‘Hello!’ A booming voice shattered my reverie. I looked around to see where it came from and found a bush some twenty feet up the mountain quivering. Beside it was squatting a scrawny little man. He was scratching his white beard vigorously, and staring at me with his brows furrowed.
‘Yes,’ I shouted back, ‘what happened?’
‘Who are you? Where are you going?’ He demanded.
‘Just going for an evening stroll. Why?’
‘Nothing,’ he relaxed, and continued, ‘Where’re you from?’
‘Somewhere nearby,’ I said rather irritated, and resumed my journey uphill.
I was an outsider here. Local people would stop me on the way like this to complete their inquiries. It felt like they took me for a potential danger to their farms, or livestock. That’s why I would never eye a wandering goat or sheep, lest somebody should hit me with a stick.
I stopped after a while and went to the side of the road and glanced at the valley below. I had reached a substantial height. I inhaled the purity of the air in a long and deep breath, and checked my watch. It had been an hour since I left home.
It was a soothing sight below. A river was smoothly flowing across the farms. I traced the river to find its source on the mountain behind it, and lost it midway around some thick vegetation and rocks. My eyes glided up to the top of the hill, noticing the dense forest on the way.
The clouds were resting comfortably just above the peak, swollen bright white with pride that no one else could reach them. In the greenery below, I could see a speck of white – probably a building, a home. But who would live at that height and how? I need to buy binoculars. I took a mental note.
Must be some kind of temple, I decided, and moved on.
I had made it a point to complete this daily ritual of evening contemplative walks. Besides being very healthy, they gave me food for thought. And I love thinking deep.
I smiled at the thought of reaching ‘my spot’. My spot, was a huge rock positioned beside a road higher up the mountain, shaped like a ledge.
I reached the place and sat on the rock, eyes closed, breathing deep. The air here has a restorative quality to it. Every breath would work like an energy drink.
Generally, this place remained devoid of human existence – it was high and cold and desolate and may be slightly dangerous here – but that day I could hear some noise coming from a distance. A kind of procession – may be religious – I thought. Then I saw people emerging from the far end of the road. I turned and focused back on nature, disconnected with what was happening around.
The sky far away was displaying magic with colours. Turning in all the known and unknown shades of yellow, orange and red. Sometimes I could see the clouds shimmering in gold as well. The Sun was nowhere to be seen, having already set behind a high hill far away. But its rays were still not ready to call it a day, it seemed.
This beauty quietened every voice in my brain, every activity in my body. It brought out best of my memories to the fore. The most beautiful of them were invading my mind, leaving me in a state of trance.
And suddenly, I was pulled back with cruel force. Back from the deepest corners of my soul. And I heard it said again:
‘Who are you?’
I assume it’s their compulsive need to know every single soul around them. It irritated me a lot in the beginning. But I have accepted it now. I know they will come and talk. I have started answering peacefully. In fact, I know a lot many people around now, just because of their persistent intrusions into my privacy.
I have had evening tea with some of them by now, played volleyball, and football with some others. Knowing that the people around know me has made my walks even more pleasurable. I am one of them now.