The day is just an infant, now growing. As we continue on our journey, the all too familiar Giant Nandi looms into view, tall, black and magnificent. A few devoted worshipers gather before him, folding their hands in ardent prayer. The purohit doesn’t look their way; he is busy washing the giant monolith, sanctifying it. We silently stare, as the dazzling spray of water hits the Nandi, splashing off his black back in little droplets that sparkle like tiny golden orbs as they catch the sun. Wet and slowly drying, the Nandi looks beautiful. The Nandi is now decorated with thick garlands. It’s now time to chant, and the purohit immediately starts off with the rapid Sanskrit.
A beggar sits cross legged on the stone floor, his wrinkles disappearing into his thin shawl. In a dirty old cap to protect himself from the cold, he truly looks fragile. He is loud with his begging, voice distinctly hoarse and throaty. I’m sure that he makes quite a fortune every day, what with the haggard face and pleading, frail arms. He has a talent of melting many a stubborn heart with his repeated croaks, and predictably, his dented steel mug is quick to fill up. Next to him, a more dim-witted being is selling souvenirs at outrageous prices. His customers could only be the foreigners or those weird outlandish visitors who consider 100 bucks to be a cheap deal. We, on the other hand, understand the intricacies of local bargaining. And we are as smart as we are stingy. Drawing inspiration from how our mothers, aunts and countless others have haggled before, we try to play our favorite game again.
I approach him, mimicking the superior stance and arrogant pride of an art connoisseur of much experience. His eyes flicker up to meet mine, suspicious and unfriendly. “Excuse me, how much?” I question innocently enough. His answer is sharp, which only means that he sees through my little act. The cousin, of course, is the expert with the haggling. Everybody is aware that we aren’t going to buy, but it’s always fun to play the customer. The seller is naturally irritated. We harass him a little longer, and the beggar stops his croak for a little while to entertain himself. After we get tired, we walk away with an “hmpf, too costly,” towards more interesting things, as the dim-witted being mumbles complaints incoherently....
Fresh cucumber slices are arranged on a cart. Neat and symmetrical, like a work of art, with a tempting pineapple crowning the masterpiece--the cucumbers catch our attention. Soon, we are biting into the cool freshness hungrily. Cheeky cousin chooses this particular instant of time to remind us of the fat worm that we forsake some time ago. We swallow with effort, imploring him to stop. Of course, he continues with a fully detailed description of the kind which would put any entomologist to shame. We become even more greedy with a cucumber, and a little more deaf to his solo speech.
A lonely bird screeches, penetrating the morning air with her call. We watch her flit between leaves. She pecks at the bamboo patiently. She is an interesting specimen, and my bird-watching skills are alert once more. Soon, there’s a leaf dangling off her little beak. Oh, she must be building a nest! The morning is animated with her movements; she is an absolute delight to watch. I follow her with cheetah-stealth, concealed in the bushes. I watch her carefully, without straying away from my dear ones. There is something sad and determined about the bird. She seems forlorn. Within a bat of an eye-lid, she is from the rock to her preferred bamboo again. I watch this songbird work. She is filled with a sort of fevered energy, and it amuses me, how something that could fit into the palm of my hand can hold this much life. The bird is an extremely diligent worker, and it looks like she’s building her nest alone. In her own plane, above the ground, she stitches a different world. A world for herself, a home, a place to nurture….she constructs and designs, on plain intuition. Who taught her the craft? Who taught her how to design? The dim-witted seller of souvenirs we had just met demanded a return for his talent. And here she is, a truly gifted song-bird, delighting me with her craftwork, not asking for anything in return, not even taking notice. As the sun moves between the clouds once more, he pushes the deserving songbird into the lime-light. In that perfect moment, she perches, confident and unabashed on the bamboo, her leaf still in beak. She stays still, as the fiery sun illuminates. My camera captures the enigma. She hears the click. In a flash, she is gone, escaping the lime-light. But the ghost of the bird is caught in entirety. I whoot. The cousin immediately joins the war dance, without demanding reasons.
“You know,” says cousin, “It’s the little things that are cuter,” I’m surprised to see him talking this vaguely, but the small berry he’s holding in his cupped hands explains for him.
“Aha,” I agree.
“I found it on the ground,” he says, “I think it’s cute.”
I pinch his cheeks and tell him that he’s cuter. He blushes, and I tell him to take care of the berry. He assures me that he will, and pockets it.
The morning is trying to melt into afternoon, and we can’t believe that its’ that late already. The sky is still changing colors, telling us that afternoon is closer than we had thought. The mist is completely gone, and the murky skies we had previously witnessed are now something else. We wouldn’t mind continuing forever, if not for the feeble protests of the older feet. We are obedient, after all, and it’s the elders who bought us here. So, we turn back, light-heartedly, planning for a movie later in the day. But the journey homewards has turned a little different.
This journey has been one of rediscovery, of understanding that it is the small things that hold true wonder….things as small as red ants in the undergrowth, honey-bees on morning glories, and songbirds, building nests. And in the intricate puzzle that is life, simplicity is not so difficult to achieve. It is through such trivial things like an unplanned visit to the hills, that we start to fall in love with life….the late monsoon morning swallows us, as we speed away from the hills, our hearts thrilling to a very different tune. Today, we’ve lived life, like it’s worth it. Today, we have also fallen in love with it. And so, the journey ends, and also begins......