Some Mornings are Magical

The morning sun mildly breaks through the cracks and lights up the dirt path. Dry Pine needles scattered on the ground crackle under our feet. We don’t feel any wind but the tall Pines swish-swash compelling us to stop intermittently to gaze up and look at their canopies. A distinctive aroma fills in the air – the sweet organic fragrance of Pine forests. Colourful butterflies hang around our way as well-orchestrated bird songs flow in from every direction.

Even today I can clearly feel the unparalleled soul soothing peace of those mornings in the Pine forest.

Pic 1: As we enter the forest.

Morning walks and Pine trees are things that I associate with my Shillong home. Shillong mornings are synonymous with morning walks. I had written about that before. (here)

Last year, this time I was at my Shillong home. I was there for the whole of May and a part of June. Every day would inadvertently begin with those ritualistic morning walks. Most of the days those walks would happen in the Pine forest, just about 1-2 Km. away from my home. The forest has always been there, and I have passed by its periphery countless times but had never ventured into it. Back in the years Shillong was consumed by ethnic violence and such kind of adventures were unthinkable. My cousin, who introduced me to this enchanting place, had discovered it quite recently.

Pic 2: Somewhere on the trail, we would cross a fallen tree trunk.

There was a simple routine to our Pine forest ritual – I would walk to a certain point where my cousin would join me. We would then walk into the forest, spend about an hour or so and then go back to our respective homes.

In the forest, we would leisurely walk through the undulating trail for about 3 Km. upto a certain point. Thereafter, we would retrace our path and walk down through a narrow passage to a bowl-shaped glade that was cordoned off in one part of the forest. There the forest floor would be blanketed by a thick carpet of crisp brown Pine needles. Could we resist laying down in a place like that! Time stood still as we would gaze into the deep blue sky that was visible in patches through the oscillating canopies of the lofty Pines. The forest felt mystical and spellbinding as the swishing canopies rustled gently, nudging, and coaxing each other. Breathing in the sweet aromatic fragrance of Pines needles, we often felt a sense of kinship with the elegant Pines. We and the Pines and everything else seemed to be in a perfect harmonious blend.

Pic 3: As we watched the swishing canopies laying on the forest floor.

Sometimes we would play some light music on our phones while watching the trees rhythmically dance away to our music. My cousin would often come up with her own theories of how the trees might be gossiping about us – humans, maybe they are chit-chatting about their families, or maybe discussing the well-being of their kids – the Pine cones, maybe they’re just chilling with our music. Those were freeze frame moments when life felt flawless, moments where we could remain forever and ever.

Pic 4: At the bowl-shaped glade with cousin and a friend from Bangalore, who had visited Shillong during that time.

Some days, we would climb up a steep slope in the forest. It wasn’t an easy climb by any means as we would keep slipping through the dry Pine needles strewn all over. However, all the trouble was worth it for our sweet spot on top, which was a huge rock shaped in a way that gave the feel of a couch or a bean bag with the perfect backrest. We would sit there listening to the birds as the trees would dance away in a world of their own. Down below through the thick foliage of greens and browns, we could spot tiny roads and tiny houses. The forest felt like where we belonged, it comforted our hearts, and it would take quite an effort to get up and leave. This we usually did on weekends as it would take up more time.

Pic 5: Our sweet spot, the huge rock with the perfect backrest.

If things would have been normal and there would be no Covid-19, this is exactly what I would have been doing every morning at this time, this year too.

The ‘Daugts’

In Fond Memory of my Beloved Uncle

“My daugts! Having fun, huh!”

Those doting words full of love and affection still ring in my ears loud and clear, even though it’s been close to a decade now.

I grew up in a joint family where the concept of family is not just limited to parents and siblings. Besides parents, my family constituted my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins – a total of 17 people. Uncles here are my father’s brothers and aunts, their wives. We lived together under one roof sharing common bathrooms, toilets and a common kitchen.

Subsequently, as we grew up the family progressively became smaller due to various reasons. Contributing events include an uncle being transferred to another city and moving out with his family; another uncle moving out to a different house with his wife after he got married; grandparents passing away.

Most of these events however happened after I had completed school and had stepped into college. As a result I have experienced the adventure and fun of being in a large family for a significant part of my life. Life is all ironies given that I live all alone now – not something I had even remotely anticipated.

And, with my generation of the family moving out and settling with jobs in other parts of the country, there are just four people living in our house in Shillong – my parents, an uncle and an aunt. The rest of us are reduced to being just occasional visitors.

A direct consequence of living together has been the bond that we cousins share – the five girls of the family are like own sisters rather than cousins. Circumstances in the past few years have brought in a little distance between us as we don’t get to catch up often. However, in our heart of hearts our love for each other remains the same.

The best memories of our cousins together are those that we have spent in Kolkata. My uncle had retired from his job and settled down with his family – my aunt and two cousins – in an apartment in the South of Kolkata. At the same time, I had also moved to Kolkata with a job and lived with my sister in the North of Kolkata. The youngest cousin was doing her MBA from an institute in Kolkata and she stayed with us too.

So, three of us stayed in the North and two of them stayed in the South.  Notwithstanding the 23 Km. between us, the five of us would spend a considerable amount of time together. Much of that was spent in my uncle’s house. Living at two ends of the metropolis hardly bothered us. The five of us together meant the world to us. We would cancel our meetings with friends and other engagements to just be together because being together used to be the greatest fun of all.

 This is the only picture I have of us with a nephew, me missing in the frame though as I was clicking. Those were pre-digital days and tonnes of printed pictures are safely stored back home.

Those years were fantastic and definitely belong to the bucket where I store the best days of my life. It was all about mindless conversations and incessant laughter; about making fun of the idiosyncrasies of other family members, giving them names; and endless repetitions of the same gossips running late into the nights. The five of us would cuddle together in one big bed and spend the night together even if that meant being uncomfortably sandwiched with each other.

Our laughter was contagious and my uncle would sporadically make his appearance saying the same thing in various ways.

“My daughts…enjoying huh!”

Daughts is what he would lovingly call us, meaning daughters. And we would laugh even more seeing him peeping into the room every now and then.

One of the cousins loved cooking and we were her guinea pigs whether we liked it or not. On the days of her experiments, my uncle would be seen making several trips to the local market to get all the special ingredients.

Often, we would go on long drives in the car that belonged to one of us much to the amusement of Kuddus, our driver, who enjoyed just as much, though he had no choice whatsoever.

Then there were festivals, especially Durga Pujas. The Durga Pujas that we spent together were the best! No other Durga Puja before or after that has been the same. Dressing up and pandal hopping all over Kolkata ignoring the profuse sweating in the tropical humid weather or walking the muddy lanes when it rained. Then coming back to the apartment and enjoying the gala celebrations of song and dance all night long from the privacy of our very own balcony.  My uncle’s flat was the only one that would always fall within the closed enclosure of the apartment Durga Puja Pandal, much to the envy of all the neighbours.

Those days are clearly some of the best days of my life!

My uncle passed away nearly a decade back and ever since the daughts haven’t been the same anymore.

(And, I realized that in the absence of digital pictures, I don’t have a single picture of my uncle.)