Black Hill Journals - 8
Monsoon not going so soon
Enjoy with the sun away
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Another plant not seen here these days is that of coffee that Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan had grown in The Chandra Nursery a century ago. During our school days when spending our winter holidays there at Thulo Mama's place, I used to pick the dark red ripe fruits sun dried and ground to make that wonderful hot cup of drink of raw coffee. The aroma was later found in India Coffee House with that real taste of raw coffee. Those served in the Fiction Cafe by Raman-Sarvada at Rachna Books are of the kind people love to enjoy with friends in leisure to while away the time usually to the company of a piece of brownie or a new variety of home-made cake. Steaming hot momos some prefer during this season though it is round the year-anytime -anywhere a hot favourite to party at home or away. We too had some coffee plants in our backyard till some years back when we had raised them carefully here but no more found. Binod Daju* used to have some, but there too no such plants were found. More than rains, grass-cutters taking as fodder when we were not here could be the reason. Thus generations old lineage was lost thereby, if we talk on human terms on heredity.
Rain or no rain, though I take a few glasses of warm water early morning that cleanse my bowel instantly and another round post lunch. During the monsoon a cup of tea in the morning or any time of the day is so refreshing but for later part of the day, if it is with hot pakoras. There is nothing like that to enjoy while spending time with friends or family. This we used to do at Birgunj during my stay with Nini and her large family after my studies in Darjeeling. The Queen of Hills is also famous for its incessant rains for days together and I best remember my Darjeeling Government College days to enjoy pharsi and iskus for days and weeks together in our meals as a paying guest. I had left the Bellevue Hostel near the Chowrasta feeling guilty soon after Superintendent Amal Dutta* found me returning drenched in water as we had been invited over some drink by a Army Captain friend holidaying with his family near the Shrubbery Ground / Nightingale Park that my class-mate Kharga Jung Thapa* of Mungpoo/Kalimpong knew and caught unaware on the way back by the monsoon rains. We used to know Gangtok to be a sister and next to Darjeeling but this capital town was no less as meteorological data show that it gets rains for 300 days a year. That is also a sort of record to reckon with while writing these lines in praise of the monsoon. No wonder, why our state is one of the greenest in the region or Gangtok the cleanest city in the whole country courtesy gurgling jhoras to flush all the garbage down the hill and vales while Sikkim as a whole has a forest cover that make most of other states to envy green. Kanchenjungha National Park declared as the Heritage by UNESCO is something !
Monsoon reminds me of the Manas in full spate as I try to cross it finally to bid good-bye to the Game Sanctuary having worked for the Royal Government of Bhutan that wonderful sojourn of one full year. I crossed it for the first time on the 2nd August1971 and finally exactly the same day a year later. My appointment as a Game Warden there was to break the jinx of two years hunting for a job since I had my Masters in Zoology with Wildlife as a subject of interest to bring me closer to the abode of the Golder Langur named after E. P. Gee, whose book the first ever on the subject Wildlife of India was part of our syllabus. Crossing the Manas by boat was equally quite adventurous and challenging for me as a person who knew no swimming. Little larger wave would have swept us away but the boatmen had told me to catch hold of the boat whatever came the odd. Whole body was drenched fully by the forceful splash but yet to enjoy as the parting gift for years to be with me engraved in my memory always as the faithful elephant Ramkali drop me at Bansbari from Mathanguri in the Assam side of the Manas Sanctuary to catch a bus to Barpeta Road station to bring me back home. A week later on the 9th August I was in Mussorie at the National Academy of Administration.
Rains and tea form a nice combination as I find another batch of green tips ready to be plucked on a sunny day to get home hand-made tea leaves for that enriching brew with a taste to match the best as this region is famous for Temi Tea and, of course, Darjeeling Tea too. Monsoon rains is so envigourating for the bushes that it takes a week or so to get fresh tips again to have another batch and in bigger quantity of leaves to pluck. Encouraged thus, we have planted the saplings grown beneath the bushes to cover the space adjacent that would take pretty long and for our progeny to enjoy in the years to come, hopefully. Equally luxuriant growing are the weeds around the bushes and those on the lawn that would not allow the grass we planted recently to spread out properly. Mushrooms seen growing inside and outside the house, some ferns make tasty dish. A bunch of Dhaniya patta spread on a paper sheet had melted down overnight due to its rich water-content around this season. So, best would be to sow some rayo seeds, Bigyan daju gave, sparsely in beds in the shed around the house to get some early crop. While working on it, I slipped slightly but safely not to break/damage myself like once in the USA that night coming out after the dinner at one of Rachna's friends in the ice formed after a recent snowfall. I see a lone Ghiraula plant along with a few Chatera/Kundruk plants coming up outside that may soon cover up that portion of the kitchen garden with the Jyamir plant with young fruits that I have to paint its trunk with lime to save from ants. Shyam tells me that chatera has a bulb which is good to taste while its fresh tendrils taste better than the fruit as vegetable. Gammexane powder help curb the ants but what a variety of insects that we find even inside rooms we get tired of clearing.
People here have forgotten once popular rainy season accessory ghoom these days that was total organic made of newaro/byapari leaves (later version was with polythene sheet spread in between) wrapped in two-fold bamboo framework and local handicraft once quite common to see in use with rural folks. Instead I saw mason Ravi coming in plastic waterproof jacket what he got for the Organic brand promotion. They rather do not mind little showers which they cannot help either for the sake of work but at the cost of their health around this season. I could also not escape from cough and cold and had to resort to paracetamol and hot organic drink made of hardi-methi-adua-juwano to avoid sugar-lashed cough formula. The first victim around this season infested with dogs was Arvind's Rowdy, who was a hero with some dozen of them in the pack crowding my lawns early morning just two days back before his untimely death. It had a foul-smelling wound full of larvae around the neck might be due to strong bite by a fellow-dog in sheer rivalry canines are known for.
Yes, I have taken out the LED bulbs from outside due to insects getting accumulated at the bottom almost covering the whole light defeating the very purpose of the diode. CFL has taken over again as the compound light during the night. Mosquitoes are a menace and the best way to escape is to get a mosquito-net from a local hawker as the stand to support was ready for use. I recollect my Darjeeling Government College days when I used to collect all sorts of insects and had brought samples in formalin water even from Birgunj, Nepal for our Professor and Head of Department S. K. Dasgupta by laying trap of tray filled with water with a bright bulb lighted at night. Spiders, scorpions, centipedes, praying mantis, moths and butterflies were my little additions from here but the best was to see the rare to find shy insect-eater pangolin preserved as a model in our Zoology laboratory. Familiar sound of frogs croaking is what I miss here nor can we see tadpoles in puddles around or crabs in the water-spring nearby these days. Instead, we find mosquito larvae everywhere taking its place. Fireflies are rare as the bright light outside keep them away. Ladybugs and other beetles are seen here and there. Chirping of tree-hoppers and all sorts of insects with wood-borer working throughout that sounds like carpenter sawing timber fill the environment day and night inside and outside much to our annoyance but cannot help it. Compared to the life in the US where a single living insect inside is much dreaded with pest and temperature in control, what a great difference to have with cool whiff of air setting our rooms so pleasant. No wonder if you need the blanket with quilt to have a comfortable sleep!
Thursday brought cheers as it turned suddenly sunny to wash and dry clothes crisp like Patanjali papad we had for the fried chiura-Dilranjan dalmut mix I enjoy anytime of the day around this season to kill the occasional pang of little hunger more due to habit than my system sugary inclined. As the workers try to give a finish to the hand-packed masonry to the retaining wall for the approach road taking longer due to the rains and sickness brought along, I ask mason Ravi to take chance try some repairs on leaky roof that might help like the one he did to a portion in front previously. While sipping soothing aromatic liqueur of home-made tea in the evening, I tell Ranjana much to her disbelief that yet another flush of tea-leaves there ready to pluck and replenish what we enjoy consuming in the Black Hill. Monsoon not going so soon but Mother Nature giving us yet again something we enjoy here that soon. Never mind the weeds as some of the things are naturally beyond our control that we cannot help either.
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His recent book The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.