everything seemed ‘pointless’. We knew the day’s schedule of Sports Day. But we were not bothered. We took a seat outdoors. The cool October breeze had started giving us a chilly crack while the sweet burning sun was throwing a warm blanket, cozying us down even more. We talked for a while. But gradually, we were not. We just fell silent. The Doon valley at the far end had started talking to us. Am not sure for how long but we kept staring into oblivion, pointlessly.
Naturally, we were late reaching our valley for Rocky Sir’s torch bearing jog. We regretted it till the second Rocky Sir hugged us & said, “Good to see you boys! What a pleasant surprise.” There was Sunny Boss too, in his warm maroon waist coat with the OG monogram on his chest. We had a good laugh over old jokes & new fantasies. Sports Day had all the ingredients of rushing adrenaline, gushing prowess, high volume cheering & passionate & competitive final day events all around the valley. As always, the House that came last took the longest ‘victory lap’ making the real closing ceremony worth watching. We felt as happy as the kids, shouting “holiday, holiday, holiday….” and Principal responded merrily, “Muss trip for GS on Sat, for BS on Sunday & holiday for everyone on Monday.” Everyone got whatever they wanted. We wanted smiles. We got plenty.
We sat in the valley, till we were the only souls. The echoing silence in the valley at that moment with whispers gushing in from all directions through the hills, trees and passing winds is sensational. All the three schools had walked back in single files, groups & solitary walkers as they were comfortable. The last ones strolling up were the ones who were awarded “most cooperative class” during the prize distribution ceremony earlier in the day, which we guessed was because they were the ones either carrying benches, mattresses & chairs or supervising the same while their juniors did the log work. We soaked in the fragrance that was a simple mix of the day’s dust from the athletes run, choona still floating in the air, sweat and blood of some of them, damp mattresses, the moist grass & the almost ready dinner from various kitchens, near & far. The cheers and shouts were still alive and fading away into the darkening night. We spoke a little again and then started walking silently up towards Boys School, stopping once at the BS gate where one of the recently passed out students recognized us and greeted us. We exchanged words briefly & again walked towards the back pitch. We peeped inside the kitchen to be pulled inside & being ordered “Dinner le ke jaana”. We did intend to have dinner but with that order coming in just in time, we were hungrier. There was obvious tension in the air in the dining hall with the House that had lost out by a very thin margin brooding, without words. It surely helped that now boys sit as classes and not houses. We sat with Cl XII for dinner. As always, they were a gracious & a little shy group, till we opened up a little & then they got frank. We spent a good time chatting up.
We walked back from BS to Jhits with random talk around our time while in Cl VI to VIII, being the most cooperative class, getting dhunned for no particular reason, the house rivalries, the quarrels during heats & the fight after the final scores were out etc. We got to Jharipani Castles around 8, ordered coffee, sat around a bonfire which was paid for by another family. The family being from Delhi, had their own flair of messing up a beautiful evening. But they were irrelevant. We finally walked up to the cafeteria, ordered another coffee and conversed lightly while there was some good music over the radio & stayed there till the service boy finally said, that they close the place at 2230 hrs. So, we walked down to the room and laid down on the bed. Sudden contentment rose over us. We had spent a full day, without any cause or reason. Day 1 had ended just as planned. Or had it? May be it hit us that we hadn’t spoken much. We had to compensate for lost time. There was no point being pointless. Finally, we faced each other & started having a chat. Which ended when we realized “paw phatne waali hai”. Tab hamaari bhi phati! And so we switched off our alarms & went to sleep.
Day 2 started at 9. We woke up. Had breakfast. Sat out in the same warm sun, cool breeze, stared into the valley while barely speaking to each other. Suddenly realized its getting late for lunch. We planned to have lunc at JS today. Went back into the room to freshen up. We saw the bed. The bed saw us. It opened its arms. And we dived right into it & 3 hours vanished from our lives, pointlessly. I woke up before my alter ego. Opened my office mailbox, replied to few of them, ignored most of them. My alter ego woke up to inform he had a dream which he doesn’t remember. We laughed at that senseless statement & got ready to take our walk from Jhits to JS. Just while crossing GS gate, we thought why not take a different route. So we walked into GS & walked down to the valley from their route, walked up & entered JS from the rear gate. The door was shut. We thought its locked & started walking to enter the kitched too from the rear when one of us said, “dhakka maar ke dekhte hain.” To our delight, it was just shut, not locked. So, we entered, walked past the empty classes, still wondering where did the children go? were welcomed with almost the same statement, “Chai peeyoge? Dinner aaj yehin karna hoga.” We did not have to reply or wait for plate full of the day’s tea items & maggi, which is made to order for teachers. From JS we walked to BS, wanted to go to Ganji Pahaadi, went half way through, to realize, on the way back it would get dark. So, we took a detour, walking past some staff houses randomly & returned to the back pitch pushta & sat for a while, We spoke a bit again about our time, watching boys play hockey in one corner & some of them playing football in the other goal post. We remembered we had to pick Rocky Sir’s specs from Mr. Dubey, spent some time at his place. The best line of the evening was, “bachchon ke naam badal jaate hain, harkatein vo hi rehti hain.” Dinner invitation came from BS dining hall too. But we had promised JS folks of it. So, we walked to JS kitchen. We did not have to wait. Our plates were set with vegetable, dal, paneer, chicken & hot chapaatis. We were offered onions, a rarity, served only to special guests at our time. We ate till our throat was choked & our hearts were blocked.
We walked back from JS slower than the evening before. We didn’t talk about it but we knew in our hearts, tonight is the last night here. We don’t know what blessed us in those moments. We had been in Jhits from 1987-1996. We had heard stories about a haunted house, about ghosts roaming in the valley, crazy & funny sounds, including some random musical instruments at times, by a lot of people. And a few rare fantastic anecdotes about people having to spot ‘bagheera’ in the hills. It was our special night. Just as we were about to enter Jharipani Castle, we were struck by wild lightning. We froze. There were not one, but two leopards, that leapt from the darkness from the cliff side, onto the road under the street light, just about 20-25 metres from Jharipani Castle gate and walked off slowly, vanishing into the darkness on the other side of the road into the bushes & down into the valley. There is not much to write as it was a matter of seconds that all this happened. It was a life time experience. And it was scary. We did not sit out tonight. And kept the door locked. The night was spent talking about Jim Corbet, Mr. Kichlu & some other hunters. We slept early tonight, comparatively. We had not planned for such a ‘nature walk’.
Day 3 was an early start. We had to check out but not before we bumped into two old mates, who had made it from Doon for a Sunday morning walk. We spent some time sitting & chatting. While leaving, when we tried paying their breakfast bill, came the best line of Day 3, “main senior hoon. Jis baat pe tum logon ka koi haq hi nahi hai, uspar no argument.” We wanted to take a quick walk on the Mall Road in Mussoorie since we had some time at hand. We walked down to Guptaji’s shop & asked for a cab. A young boy, around 25 yrs, came out to drive us to Mussoorie. As he started the uphill drive, he asked if we were Oakgrovians. We said yes. He said, I am a Manorite. The boy was one of Padam Gupta’s younger brother’s son who had passed out from SGC, finished his engineering from Chennai, was working in TCS & while on his holiday, had no qualms driving a cab, taking people to Mussoorie. So much for cursing today’s generation. There are ‘landooks’ across all generations. While on the Mall Road we bumped into some Cl XII boys who recognized us, offered us vegetable chaat that they were buying & spent few lovely moments. We reached Library, took a u-turn & just when we reached the joint, we had a sudden urge to take a walk on the Camel’s Back Road too. And so we turned. Walking at ease, soaking in the afternoon sun, the chill while walking in the shadows of the trees & the easy smell of different flora & fauna that we crossed. We finally took a cab from Mussoorie to Doon, picked our luggage from Jhits and reached Sunny Boss’s den. We stayed for a while, enjoying Sunny Boss’s hospitality. Sunny Boss even took me to DSOI for drinks although he didn’t sip because of the ongoing Navratra. Finally, he dropped me to the station late night & while leaving invited me not only during my next trip, but asked me to let everyone know that Sunny lives in Doon. I thought to myself, this boy is a true-maroon-blooded creature.
Between 1989-1996 (Senior school years), these walks, from Jhits to Muss & back, from school to hospital & back, from the dining hall to the music room & back were always mundane and yet unique. Especially, the walk after every important meal through the day & on most Sunday afternoons & evenings was a ritual. You didn’t need a specific companion. Any batchmate you call out for was ready to take that walk. It was on these slow and silent walks that we would sometimes talk. In the present, without realizing, we would share a piece of our past and future. It never dawned on us that we would get separated. The basic assumption was we will stay here, forever. In many ways, we have not really departed. We may be living far away but still stay close to each other.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)
This piece was shared by Kanishka Mallick on Oct 19, 2018 over email.