In freezing winter, humour and literature keeps Landour’s residents warm.
We have no winters of discontent up here. Without rambunctious Dilliwallahas and Haryanvis, Mussoorie has become the paradise we all retreated to and retired in, to die happily one day.
Ruskin Bond spends most of the day turning from one side to the other, contemplating stories under his quilt and roaring expletives, sending fans scurrying down the hill every time they open his front door and let in a chilling draught from wintry icicles that hang from his eaves. Steve Alter, our handsomest writer, chugs around the hill, diurnally, to look as beautiful as his wife and waves a petite but dangerous magic wand (imported from the US) at monkeys that might attack or cows that might gore or anpadh tourists who mistake him for Ruskin or sometimes Tom his cousin, or what utterly shatters him, me.
What is, however, making our toes curl and our pheasants’ feathers ruffle, are a new bunch of flamboyant social proselytizers who have insidiously infiltrated the community of laid-back and indolent creative wasters (like moi) who, from time immemorial, have inhabited the Landour hillside. We’re hoping these new generations of super-achievers will eventually tire of the contemplative Himalayas and that the quiet that will inevitably descend upon them like an unholy ghost, when their belligerent noise switches off with age, will drive them to other conquests.
Finally, the rowdy hooliganism that disgustingly ascends the hills for Christmas and the New Year would have, a couple of thousand years ago, created hell in the little manger and destabilised religion and redefined religiosity forever. At such times, the whisper of pines and the call of the pygmy owlet provide the sort of reassurance we fearful residents need.
As I watch snowflakes swirl around me, I realise how I too am an aimless drifter who is happily blown westward sometimes, up and up in flurries, to heights I never dreamed of. Orange flames lick the air around oak logs in my fireplace, casting flickering images that bounce off stone walls and make shadows dance wildly out of sync amidst wooden rafters on the ceiling. Cindy, my huge Bhotia, asleep outside to guard against intruders, glistens like a polar bear as snowflakes gently settle on her magnificent winter coat.
The book on my lap is Einstein’s Dreams. It’s written by Alan Lightman, a close friend now. A doctor of theoretical physics from Caltech, Alan is a teacher at MIT. He teaches astrophysics, thermodynamics and creative writing.
When we first met, I gifted him CK Raju’s book, The Eleven Pictures of Time, that challenged Stephen Hawking’s Judeo-Christian theories. Raju had also received the Telesio-Galilei Academy of Science Award for pointing out a mistake made by Einstein and then correcting it. Alan, who hadn’t heard of Raju, was amazed and enthralled by the book. I was thrilled to have brought about a meeting of intellects.
Alan’s book has been translated into over 30 languages. Every dream that he creates in the mind of a genius, who distorted our simple concepts of time and space and left us dangling like Trishanku between realities and metaphysics, is a fascinating look at time in every possible dimension. In Landour, time acquires an expansive space whose limits stretch beyond human imagination and so the present is always a hallucination. Full of wonder and utterly awesome; humouring and unfathomable.
As the logs glow, I place large chunks of dry coal and dung balls and patties over them. The heat now would radiate and spread. Years ago, living in the quiet and peaceful tea plantations of Assam, my father had taught me not to burn newspapers in the fireplace because they sooted the chimneys. Decades have gone by and now, suddenly, after all these years, a numbing coldness spreads across our home as the daak edition of the papers arrive to tell us in the mountains all about what happened in the plains yesterday.
Unable to read any more of the same cruelty, inhumanity and callous injustices that perpetuate differences, divides and inequalities, day after day after day, I crumple each headline with a broken heart and cast it into the fire, consigning our present to flames, and then quietly pray that our future is as amusing as Einstein might ever have dreamed.
(The writer is an actor)