Black Hill Journals - 9
Re-knocking at the Black Hill
Memories old to unfold
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Coming back re-knocking at the Black Hill to Rhenock after all these years spent in the capital Gangtok has been a much eagerly awaited event of my life in recent years. It was often unrealized that my life has entered an age with a decade added since my superannuation to retire having served the Government for 35+ years, few months added as Plant Protection Clerk with D. C. Lucksom as my deputy director in the Agriculture Department in 1963. Earlier for schooling at TNA from 1956 to pass out in the last batch of the School Final Examination, 1962 and after a gap of ten years again there to get selected in 1972 and then leaving for two years' course at the National Academy of Administration, Mussorie that was preceded by a year in the wilds of the Manas Game Sanctuary of Bhutan as its in-charge, Game Warden. That year it was unusual not to have Royal family visiting there as it was their winter resort but had the Tiger-man Kailash Sankhala visiting the Manas prior to the Project Tiger launched in India. In between I had always been here at Rhenock that gave a strong affinity with the weals and woe of the Black Hill. In fact, it was here I saw my early childhood learning alphabets in Dhungay Class of the Missionary School - playing rubber tennis balls in the lawn of the Kothi during Dashain and collecting lapsi, nigro and dry twigs during winter holidays - organizing school fates or Saraswati Puja as Buba was Head Sir there - going to Rorathang for Maghey Mela every year with friends changed with my age and once returning from there had discussions with elderly haughty Harka Lall* co-passsenger in the jeep - earlier all our journeys used to be on foot only when Binod Daju* used to shout out from behind singing Ruk jao jane wale ruk ja - little later rehearsing for Deosi at our newly started Nav Jivan Sandhya Club in the Kutcheri - evenings often for a long walk with Bidhan Mama reaching as far as Dhoksing/Kopchay towards Rongli back home Jaisri (1961) and Rungdung-Tarpin towards Rorathang to reach Nirvana (1932) for refreshment - night with friends (Binod Daju, Hemant Chettri of Kurseong son of Harka Bahadur Chettri once Post Master here in 1940-50s and Durga Prasad Sharma (elder brother of Dr. Rajendra Bhandari) of Kalimpong then working in Rhenock Government Junior High School looking for and enjoying tongba right from Aritar to Rhenock Bazar if none available in between. My youthful days spent listening to romantic and patriotic songs from our first radio set that Buba bought for me - Amin Sayani with Binaca Geetmala every Wednesday to update with hit list to be the Top song of the Year like that immortal song by Mohammad Rafi Teri Pyari Pyari Surat ko Kisi ki Nazar na lage, Chasme-baddur... from Sasural (1961) for Jubilee Kumar i.e. Rajendra Kumar. Kishore Kumar taking over his place with Rup Tera Mastana (many expected Mere sapano ki rani) for the first Super Star of Hindi filmdom Rajesh Khanna loveydoveying Sharmila Tagore for Aradhana (1969.) Of course, deeply embedded in my heart still is the wanderings in nearby lovely lonely places serene yet undisturbed tranquility in growing pine forest full of its pins spread on the ground for a carpet fully enjoying together the warm and sunny winter days that only the Black Hill is endowed with. With books and magazines aplenty as my Buba was himself a well-educated teacher - a BHU graduate with masters from Calcutta University - my love for reading and writing was but natural with some literary bent of mind to pursue. Many owe their talent to have been enhanced by constant writing letters that included those to one's sweetheart. Those were the days that made a man out of a youth full of dreams in me but not disheartened in spite of running from pillars of Tashiling in Gangtok to the posts of the Singh Durbar Secretariat in Kathmandu seeking a job but with my heart full of love for the beautiful Rhenock still in place. Darjeeling was a challenge for the beauty Gangtok holds as the crown of the Queen of Hills gone to her from the British days. Shimla was not in any way less for the admirer of the Nature to see snowfall for the first time with memories of Kalimpong intact for it was or still is the place nearer home than the capital Gangtok for many of the Black Hill residents go in. Kurseong too was once there to win my heart with Birgunj Nepal not very far off as it brought me the first ever book out of me written soon after my B. Sc. Honours. Buba brought me back to complete my masters at the Darjeeling Government College, where friends had done the needful to get forms filled up. However, everything was not lost entering there as I owe much to all but most to Rhenock for all what life has turned out of me, whether writing in English or in Nepali, she is always behind for I have heard its heart-throb and listened to here first to find and realize what life means to me to be in the Black Hill!
As also shared in some of my recent writings, it was the echo heard while visiting the place that I could hear the voice not so distant and feel the pulse well that everything is not lost with my long stay away from Rhenock. Occasional presence on social occasions or in ceremonies when we were together, I could feel that there is still some ember inside glowing to lit some zeal and to burn and inspire me to be with whatever the odds here. Not only the house was surrounded by the weeds and thorns aplenty but even the approach road to enter was damaged badly by the expansion of the Highway to Jalepla-Nathula, once the destination of the fabled Silk Route from Kalimpong that passed through Aritar with heritage Dak Bunglow and picturesque Lampokhari lake. With the closure of the Indo-Tibet Trade that also shattered our seven-decade old family business but not the dreams of my Buba to make Rhenock his new home where he found his life partner for the second time in the same Rai Saheb family. Much indebted, he dedicated rest of his life in provided the Black Hill what was much needed then - the light of education to lit otherwise much neglected part of the beautiful Himalayan Kingdom. It could be due to its rich glorious historical background that some still try forgetting - more for taking a long mileage of it otherwise than what should have been paying tribute to the ancestors who contributed much to make not only the Black Hill but rather the whole of Sikkim what it is today. Not only the fragrance reaching far beyond on the other side of the Reshi and overflown to the neighbouring hills and vales of the Teesta making Kalimpong best known for its flower/nursery business almost next to the glory that the Black Hill had achieved due to The Chandra Nursery in the days of yore. Sad part is that till this day no credit or acknowledgement has been made to all those wonderfully gifted souls who made all these possible to put the tiny Himalayan Kingdom in the world floriculture map almost a century ago while every effort is made to tarnish the image even from some section of the educated lot in the name of the system that once helped them achieve and bring all the glory and fame to Sikkim.
Over the years we having spent most part of life away from the village, things are found sometimes not to be quite easy - particularly during this part of the year when it rains continuously for days together at a stretch. I recollect the Darjeeling days in 1960s when it used to be for weeks together and Gangtok too had such long spell of rains making while away the time in spite of the studies and work keeping us pre-occupied. Leisure time used to be for friends while later it was for the children and family to keep engaged. With activities restricted indoors due to age or weather without much of gardening or otherwise, the best to keep oneself occupied is to spend time reading or listening to music going through those articles written recently to share coming Sunday or looking for some pictures on my mobile to accompany the story, if that is not long enough. Often the text I send is found more than the space available in the news-daily with the story continued for the next Sunday to come. Thus leaving the gist of the whole story that could be found in the text is left unpublished and it makes no sense if a lone para or two carry over for the remaining part of the story. Understanding well that such length does not allow space for a picture to accompany, I save my efforts in looking for a suitable one. In order to make the concluding part presentable enough some more time is taken to dig out through my memories on issues related old and new to supplement that would be interesting as well. Whatever time left thereafter at my disposal is used enjoy reading some recent books of my choice or what Raman gets for me.
While the recharge done for the wi-fi previously had lasted for a whole month or so, it was found to have consumed within days. I was under the impression that something wrong with the connectivity here as we often have to pass through the ordeal of slow internet and no power. No Service signals BSNL time and again and worst to find so when I have to talk someone for something remembered suddenly. Yet the bill comes more than usual with the message from the Bank that my account linked to pay it has been so debited. I had taken an Airtel connection as well and its sim-card cut to suit my iPhone. Finding it cumbersome to change it as often as the BSNL go No Service, Ranjana brought from Gangtok the iPhone 4S previously used but this sim would not fit as it had a bigger slot. So, I am to remain happy without talking much but writing as much as my battery in the laptop permits. Luckily it is the latest version of Dell that Rachna-Vimal found best for my use with enough battery life to last my writing spree. Otherwise, that faithful inverter is there to back it up. I save myself communicating much in the social media or otherwise as restricted by the life now getting tuned to while it is altogether a different story for Ranjana to find me thus engrossed.
With new refrigerator yet to come and so also the serviceman from Majhitar, Rangpo arranged by the local dealer or from Gangtok (sad to learn that Karmakar* of S. K. Traders at Shisha Golai passed away long time back last October as his staff Sonam taking his place informs) as well. It could be for the reason that with Sunday at their disposal that too being a weekly holiday, they find it better attend to calls from nearby places rather than to come all the way and work taking a whole day here since this is the best season people use most this modern day essential. Poor road condition also come on our way. Similar was the fate of our washing machine of the same brand first model circa 1982 from Yama Enterprises and age that was working one side properly but when the other side started working, we found it main failed working , i.e. to wash. Luckily it started working both when the belt found its proper place to be in to resume its duty faithfully when Arvind checked it. This should last till the time our automatic machine back at home arrives here along with many household goods including furniture lying unused occupying much of the space-crunch residence there at Gangtok. I am afraid if Ranjana may not spoil her arms squeezing the clothes most trying keep dry after that ordeal of washing manually. No domestic help is available though we tried here (part-time Dolkha workers like in the capital are reportedly available in the Bazar) in the beginning and by now we are used to with sufficient time left at our disposal. This she uses best watching television later part of the day if not playing games on her iPad. At night she is happy with with family serials and food channels while for me it is morning ritual to accompany my Yoga time is Aaj Savere by Doordarshan that updates with the news already brought by the Google News India, the first thing as I go online opening my laptop. I join her sometimes when she is enjoying some music/song/dance programme as best thing for me would be to call it a day to get up early at 4-O'clock to the fragrance of flowers brought in with the day-break without any cock around here to call a new morning for us here too in the Black Hill.
Bidhan Mama when informed of our visit to Gangtok last Sunday, I tell him that the story in the Sikkim Express was carried with the same old caption used for the previous week while it should have been "Monsoon not going so soon - Enjoy with the sun away" for the series I wish to rename as 'The Black Hill Journals'. He shared with me that he somehow did not like the words Black Hill used for the series. He had somehow not properly taken into account the background to have this name for the place we both belong to though I have been dwelling upon it oft and on whenever I get an opportunity to mention about the place. Frequent charring of the bazar due to infernos in the past prove/drove to the point that everything is not okay with it that lead many to believe to have the name derived from. There is even a little fading signboard hanging on a tree as we approach towards Rhenock from the TCP junction that also says Welcome to The Black Hill. It was really a commendable job of whosoever have thought of this brilliant idea and this piece of announcement is enough for me to acknowledge the heritage aspect this historical town well deserved. It demands something better, a black granite plaque with golden letters with highlights in white. It might help attract the attention of the passersby to let them know what a wonderful ancient place our ancestors decided to develop out of the Black Hill settling down here and make their new home in this part of the Himalayas blessed by the protective god Kanchenjunga. Rightly the UNESCO decided to make it a World Heritage Site for all to realize what a depository of natural resources and cultural ethos Sikkim is endowed with in its serene and tranquil rich green environment. I do not have to go far off to have a look at this aspect as the majestic peak is here standing behind and bow in reverence early morning for being blessed with by having a glimpse (weather permitting) from the place named Kingston for Kyongsa by the BRO over fifty years ago in 1960s while constructing the Reshi-Rongli Road leading to Indo-China border!
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 email@example.com. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.