Have breakfast on river rocks.
Get up early and stare at the squawking black drongo on the tree caressing your window sill. Take a long time to have your tea. Put on just the right amount of weight, that is, thanks to your camera and maybe a light jacket. Throw your head out of the window and guess the chaotic rhythm and direction of the northern winds. Sit back as the car gears itself down the terribly uneven, stony terrain of Khumani Tea Estate.
The river Kumai has probably thinned to a whispering stream this summer, but you will have enough current to wash your apples and your grapes – you know how dusty these highways can get; roadside haats are bountiful, but prone to the wheezes off tyre-shoved roads.
Eat your fruits, sweating from its arctic affair with the water, while sitting on the river rocks. Watch the touch of Bangladeshi features disappear from people’s faces to give rise to Pekinese-eyed Tibetan characteristics. Watch Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the arid wind.
Hum a little song from your school days.
Count butterflies on river beds.
Step out of the car when it stops to pay the toll on crossing Jalpaiguri district on to Darjeeling district. Watch how the road crests and falls like a party streamer fluttering in the wind. Tell yourself, The mountains have begun – with pretty houses with pink, green and red brick roofs, flowerpots on balconies and oh, momo shops. Walk right into the empty womb of the Suntalay Khola (“Orange river”), its gravelly scales bare, with the retreat of monsoon from the year before. Wonder about time. A little over an hour before, you were pacing up and down your balcony in Jalpaiguri. An hour later, you will be somewhere else, probably photographing the different shades of green in the tea gardens, anticipating the first flush. Watch that little elusive butterfly, with black and white wings, sit near your feet. Time could last so long, if you let your experiences be tangible. Touch is a time machine, creating an illusion of seconds expanded into hours. Things might last for as long as a butterfly sits on the rock, but no one can tell for how long they might remain.
Forget about the quintessential Bengali afternoon nap. Spend it watching birds instead.
Thank your stars if you are near a lake or dense foliage.
Watch how the body of the blue-throated barbet has been painted with colours off your childhood palette – ‘kochikolapata’, or the green that exists in young leaves; a kind of fluorescent blue that was too adventurous for painting village skies; the red derived from grandmother’s sindoor box.
Swift streaks of watery blue on the wings of white-breasted kingfishers; the sacrificial fire in feathers of the scarlet minivet; the gold-plated wings of the black-rumped flameback.
Whoever said colours are restricted to gulaal in spring?
If you see a herd of elephants, be kind.
You might think the little one doesn’t have the audacity to charge, but look how it digs its foot into the ground. Look how it flaps its ears. Look how it flicks it tail.
Look, two adults have come to join it. They’re wrapping their trunks around dry branches and pulling twigs and leaves off. They’re not hungry; they’re just killing time. They’re waiting for you to move. Move out of their corridor. Only then can they cross the road. Why are you throwing rocks? See how the adult kicks the ground? You don’t have to put your 600 mm lenses away – just make yourself an opportunity to actually take a photograph.
They’re charging. Goodness, stop shouting! Your child knows fear – he will not throw himself at the elephant’s foot; you are not the only anxious mother in this territory, Auntie.
Well done. You needn’t run, Uncle. The sudden shuddering of foliage doesn’t mean they’re charging. They’ve all made an about turn and receded into the jungle.
Get into the car. Watch how the sun filters through the trees and plays criss-cross with its own shadow. A few steps out of the heated zone, you hear a distant trumpeting. I’ve really missed you too, Gajagamini.
Watch trains chug down Teesta Bridge.
All this while, you have been waving to Pahadi children and tea garden labourers from your car. Stop your car for a moment. Watch the cyan and navy blue – marked train growl its way over the Teesta river. Step out of yourself. Be the one to be waved at. Let a hundred consolidated lives pass you by.
As the train cuts perpendicular to the flow of the river Teesta, think about directions, and how far you will let the winds carry you.
Watch the night be jewelled at the mercy of the moon.
It is past midnight. Down the soundless road through Rangdhamali, have had a terrifying journey home. You smell salvation from the kitchen, as the Maggi noodles are set to boil. The sleeping town is waiting for the morning to break forth with the promise of Prabhat Pheri. Men and women adorned in kurtas and sarees shall herald the festival of colours in with songs. Come the morning, there shall be music and an oriental sweetness in the air.
A light beating of the drums erupts from somewhere along the lake, probably near the Rajbari. It gives the night the promise of a love that hides, but remains to pinch its silence into quivers.
Let sleep be a stranger. Let routine be a stranger.
A soft kirtan erupts somewhere far, far away, like a pandit clearing his throat before a new day of rewaz is to begin.