Someone said that a manual of happiness must start with a resolution of death as its first chapter. As the year ends, I think it is the time to write the manual of the entity that we call “happiness”.
Year after year, on the New Year eves, I used to sit quietly, guiltily, near a bonfire in hills reflecting over the year that has been and making up half-hearted resolutions for the coming one. The first time we had these magic surreal nights, we sat cross-legged facing the fire like devout Brahmins. Pankaj, our real estate friend was the bartender for the day. He made stiff, badly measured drinks, and was our unanimous choice for the New Year Eves. The friends and Tau Ji (our Uncle) formed the core group of new age fire worshippers. The fireplace had a very detailed hierarchy! Being the master of the house, Tau Ji occupied one side of the fireplace and then it was the other side that was up for contention! The person sitting on the other side of the fire was like the chief “fire officer”, alpha pyrometry artist! The job entailed deep knowledge of pine smoke aroma, burn rate of oak, rhododendron, birch, dry twigs, spread, ember distribution and such. This was the position of honour! The lesser mortals were content to put up their feet near the fire and lie on the oversized cushions, nursing their drinks and memories of the nearly bygone year.
The conversation and silences were very well understood and more conventional, the better. Sartre, Camus and Jiddu were liberally quoted and simple words like “love you” were said on face without flinching! Many a times, I saw the fire leaping into my friends eyes, the silent one, whose hands shook during day and steadied only after the first “old monk”! How lovely to see the leap of fire in my friends eyes. Many a times, I caught my wife’s swelling tears of joy as we sat around the fire and our Tau Ji. The tears welling up, for heart can only hold so much of joy. I reached for another sip of the copper coloured light. Pankaj served another round.
Year after year, we did the purification rites in the little cottage overlooking Garud valley, just where the shadows of Trishul and Nanda Devi play in daytime, just near the place where our Peter Camerzind looked down into the valley. Where I played the Bach Minuet on my recorder, as he stole those kisses!!
Tau ji was a self-proclaimed “progressive farmer” and took special pride in introducing strawberries and other high value cash crops in the area. His story shall be told someday, but you’d lend me your attention for a while, dear reader for matters of “death and happiness”, won’t you? A fire was lit some eight years ago, when we did a hundred mile journey from Haldwani, up through to Almora and reached our little cottage in the hills, some thirty miles further up. We saw the snow covered peaks sweeping the entire panorama, flooded in moonlight! We forgot our tiresome journey and the fire was lit...
Abheek quotes Li Po talking of Tau Ji, when I caught him other day with the pavlovian, “what are you doing for the New Year”:
“My friend lives high on East Mountain.
His nature is to love the hills and gorges.
In green spring he sleeps in empty woodland,
Still there when the noon sun brightens.
Pine-tree winds to dust his hair.
Rock-filled streams to cleanse his senses.
Free of all sound and stress,
Resting on a wedge of cloud and mist
Tau Ji died in my arms....as Abheek struggled with the oxygen cylinder...There were the the devout fire worshippers in attendance, no one cried. Tau Ji loved life and died struggling to live, to breathe, to hold on to us! He died alive, clutching to very last breathe.. Pankaj disappeared into the pine grove, Abheek dug a deep hole to bury Tauji’s dentures, specs and his collection of Playboy! Deepa and I organized the house for relatives... We sat quietly with his body towards the dusk and his best friend remarked: can we have a drink?
A baritone..”Bhai Lal Singh, bar kholne ka samay ho gaya hai” (May the drinks for the evening be served)..reverberated somewhere deep within me...as tears welled up...