2 August 2008

Letter 2.55

As it’s a 20 minute walk from Snowview -- the next estate going into Almora (and, apparently, the end of the line for the postman) -- the postman will sometimes come out here to deliver mail, sometimes he will drop the mail off at a tea stall to be brought up (hopefully) by anyone coming up this way, and sometimes especially in bad weather -- he will simply throw our letters away, and then, not having anything to deliver, save himself the 40-minute round trip. He will also open letters and steal anything worth stealing. He is quite open about all of this apparently he doesn't even consider it improper conduct -- a sort of bakshish for his trouble, I suspect -- and this being India, there is, of course, nothing to be done. Taking this creative postal service into account, we should, perhaps, design our correspondence accordingly -- if that's possible. Perhaps, we can come up with
our own Enigma Code or something.

Right now it's about 8 AM and I've just finished my usual breakfast -- two chapaties -- made in the fireplace -- with home-made jam (plums in season) and tea and am sitting on the verandah looking to the NE, where about 100 miles away rises the snow peak of Anapurna in Nepal, the third or fourth highest mountain in the world. The Kumaon hills where I am are atleast 30 miles south of any of the great Himalayan peaks, but the north wind brings the sharp taste of snow and glacier past us down to the plains, another 50 miles. Clouds from the valley below (about 2000 feet down, at more than a 45° angle: the base of the valley is still nearly a mile high) sweep westward, sometimes obscuring the sweep of the ridge opposite; but the clear blue sky -- almost as deep blue as the purple knife-sharp shadows of the mountains -- remains clear, and the mountains themselves are never quite obscured by these vagrant clouds. Shafts of sunlight through a haze some miles away break onto a huge silent cloud sitting like a sea in a valley several hills off, and the top of this sea-cloud is blindingly white, while the hills around it sparkle with a preternatural green: the pine forests cover the higher reaches of the hills, while the lower halves are sculpted with brown-and-green rice-field terraces broken by dots of white houses and ribbons of silver-brown rivers.

In the mornings I do whatever tasks need to be done -- washing, sewing, cleaning, cooking, etc. -- or sit quietly. I try to work slowly, with awareness of the present, so everything takes longer (but the great lesson of India is patience) and thus gives me more satisfaction. I'll probably go for a walk soon -- through the hills, in the forests, or find a rock to sit on or a tree to sit under for the rest of the day. Towards evening I'll make my way back to the road -- a glorified footpath really -- that runs along the ridge on which sits the hill on which sits the cottage in which sit I -- and will usually meet one or two other Cranks of the Ridge, who have, probably, been doing the same thing, spending their day in their own quiet way, developing their own amity and inner peace, and we may just smile and pass each other, or talk for a bit, drink tea at one of the shops that sprout (like a leaf on a vine) along the side of the twisting footpath. We watch the sunset. Sometimes we watch each other. Always the mountains giving an extra dimension. (How would a two-dimensional person living in a picture feel if he could look out and see the three-dimensional picture frame?) Perhaps Kumaon is like a picture -- it is certainly like a fairy land, or perhaps Alice's Wonderland -- in three dimensions and looking at the mountains that frame this picture is like looking into a fourth dimensional perspective. That may not seem rational or sensible; but neither do the Himalayas.

Today seems to be a peculiar mixture of clouds and sunshine, giving the air a vibrant luminescent quality and making the surroundings appear (when they appear) as if they were painted with DayGlo colors. Not a breeze; unearthly still -- hardly kite-flying weather (though I have a small kite ready for a windy day; it's a big sport in the East -- though for me it's just a means to soar). The monkeys made one of their rare visits here this morning; they seldom come so close to the leopard run, which crosses the Ridge about 1,5 mile south of here. A leopard took a cow from Snowview a few days ago in broad daylight; they are usually only about at dawn and dusk. They won't go near a person if he has a light.

In the evenings, I sit quietly smoking a hookah -- the coolest possible way to take tobacco -- and read, or study Hindi, or watch the stars.

Conditions are rough here, and comforts are few, conveniences non-existent; but, by making each moment as graceful as I can, I try to make each day an act of grace. If I can succeed in that I shall be content to accomplish nothing else at all.

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