The Hillfolk of Kandbari-A Photo Essay
Simple and Contented
If I had to choose two words that define the ethos of the hillfolk I met during my brief sojourn in Kandbari, they would be simple and contented.
This is the fifth in a series of ten Hubs on a holiday in Kandbari.
Beauty abounds in the hills of Kandbari, as much in nature as in the people who inhabit this part of the world.
It is only fitting that I start with a photograph that I think epitomises beauty. There is something about this Himachali woman that took my breath away. There she was, looking out of a window of her home when I happened to wander by. I must admit it was with some trepidation that I took the shot, but the person who wrote about faint hearts and fair ladies was absolutely right: if a fair lady's shot you must have, just go and shoot.
I decided to depart shortly thereafter and without much ado as they said in Shakespeare's time. There is no point in stretching one's luck. I never got a chance to talk with her and therefore can give no insight whatsoever to her persona.
My Young Friend Pankaj
Pankaj is a bit of an enigma. He is presently a source of concern for his mother and assorted relatives including his grandparents who live in the upper reaches near the Hydro-electric project because he has left his job after a tiff with his boss. Jobs aren’t easy to come by, hence the concern.
Like so many of the young men in this area for whom it is almost de rigeur, he aspires to join the armed forces or at a pinch even the police force. He has appeared for the army examination and though he fared well, he was not able to pass the physical test because he couldn’t do the requisite number of pull-ups.
So what have you done to improve your physique, I ask. In reply he takes me to a tree near his home where he has hung a rope from which he practices and builds his muscles by doing pull-ups. Not so, laughs his friend Vikas who is standing nearby. This is just for show. He tries doing pull-ups once a week on the average so how will he ever pass?
Pankaj's Grandfather With Hookah
A Venerable Old Man
I was informed this old gentleman, Pankaj's grandfather, whose name I never got to know, passed away a few days ago. When I met him, he was sprightly for his indeterminate age. Constant exposure to the strong, high-altitude sun would have aged his skin prematurely. Walking with the aid of a walking stick, peering through thick glasses, sensing rather than seeing the ground so familiar beneath his feet. But his handshake was warm and firm, a good indicator of the state of the man's health.
I asked him whether he would share a whisky with me. Yes, if you share the hookah with me was his brisk reply. That is a promise, I said, the next time I come to Kandbari. Alas it was not to be. Perhaps we shall do so in the hereafter. Does God keep smooth single malt whiskies and hookahs? I wonder.
Those pretty dimples and that sunny smile make Indu stand out among her peers. Her eyes sparkle as she scampers around with her classmates, mischief writ large on her face.
You have to see life in Kandbari through the eyes of a child like her as they look up at a passing aircraft and ask “Have you ever been up in a plane?” Or those of her friend young Golu who I came across while he was standing motionless, petrified because he had to walk through a heavily-forested area rife with monkeys who threaten and intimidate solitary children.
Young Indu's eyes haven’t seen the plush interiors of designer homes in Delhi. Nor have they seen the layer of thick smog that hangs over Delhi in winter. Will she and her friends ever get the chance to make the choice between the environment they have grown up in and the one they aspire for because of images seen on the TV? Only time will tell.
What I do know and have seen is that these little hands can wield a sickle as well as they can a pen. These small bodies are capable of carrying loads many times their own body weight when it comes to helping their mother heft the corn crop into the storeroom. Life may seem tough, but they bear it with a huge smile.
Education is so evidently important to the people of Kandbari. Every morning, small groups of happy children with thankfully light schoolbags can be seen walking o'er hill and dale as it were, traipsing their way to school.
Spare a moment to see this video if you haven't seen it before or see it again if you have.
The Solitary Reaper
Behold him, single in the field,
Yon solitary Kandbari man (so unlike a lass)!
Cutting grass and singing by himself;
Stop here or gently pass!
With apologies to the truly gifted William Wordsworth and his poem "The Solitary Reaper".
Not to be outdone by Willy, our man relates an old hill saying:
Madham Kheti Uttam Bopar
Naukri Kare Gwar
which loosely translated means that in days of yore, business was considered to lie at the top of the social ladder, followed by farming. Only the unlettered villager will take up a job, the saying concludes. The multinational corporations would have had a difficult time recruiting back then.
I have hands made of iron he tells me proudly, displaying fists that are disproportionately large for his slight frame. I am willing to believe it as I see his scythe cut sharply through the dew-laden grass. The morning is cold but he prefers this time of day as wet grass is easier to grip though it turns his hands icy cold in the bargain.
I survived a bear attack some years ago, he says, showing a scarred leg. But he bears no grudge to the bear that bared its teeth. Barely so, I would think.
Anil is one of the men who make a living lifting sand from the riverbed and delivering it to a shop for use in construction around Kandbari. His packtrain of four donkeys is led unsurprisingly by a horse. After all, would you rather put your money on a donkey or a horse?
Anil bought the horse in Ladakh for Rs 17000 (USD 380) during a trek from Kandbari to Leh. That is a distance of 650 km (400 miles), a long way to have a couple of donkeys for company. I wonder whether the donkeys realise their democratic right to leadership of their own has been usurped by another, cousin though he may be? Would they be considering a putsch of some sort? And what would Anil do if the donkeys were to rise up in rebellion?
He earns Rs 30 (70 cents) per animal per trip from the riverbed to the shop and is able to do an average of three trips every day. This nets him something like Rs 4500 every month (US$ 100). That does not sound like a lot but it is enough to keep the smile on his face, enough to send his children to school, enough to live a reasonably contented life.
On seeing me tramping around with my camcorder and tripod, some of the womenfolk of Nain village volunteered to change into their finery for a photoshoot. The hand-crafted jewellery of gold and silver they wore is generally taken out for festive occasions so it was an honour for me that they took the trouble to wear it.
The joie de vivre is evident in their voices and in the exuberance of their dance. Their songs speak of their love for their land and fields, of life-giving rivers and trees.
Womenfolk contribute to the local economy by helping in the fields, looking after the cattle, chasing dangerous monkeys away from the corn crop and a myriad other ways.
And like each of us, the hillfolk of Kandbari have many stories waiting to be told and many books waiting to be written, whether they are about surviving bear attacks or about the most efficient method of managing a business involving donkeys.
It's just that their voices have not yet been heard.