The joy of being in the dark
Age matters - No escape
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
When I woke up this Sunday morning it was pitch dark all over and everywhere around and the time was quarter past four. Nothing could be seen even your own hands and you keep wondering if you have kept your eyes open or these are closed tight. Even tried hard kept open to see - not even some lights coming from Pedong seen last time. It was really the joy of being in the Black Hill everything shut not even the tedious shrilling noise of different kinds of insects could be heard. Otherwise, the same noise was enough to keep from sleeping at night and from working during the day as mason Deepak was telling me once hearing the sound coming from the bamboo grooves in the backyard with the path that used to take you to Kazi Kothi. It separates our boundary with the school but some cunning teacher thought it wise to fix the concrete posts to our side without our consent. Since he had worked under the department I served last I simply rebuked him for that as it was a fait-accompli when a kingdom was lost through the folly of people of his kind. Kazi had donated the land for the school which has approach road through our land though some portions now under the road reserve once the Reshi-Rongli Road to Nathula/Jelepla that could possibly the alternative Highway in due course of time like at times when J. N. Road is closed due to landslide. For the present it is as such and our location just above the 10-km post to Rongli just in between two signposts reading KINGSTON to be seen those days when the road was newly constructed. How it disappeared and whether for good or bad, it is still a big question and a mystery that I have not tried to find out here all these long years. This seems very similar to post showing altitude of 5500' on the NH10 just above Rachna. Its current location is shown as 1795.77 metres with Latitude 27.34 and Longitude 88.61 for our place at Gangtok. People fancied the name Kingston so much so as the address that we can find it displayed in a signboard at the first settlement somewhere as we go towards Aritar off the Highway. Since our cousin Binod* sold most of his landed property here that once used to have his poultry unit turned into popular Binod Canteen. Bidhan Mama shared with me of someone telling that place is now also known as Binod Bazar. What use but for academic interest in the interest of local history since the stones that used to be abundant just adjacent to the school ground and the settlement. Long time quarry had been stopped for many residential buildings coming up there that aggravates our water woes here at the end of the Aritar GPU for years together. If stones could no longer there when we needed them for restoring our own approach road badly damaged by recent widening of the Highway what use of lamenting on a landmark Dhupi being felled or luxuriant mango tree both sown by my parents some sixty years ago gone. In the capital we see many of the trees along the Highway in thickly inhabitated areas even. They have brought a number of smaller tree stumps and planted marigold in it to be seen near the Hospital Danra traffic point. Little further below once the Dak Bunglow some years ago beautiful colourful animals like Red Panda made out of the stumps were seen but no more. For the stumps with us we are planning to have something of good purpose to keep their memory alive. What use crying over the spilt milk or by spilling the beans helps none as the show must go on. Driver who brought stones mentioned me of earlier days him carrying truckloads of stones from here downwards, now he was bringing them all the way up for us from Rorathang Khola. That made me simply remark, Her Bhai, Yasailai bhaninchh Jamana Ulta Chha!
With no intention otherwise whatsoever and instead of brewing any curiosity/controversy here on petty issues that plague us in the Black Hill, made up my mind brewing a cup of tea that morning from the fresh lot of leaves for my pleasure in leisure. If weather follows to be sunny after days of rains, fresh greens are so inviting that I go to the tea bushes in the backyard taking a bamboo-stick that eases climbing up and helps in controlling from slipping down, if needed. Shyam cleared yet another time the grass/weeds growing luxuriantly around this season to bring back all the greenery again and again covering the pineapple and other fruit plants besides the tea-bushes, I try clearing Banmara entangled every time I reach for my plucking one more time. I wish I could get this gift from nature throughout the year and not only during the monsoon which is also going away too soon. Just read that the monsoon brought bumper crop for the country this year.
Another happy note to share that the Rayo saag grown well we could carry as Koseli for near and dear ones including the maid at Gangtok. We were here for a break after all these months away. Some social function took us to Namchi that had grown enormously all these years when I left the place serving as the District Collector (South) around this time way back in 1985. Two decades later brought me back here as Principal Secretary Sports and Youth Affairs for the inauguration of the Indoor Stadium in 2007 by the Chief Minister. Thinking it to be better route to enjoy drive through Temi Tea Garden but we were greeted by roads being widened everywhere very similar to what we had back in the Black Hill. Cherry Festival would no longer be the same around this place famous for as a Namchi resident rued. Added to it was trees fallen at two places with people clearing them with an axe and the other place using power-saw. Fortunately, our portion near Kingston was completed to give a better look - an impression of what would the whole stretch be when completed in future. Thanks to the Army cantonment at Chalisey for this where it starts. Next is Engineer Danra landslide, another landmark of the plight. Otherwise, elsewhere - not only the NH10 everywhere, are in the same fate around this monsoon. Earlier, we had to pass through the landslide with long line of vehicles waiting for the turn in one-way traffic necessitated. We stop to have a taste of Temi tea being amidst the garden itself that turned out to be one served readymade from thermos flask far from our expectation - anything but taste. Bijoy did right by not having it and saved himself. Yet he could not stop buying a packet instead there. Moving further for journey onward, we were recollecting the wonderful Darjeeling tea full of that typical aroma we enjoy while at Bagdogra airport. To this he adds chicken cutlets that still has the same taste even after years of its being served there. So also the tea, we agree. Other place where we have a good taste of tea is at the Tourism restaurant at Chitray near the Teesta on NH10. Above all, to enjoy most these days is the one plucked, hand-made and brewed from yet another flush of greens this monsoon bringing luxuriant tempting growth that take me to the bush in my backyard as often as I see some sufficient quantity come to my share. Many of my readers would not be knowing that the Kothi has a tea garden since the days of Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan and The Chandra Nursery being the pioneer in the field. The Life and Times of a Plantman in the Sikkim Himalayas - A Memoir by Keshab C. Pradhan has a whole chapter on how the Temi Tea Garden (1969) and the other abandoned at Kewzing/Rabongla came into being. Naturally, it is my first cup of tea gaining over those glasses of water that is still a part of my morning ritual to cleanse my bowels.Tea from the Kothi has unique taste but with growing labour shortage and unavailability of charcoal locally, production was hampered badly this year. Wish something could be done as an alternative to enjoy taking the benefit of the legacy left by our forefathers at our disposal even after a hundred years. The sorry plight of tea bushes damaged at Temi was told of being recouped/compensated by new plantation elsewhere. I wish I could bring those bushes home to replant instead of waiting for years on to get the few saplings planted turn productive. Some of the small tea gardens that have come up later and doing good in Sikkim. Good thing to note coming home this time was the 'Sikkimis' brand that have entered the market boldly presenting Temi tea re-packaged in tea-bags with different characters like the Yak, Tibetan Argali, Asiatic Black Bear , Red Panda and Snow Leopard for the theme 'Animals of Sikkim - Celebrating Biodiversity'. Old memories were back alive seeing the Sikkim Solja packets on display for sale at the restaurant along with some recent brands of Temi tea marketted as organic product that Sikkim is known for. We simply wished price was displayed for them all to save oneself asking for each of the kind, making things easy!
We were suggested Namthang for our return journey getting the opportunity to see something different and stopped somewhere for some green vegetables and flower-plants. There the road was in a better condition to reach home in time. Driver of the vehicle we were travelling in happened to receive some bad news from his home. Some members of his wife's family met an accident where the man died on the spot and woman badly hurt. It was hit and run case from somewhere at Ranka that evening. So, we had to rush home without stopping to report day's affair to Muma at 6th Mile Tadong. As we drop Bijoy-Sunira at Development Area,the road was so much crowded with vehicles lined up that made even the pedestrians find difficult to tread in. Last year, my Guru Bhai Chand Pradhan got his foot unfortunately trampled while going out for a walk in the evening just above his house. This he could not blame the driver or his failing ears but himself for the wound inflicted made him invalid for months recuperating. Few years ago he had similar fate while he tripped down and the fault was some drain left open along the footpath but luckily saved his legs. Same propping stone left embedded on the footpath above the State Archives that Ranjana once stumbled upon nearly damaged herself to keep us away from a walk late in the evening. Age matters and we cannot escape it either.
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Continues : Old Age Blues...
a. What do the affluent lot fear the most? Time - loneliness, lack of work and poor leisure hours.
b. Insufficient economic resources and dependence on children hurt middle classes the most.
c. Lower classes fret about poor health, disease, lack of mobility and living alone with disability.
d. Disrespect, neglect, abuse and humiliation make old age a 'disease', fell all seniors.
What does it mean to grow old? Seniors talk about loneliness thus:
a. Why do you feel lonely?
Retirement 26%, Spouse died 41% and Children moved away 33%
b. Can you avoid loneliness?
Plan life in advance 50% Unavoidable 15% Partially unavoidable 35%
c. How do you deal with loneliness?
Maintain an active social life 65% Community activities 25% Start an enterprise 9%
d. 71% men own assets, lack self-reliance while
e. 70% of the elderly are supported by their children.
The age crisis -
a. Urban India and the South are greying fast.
b. Life expectancy has shot up With one grey in every 12, India is the second largest global hub of seniors.
c. The rapid greying is working on an "extremely low" per capita GDP. Over 70 per cent elders are fully dependent.
d. Lives are busy, women are working. Personal choice and privacy are the buzzwords. This generation is less inclined or able to care for parents.
e. With young people migrating in search of better prospects, caring for the old ahs become an elusive ideal. Over 7 per cent of elderly couples live on their own.
f. 11% have no young people living with them and
g. 50% elderly widows are living alone in India.
Canada: Take care of your old parents, get a tax rebate. You can also get a six-week compassionate leave.
Denmark: Do-it-yourself retirement communities, with shared facilities, are all the rage here.
Norway: Thousands are taking cures at a growing number of geriatric centres off the Spanish coast, run by Norwegian municipalities.
Japan: An array of gadgets. Say, an 'online' kettle that automatically sends e-mails to three recipients when it is switched on or a robotic talking doll that tells its elderly owner:"I love you."
US: Need Help? Ask your employer. Companies are adding elder care benefits to stop absenteeism and work-days lost due to ailing parents.
Further, 64% urban elderly women are fully dependent while 30% of seniors seek medical help of some sort(Source: India Today.)The information shared above for general knowledge and the situation must have improved much thereafter, hopefully!
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. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.