It’s April time in Himachal, and unlike the rest of the country, the winters refuse to leave the mountains. A constant gust of cold wind keeps blowing across the valley between two hillocks where I live. I as usual am sitting in my balcony gazing across the beautiful mountains trying to come up with a good piece while struggling with the wind.
I have always been quite sensitive to the cold which the weather here at Solan seems to know. I have to pick my leisure time carefully in fear that a random blow of cold wind might leave me sick or congested in the throat. My allergy to pollen doesn’t help either.
Inspite of all the things holding me down, I prefer the winters of the hills over their summers. I don’t know what exactly the reason is. In winters, the solitude-ridden fog sweeping across the back-to-back mountains in front of my house seems to engulf our town into its folds and separate us from the outside world. These mountains appear to be guarding us against any intruders including unpleasant weather. Right through the day –even if it’s dead in the winter- you can see the brightly lit blue sky without any blemishes and spots christened with the piercing but cozily warm sunlight.
The sunset has always been my favorite part of this time of the year when the weather is changing. It might have something to do with the fact that I don’t wake up so early as to see the sunrise. Still, it’s more than that. When the setting sun projects its light on the top of the mountain, we endearingly call the Bitter Rock, the summit and a good part beneath that turn golden. The pine trees and other hilly trees and shrubs that I don’t know the name of, stand resolute amongst the parting sun as if bidding adieu in a formal and military manner.
Even though the sun hasn’t left yet, the moon is already out as if in anticipation of his elder celestial relative departing and to give the onlookers and the foliage consolation for the loss they’re suffering. The moon seems to be uttering a song whose words seem to console the mountains and the trees that although not as bright its light will support them through the dark, lonely and cozy night until the chariot of Apollo returns in the morning to sweep across the rugged Himalayan sky.
When the sun is finally gone, a gray light spreads across the entire landscape except for the western mountain Shiv Ghat (The valley of Shiva), which remains crimson with a tinge of yellow in the wake of the sunset. The light on the trees and the trees slowly turns gray to black to the color of the night. The trees still seem resolute in their stand but not out of respect now. No, they seem surprised, or more shocked perhaps, gawking in the direction where the sun was a few moments ago; but where only his fading light now remains. Even the wind has slowed down to a standstill, blowing nimble across the small valley trying more to wake up the trees and the fauna from their trance than to shake them.
The mountain called Shiv Dhak and the Bitter Mountain extend from the west and the east respectively trying to meet in the middle. This has left a huge gaping hole which even though shows the next set of mountains lying south to us, gives the impression of a giant window from where we can look at the plains. The plains which seem to hold our future and to where I would have to leave in some time, not out of curiosity or ambition but out of some misplaced necessity which the society has placed on us mountain sheep. You can ask any Himachali or Kashmiri for that matter where he prefers to live: in the mountains amongst the cold and barren land or the sparkling and never ending, never sleeping plains which hold the promise to a night full of dreams and ecstasies. Ask him if he’ll prefer living in a city house with every luxury at arm’s length or walk across the uneventful long-street situated in every mountain town, which we call ‘The Mall.’ You can ask him whether he likes waking up till 4 o’ clock in the morning in the pubs and discos of Delhi or Mumbai dancing and drinking away the night, trying to forget the soliloquy that troubles his heart in the day. Or sitting in peace in his small but colossal balcony in the mountains of Shimla, looking at the jagged and rolling mountain landscape in front of him, doing nothing but sipping on a cup of ginger tea lazing out the afternoon. You can ask him if you like. I already know his answer.
With each increasing sliver of darkness, the creatures of the night are warming up. Some cats running behind each other and some birds chirping at the sky as if trying to call their parents home for supper. The mountains and trees seem lost in solitude but not sad, for even if they long the presence of the sun and stand in melancholy over him leaving, they know that he’ll return again tomorrow with the new day. They’ll stand again in joy in the warm light of the king of the sky and enjoy the bystanders who although busy with their work, stand once in a while looking with forlorn and pride at the little valley between the two giant mountains we all call home.