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..And other..

July 18, 2011 2 comments

Mani - A leader hired.

He had small eyes. Wrinkled at the edges, battered by the times they’d seen, misty, and yet brooding, may be contemplative. They sure did have an iota of timidness in them. Or so was my perception. Frail, calm and numbed by age, he led the way. Clouds hovered in the skies raining needles of agony. It did not deter him. Neither did the chill accompanying the mad wind which sent his tarpaulin fluttering – exposing his thin, almost uncovered frame. An uphill climb, taking the rough terrain head on, yet again, he showed no signs of  weariness. Hands tucked behind, head slightly lowered, eyes fixated on the next step, he took one small step after the other. And other.

*

I was late. I thought I was late but my rational self prodded me into thinking I might be late by the baseline time standards as mentioned in the email, but I was in no way late by the desi time standards. Between scurrying back home to fill up a sack with some last available clean clothes, to hitching into a bus packed with turbo charged rebels, to the time I cursed my alter ego to subject my rather heavy body to drag all its way up a mountain, my rational self had won. The bus came almost about an hour late. So I wasn’t late. The journey had begun. Yes. I went trekking. The couch hitting indolent bear had once, just for this once, not procrastinated and had managed to get his rear in some activity which involved physical exertion and abstinence from the weekend experimenting with magic potions.

  *

As we began the ascend, some of us trekkers led him – our hired leader, our guide for the trek. He had his eyes fixated only on the next step. Taking one step after the other. And other. Distant intermittent chatter, gushing waterfalls, rumbling trees and the occasional thunder in the sky was pleasing to begin with. An hour more into the trek and he was leading us. It started pouring next – slowly, steadily and then heavily to the extent where the senses went numb white. Blood sucking leeches made us stop more often than desired for they needed to be plucked. He stopped at such times, patiently standing still, never saying a word at what was a common occurrence for him.

More than 3 hours after trailing him for an unending 30 minutes, we saw his faint outline perched atop, standing still through the dense fog. No movement. No foot forward. Hands folded, he wrapped the green tarpaulin tight around him in vain to avoid cold winds. One look at him and he nodded once in agreement conveying ‘summit reached.’ Though an expressionless face, his brooding eyes drifted in opposite direction once his nod was cheered. We had reached summit after about three hours (plus delta) and much debates & show of hands on continuing / turning back. On the summit, we shuddered with cold, braved the gusts of fury winds, unpacked some eatables which were drenched nonetheless in water, munched on some, tried in vain to dissipate some warmth in our bodies, plucked more leeches, had a yahoo moment and began the descent – again, led by him.

I once saw him sneeze and pluck a leech out with his bare hands and throw it nonchalantly. First signs of almost being human. I followed him till he decided on his own to wait for others before darkness enveloped day. I got chatty with a fellow trekker and lost him soon as the path became less strenuous. For one stride of mine, my fellow trekker possibly took two, and many such strides and stories brought us down at the base camp much before anyone else. I saw him come almost after more than half of us came, with the same unyielding calm on his expressionless face. He hadn’t eaten anything, nor had he sipped water all this time. Mani,as I later knew his name, after a brief pause, bared his teeth in half a smile, squinted his eyes briefly only to open wide again and look straight into mine, and struck half a salute on being offered a packet of biscuits. Sometimes, necessities indeed are rewards when you least expect to get them.

*

I lay anchored in my bed the next morning. I plug the earphones in and Pink Floyd plays ‘Echoes’ in my head. I observe drop after drop of water trickle down in a slow rhythmic pattern from the end of a terracotta roof tile and time stops ticking for the while. The leaves lay unperturbed, glimmering, waving gently with the wind, only to stop and sway again. The wind carries a chill in it. Clouds close in on their descend to earth and the glimmer on the leaves disappears. Slowly it begins to rain. The trickling drops from the roof now become a small stream of flowing water. The song ends. Time starts ticking again. The cycle of continuity unpauses. Time comes for me to take one step after the other. And other.

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