He didn’t really need to kick that yak in the jaw
I opened my eyes this morning to clouds on the forested slopes of the lower Himalaya across the river valley from my balcony. India has been what they promised, a swirl of mango skins, heavy sunlight, and everywhere the kinetic cacophony of internal combustion engines and their horns. But up here in the mountains around Manali, India remembers green. And I longed to explore it. Or maybe just lounge in bed. Such things are possible when it’s your birthday.
My hotel Shy Guy made me fresh parantha to go with the day’s curd and a perfectly balanced cup of masala tea, which I drank slowly as the mist swayed and the air warmed. I was mildly curious if the electricity would come on. It didn’t. No worries, I beat everyone to my birthday by an array of time zones.
So just the river and me, to think about the last year, its growth and decline, advances and diminishments. Helluva year. Last birthday was in Macedonia. Two years ago was the American birthday, when the love of a lady kept me anchored. That day seems closer to now than last year. But being without romance feels normal now. I can’t remember the language of lovely. They call Manali a honeymoon city, but for me it’s just green. And I like it that way.
Finished the book I’ve been reading and the monsoon came, with its sounds of centuries and cycles, water falling and leaves catching, and the whole bed just for me was warm and dry and soft so I took a slow snooze.
The rain went looking for the electricity and got lost too, so I followed the water seeping down the hillsides, stone steps and muddy slips through pine trees and pot-lined pathways. Saris dried their flagrant colors in the newly remembered sunlight and kids wanted their picture taken.
Town was bustling of course, the only language India speaks with all its 22 official tongues. In back alleys men grumped, women chatted, and children laughed while the dogs went looking. Corn cooked over glowing charcoal, sacks of garlic waited by scales, and all the young guys took their turn by the snack stands with somber expressions that exploded into smiles when I showed them the result. (It was the opposite of the more familiar experience where women smile for the photo then frown at the ordeal of self-perception.)
The alleys wound higher, reached a temple where bells rang, people selfied, and guys trying to make a buck abused their yaks. In the press of Indian masses, in the desperation of most of the world, kindness to animals seems to be a privilege low on the list. Revere the cow, but kick a yak in the jaw? The women pressing angora rabbits against me were benign in comparison. The world is real, out here.
Back through town and into the hills, I found lovely local ladies who giggled their shy delight when the boldest among them bullied everyone into the photo. The eldest took some convincing to believe that I found her beautiful too, and we took one together to celebrate.
Back at the hotel electricity had still not checked in, so I read by the fading blue light, telling myself that it was okay not to check in with folks back home, that birthdays are a fragmentary notion anyway while bonds of care and love are stronger things, longer things, that do not mark the calendar.
Just as the dusk died into darkness and I was faced with an evening of stillness, the lights clicked on, and my phone chirped with greetings from across the seas. They lined up, courteous, and stayed when the lights went out again.
Shy Guy brought me dal makhani and a candle, and I ate with all of you. Now the lights have flicked on again, and should they stay long enough for this to post, I’ll count it a success.
Damn good birthday. Much love to you all from India.