26 February 2013

The Others

The blogger has been in the hills above Darjeeling in a restored colonial bungalow overlooking the tea plantations of Darjeeling. It was meant to be a quiet retreat. Away from Darjeeling's ugly touristy look and away from chatter. In fact, it's quite challenging to find this place on the GPS system of anything that moves. Excellent.

The blogger noticed things that amused her not because they're funny in themselves like Charlie Chaplin-funny but because we're now living in a world that is clearly such an Us versus Them world that every little thing that's different, stands out. We no longer mean different as in dissimilar. Now we simply mean Us as in good and Them as in bad.

This is an account of The Others. Of Us versus Them.

Morning 7 am: The blogger is asleep because she doesn't care about sunrises. She prefers sunsets.
Morning 7 am: The Others are hard at work. The blogger can hear the activity in the garden. In the kitchen. In the tea gardens. It's quiet activity, punctuated by the sounds of swishing leaves, animals, delicate china, tin and all other assorted Austenian tones. No mobile chatter, no whirr of any computer, no iPod attached to funny-shaped speakers that bounce on their own without any cords or wires.

Morning 9 am: The blogger is rapidly scanning the local newspaper, trying desperately to find what happened at the latest EU summit or in Syria or even just in Bombay in the latest murder. Umm, none of that. The tea is getting cold. The blogger is already bored and a little annoyed.
Morning 9 am: The Others have already had their second breakfast and are trying to figure out why the blogger is looking so agitated. As far as they know, there isn't any prediction of heavy rain or mudslides today so their mountain is safe and the tea is fresh and young and sprouting. Also, most of them cannot read the local English paper so their peace is undisturbed.

Noon: The blogger is frustrated that the electricity has gone off and there is no way to charge the laptop. The blogger tries desperately to access the word document on her phone to complete the email to her friends in the city. No luck.
Noon: The tea pickers are enjoying a simple meal and have left a plate of it on the kitchen table for the blogger to enjoy. They discuss the news of the day brought by the forest ranger who drives up and down the mountain everyday and brings back little parcels for the tea pickers. Usually containing things their children require for school. Some of The Others look worried about something but soon enough their frowns are soothed away by the rest of The Others. They seem less angry with life and more accepting of some of it.

Afternoon 3 pm: The air is nippy and the blogger has tried hard to settle down and read a book but keeps checking the phone and laptop for signs of  life. She is annoyed by The Others suggesting she go for a walk down the mountain. For what? She can see the tea gardens perfectly well from her spot on the patio. The Others are puzzled by that statement and cannot connect the sentences.
Afternoon 3 pm: The Others greet their children who have returned from the village school. Today they learnt about oxygen and a bit of geometry. The Others feed them sweet bread and tea and the children begin to help in the tea gardens, in the dying light of the day, playfully spilling leaves out of baskets and chasing each other around the tea gardens, nimbly navigating the gentle slopes. The Others attempt to discipline them but end up joining the fun themselves.

Evening 7 pm: The Others leave the plantation. They return home with their families, their footsteps gently producing strange echoes the blogger cannot identify. The air is pierced through and through with the sounds of birds and animals. The blogger gets nervous. The tea pickers fade out of sight.
Evening 7 pm: One of  The Others who works at the bungalow, prepares dinner and lights up some rooms with candles and little lamps. She folds the laundry, arranges the book shelf and makes the bed. She eats her dinner on the patio and pets a stray wild dog. He makes off with the bones. She continues to sit there till her husband finishes up at the tea-shed and comes to fetch her. She smiles when he comes. The last of The Others wave goodbye.

Night 9 pm: The blogger looks for pen and paper. Finds plenty of it. She is amazed at how terrible her cursive handwriting has become. Hears many sounds. Ignores them.
Night 9 pm: The Others are silent.