Photography & art / June 2016 (Issue 32)

Ode To Shimla

by Rushda Rafeek

As I'm wrapped within the snowy sheets of my hotel room in Chotta, Shimla down Kasumpti Road, there is a heater at work, stubbornly noisy, always trying to meddle with the haunt of the luminous moon falling on the mountains if you're keen enough to pin your hand on the curtains and move them aside for a glimpse. The texture outside is an inky dab, dusted with an esoteric zeal running its length and looks very Instagramable and as tempting as a black door you discover unlocked. I'm reminded that the sheer cut of the December chill thrusting into my skin, trimming away its warmth, is not something familiar and felt every day, and that it is a thrill I'll trace by memory and yearn for again and again once the holiday is over. So I soak it in, and surrender sugaring my tea pouting down, not complaining, not now.

There were the slinky turns that made me think of two things—a lithe, writhing serpent and lines from Antonio Machado's poem, "Highland Songs": "Between the pines / the white snow / erases the road." There were junctions heaped with people swishing about hastily in winter jackets and where two children stood hushed consuming oranges, staring deep and solemn; where Neetu, the mule, who, as calm as the climb up Kufri, suddenly skids in the mud and her master clicks his tongue to move on; where a shaft of the sun absorbs the laughter from a young man's eyes and peters into those laughing silhouettes my eyes catch on the ground, the right attention demanded by the hypnotic Himalayas raising my chin from the cautious steps taken; where I see the strength of yaks lightly outlined by an upstate silence (there was something replenishing in the spirit of the Himachali woman who pulled me up for a dance upon hearing a song from Bajirao Mastani); where lunch was sobbing at the extremely spicy Singaporean noodles, the cubed paneer floating in an ochre bath topped with pudina, tearing buttery golden naan with the tips of our fingers haloed greasy and already the sixth succulent gulab jamun is ordered; where the walks were pine-shed and pashmina-shawled, the Tibetan handicrafts left to grace and sway, the pyramidal varak hitting a hundred colours in my vision from the confectionary an instant reward; where the rural beauty and cohesion of this city reflects in the constructions firmly embedded to the mantle of the mountains, the scrutinised interest while scratching the dried peels off the rotten bark on some elderly lonely tree; where one adopts a new religion–pulling one's collar against the ears after seeing the wind as an aggressively loud uncle; where we stopped to take breaths from long drives up the heavenward hills and the lights twinkled slowly, abruptly and then the vague and mild diagramming moods, the deep terror or the sudden, the euphoria, the unspeakable.

Interesting, how all this is to become a sprint down memory with the calendar to turn into another year and my heart beats a little, beckoning, in most ways—blessed.












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