“Oh yes! Oh yes. That’s it”, he exclaimed as I went on harder on his feet. Not the most obvious or the most popular reaction from someone getting reflexology done, while experiencing excruciating pain. I could not help but stop and laugh. Here I was, my serious best, giving the jimmy everything I had in the hope of a break and on the other side, he continued exclaiming as if this was the best thing to happen to him. He is more than 70 years of age. A seasoned, rough and tough fauji, I have no doubts he must have been a force to reckon with in his younger days.
Just a month before I came to visit him in the hospital, uncle had bravely hiked upto Paton with Satya and me. Even when we were only debating going, he was all gungho and ready to take on the adventure with us. He had already been on a trek just a few months ago and now he was raring to go again. So off we went on 18th December, on a cold and very foggy winter morning, for Munisyari. While I slept like a princess on the back seat of our Indica, uncle quizzed Satya on his climbs and journeys. Of course, I also navigated and did my share of map reading on the way. 12 hours later, we reached Chaukori. The Tourist Guest House at Chaukori affords a splendid view of the Himalaya at sunrise.
Uncle was a great sport and was all ready in his sweater, jacket and cap to greet the morning sun. While Satya went trigger happy, he and I painted characters in the sky, often accompanied by vivid stories. The drive to Munsiyari from here is as beautiful as the destination itself. We stopped at several places; making tea and coffee, dipping our feet in ice cold water or simply to enjoy the scenery. Uncle broke out into a song every little while and soon Satya would also join in. So it was that we hardly noticed as time flew by and we reached Munisiyari.
Munsiyari is a place close to my heart for many reasons and I was glad to be here. Soon enough, we befriended some locals who taught me how to make Bhaang Chutney and explained the art of wool weaving, coloring and dyeing. In return, I worked their feet, explaining to them what it did. Rest assured, I have a few eager students awaiting my return in Munsiyari :).
The hike to Paton is not difficult. But it is physically demanding. First, you go down all the way to the river bed and then ascend all the way to Paton village. Duryodhan, Satya’s porter friend lives there and he was our reason for this trip. He has accompanied Satya on very technical climbs and they have forged a very special bond that comes from looking after each other in such hostile environs. Given that Uncle had injured his leg, while we were en route from Chaukori, I was skeptical of his progress. Stubbornly, he refused to let us carry his loads or get a porter to do the job. It was only after a few hours, and much coaxing that he relented and we hired a local fellow to get his sack to Paton. As the day progressed and the hike became tougher, we were increasingly worried about him. Locals we met along the way admonished us letting him to do this. But he was unmoved. Needless to say, he proved everyone wrong. Despite the injury, he made it to Paton. The smile never left his face, even as he struggled to make it to the top. His first words at reaching were ” Aah, it was tough, but I made it”.
And it was this way that he stayed all through our stay in Munsiyari and Paton. He tired, but never gave up. His body found it tough, but his mind found it easy. He continues to plan, he continues to dream. His mind takes the flight and then his body seems to follow. He is determined to return and do another day hike, which he missed out on , while Satya and I went forward. Bright sparkling eyes, a witty sense of humour and an infectious smile are his companions through all his journeys.
To me, he is an inspiration. Tomorrow did not seem to matter, today was all he had. And in that today, he lives his dreams, ever ready to take the plunge and discover new worlds. The child like enthusiasm, never stiffled by the norms of how to be and what to say, he is free. In every sense of the word, he is free. In a sense, he is even free of pain because he chooses to be. Since then, I have changed my perspective to pain too. When a 70 year old can confront pain and choose to find comfort in it, then me, half his age can surely learn a thing or two.