The second time around, the winds had died down. The prayer flags hung, the carcasses of ripe silk with Tibetan Buddhist text. Cochrane Place was aging, albeit marvellously. Father asked me what he was to write in his Facebook check-in. ‘The colonial flavour,’ I said. ‘Is divine,’ Mother concluded.
After a hot dinner, my parents went back to our room. I sat in the lotus position on the swing on the roof, and closing my eyes, listened to the sound that had made my admiration for Kurseong breed poetry, the last time we visited. Wooden windchimes, knocking against one another, in the light wind, sounding deliciously oriental. It was the sound of the unobstructed sky, the distance from civilization; it was the sound of silence.
We were the last ones to have dinner, and had eaten way past bedtime. At nine o’ clock, I opened my eyes to a black sky-canvas of mica, and in the distance, huge humps of mountains, the leftmost glistening with the sleepy eyes of Kurseong town.
Madhushree had joined our school in class eleven, before which, by this time, her mother was turning off the lights and retiring for the day, across the mist, on the mountain that shone. Madhushree admitted to being a night owl. She would stand on her balcony and let her snakeskin of the stressful day slip into the hallowed night.
Because, life, in fact, was quite the pawn of routine, while she schooled in St. Helen’s Convent. Now that we think about it, school was the alarm clock we had, and when, nowadays, I wake up early by accident, I feel the schoolgirl timer going off inside me.
When I had visited Kurseong for the first time, last December, we woke up very early, and visited St. Helen’s Convent. The school was closed, but the charm was ever-flowing. On asking Madhushree how she felt, on switching to Calcutta Girls’ High School, she confirmed my suspicions of schooling in the hills being something out of an Enid Blyton novel. They had a mere total of forty-five to sixty students in each class, with no section divisions.
The first time I visited Kurseong, I fell in love with it. Reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children after the trip, I came across the part where the protagonist tells the story of his grandfather, where, working as a young doctor, he fell in love with a young woman he only saw through a hole made in a blanket. As an excuse to see him more often, she would complain of developing frequent illnesses, and every time he came, he was allowed to see the affected area through the hole in the blanket held up by her bodyguards.
That was, perhaps, how I saw Kurseong, the two times that I visited. Enough as it were to have Adaam Aziz fall in love with Naseem through a hole in a blanket, enough it was for me to fall in love with Kurseong through the little pores in the blanket called tourism.
Through the pores, I saw the beautiful Dowhill School, the densely forested Old Military Road and the saccharine rural lifestyle.
To Madhushree, there never was a blanket. Even though I feel tiny pricks of disrespect to the novel I’m reading, I feel, to be at home means never having to have a blanket. To be at home means having delightful stories in stock. I tried to have momos every day, because my experience needed the garnish of North Bengal, and that came from, I felt, momos.
We all want to imitate the lives of the natives when we want to feel the heartbeat of the place we are traveling. Momos are every student’s staple junk diet there. Madhushree told me of how they flooded into a small family-owned momo shop after school – Calcuttans, think about your after-school aloo kabli and phuchka times. They even named the shop themselves – Himali’s Momos, after Himali School, which it was next to.
Yes, we all want to imitate the lives of the natives. Why else would I constantly fashion my mother’s churnis into scarves? It’s amazing how glamorous girls from the hills are. I don’t know how much Madhushree would appreciate my putting up a portfolio of hers here. Anyway.
After a long day of touring – sigh – the lovely Kurseong, the blue evening settled over our teacups, as we laid our heads back, sniffing the purity in the air. The purity, in fact, is not only in the wind.
“Did you know,” I told my parents, “while living in Kurseong, no one has to lock their doors at night?”