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Filter Coffee with Asha - Postcards rom Pokhri 3What is love?

I find defining it in words a futile exercise, especially after I discovered there is only one love that can pass through me and yet manifest in so many different forms in equal measure to everything and everyone around me. Like a single ray of light passing through a prism and splitting into a myriad of hues, there is only one single love. Now I just feel it flowing in and out, like breath, with an even tenor, sustaining my life. Love isn’t just an emotion anymore. What else it is, I do not know. Maybe, this story would explain what I cannot sum up with language.

It took two days for me get over the ordeal of reaching Pokhri. I was sleep deprived and the mental stress I had endured needed some good time to abate and get me back to my element. I stayed put in the room, a fine pinewood cottage about which I have written in my previous posts. Not everyone’s hangout, but tailor-made for me.

There weren’t major plans on my tour itinerary. I had decided to play it by the ear and do things that my mood and health would permit on each day. It wasn’t the kind of holiday where I had to push myself to see half a dozen spots in a day and make my trip Insta-worthy. So, I lazed on the first two days, (which is what I ended up doing on most days), going on short walks around the cottage and familiarising myself with the place and people.

I don’t have a count of the number of ‘pranams’ I filled my jacket’s pocket with on the first day and in the days thereafter.

One thing that struck me as I went on my stroll was that there were more womenfolk in sight than men. They were cutting grass, clearing farms of weeds, collecting green feed for their cattle, sowing seeds and in short involved in a variety of tasks that left me puzzled. Where did all the men in the village go? I gathered from Kiran that they found work in the towns and cities, while the womenfolk toiled back home looking after the family and indulging in labour of different kinds. It was only to till the soil that men show up, a task that is physically beyond a woman's might.

As I was walking on the second day, trying to align myself with the irregular pathways, climb ups and downs, in the thickets on the slopes I heard the chatter of two women in singsong Garwali. One was up on a tree, and now coming down with a bundle of green leaves. I watch her in awe, wondering to what extents women here stretched themselves, and what one earth was she bringing down.

I waited for her to alight and with an ease that has by now become my hallmark, I start talking to Bijay Lakshmi and her friend Manju. She had gone up the tree to gather a special variety of leaves for the ‘bhains’. Leaves from a tree for the bulls procured painstakingly by the womenfolk? That’s some seriously superior feed for a regular cattle breed, I thought.

‘Aap kahan ke ho?’ Bijay Laksmi asked, showing none of the strain the task must have wrought on her.

‘Kerala’, I said, preparing to explain it was a state at the southern end of India.

‘Naariyal laaye ho hamare liye?’ Bijay Lakshmi’s question threw me off kilter. Did she really know?

What on earth had made me underestimate the intelligence of a villager and expect her to be completely ignorant of a world outside the hills? What but my damned prejudice and assumptions? I deserved to be whacked for what seemed to be a colossal lapse on my part in assessing people. I had a lot of work to do in this area, I reminded myself.

Just as I was bidding goodbye to the two women after some more small talk about us, Saraswati, who looked close to fifty, walked towards me from another direction.

'Saraswati, why, that's my mother's name too!' I exclaimed.

The hill people are extremely pleasant-looking, and their smiles are worth a million dollars. I wonder what keeps them in such good humour all the time. It is not as if they don’t have challenges. In fact, they have substantially more to contend with than I can imagine in my most modern, urban life. Yet, their loving nature and guileless demeanour endears us almost instantly. It makes us feel as if all ills of the world end in those candid eyes. If only we in the plains could also be as generous with our smiles!

The usual pleasantries with Saraswati over, we took some pictures together for which she gave me congenial poses. And then Saraswathy suddenly held my hand and said, ’Come to our house.’

I said I would go on another day. But she was relentless. She insisted on taking me home for a tea right then. To invite someone home for a tea after the first meeting might be a civil gesture in our parts of the world, but here it wasn’t just courtesy. The urgency with which she invited me suggested it was an expression of genuine camaraderie. There was no way she would take a ‘no’ from me, and in any case, I am pathetic at giving emphatic no’s to people’s ardent requests.

I trudged behind her through the narrow path, panting a bit as I climbed, evading cattle dung and slippery patches on the way. I was only beginning to get the first hints of what walking in the hills would do to my lungs. It wasn’t going to be easy.

Saraswati summoned her daughter-in-law as soon as we reached her house and asked to get me chai. I had just had my tea at the cottage and was in no mood to have another one, but then again, if having a cup of tea would make her day, my stomach could easily accommodate another cuppa.

Enter Priyanka, another charming face with a coy smile, framed in a red dupatta. Saraswati presented a plate of snacks and sweets and made sure I didn’t give a slip. Left to her, she would have made me polish it off.

We sat and yapped about this and that, exchanging notes and snaps about village and city lives, and before leaving, Priyanka invited me home again for Karwachauth the next day. I couldn’t make it because it rained and it got too cold for my bones to bear, but she and I stayed in touch over whatsapp.

Two days ago, she sent me a message that read, ‘Deedi, aap meko bahut achi lgi sachi m.’

She was worried that I might forget her once I leave the hills, but I gave her my word. I will be in touch.

What had I done to deserve such love? I fail to fathom. And I often regret my incapability to reciprocate such unleaded love in ways other than the one the heart knows. Love for love. Heart for heart. Spirit for spirit. The distance between my small world and their small world was a little heart hop.

Today, I will be visiting Saraswati and Priyanka again to have a cup of tea with them. I wish I had something to take with me as present. I normally go loaded with chocolates and other little things when I go to my native place, because there are obligations there. But I had flown in emptyhanded here, because there was no one I thought I may have to please or meet someone whose expectations I may have to meet.

I have no material means to express my appreciation and love for them. I also fear that I will be undermining their love by attempting to payback with things, hence I shall just make sure that they know that they have left their footprints on my little patch of land, maybe with a warm hug or just by telling them in simple words that they are wonderful people and I love them very much.

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