I am a solo traveller, but I have never travelled alone. From Mehdi Hasan to Mekal Hasan, Dev Anand to Dev D, Abida to Arijit and Pancham to Papon… someone or the other always keeps me company! While the mood and place often decide the company I keep, there has been one companion who is always around…
…every season, every place, in happiness and grief, by the riverside, by the mountain and some times in the middle of nowhere… THE Old Monk.
You may have been on a scotch trail, you may be a regular at wine tasting events, but if you have spent your college days with Old Monk, you know you will find enough reasons to come back to it! Whether you want to socialize or just spend some ‘me’ time, you know the one person you can always count on is The Monk. He usually makes you happy and at times, introspective… bringing out the philosopher in you, who talks about Life and the Purpose of Existence! :)
Tetra packs in Kerala, the monk shaped bottle in Sikkim, beautiful ‘quarters’ in Pondicherry, miniatures in Himachal and the monk face bottle from Goa… I have collected them all. And I don’t use them to keep money plants!
And then one day… I met him. The real Old Monk.
Two years ago I was in Ladakh on my birthday, and I chose to go off the beaten track, to Matho Monastery – famous for its festival where oracles are performed under the influence of supernatural powers. It also has a museum of Tibetan Budhhism – tantric devices, skulls, contraptions and the works. Intrigue got the better of me, and soon I found myself at Matho, a place, usually not recommended by tourist guides because it’s 20 kms from Leh in a different direction, and far away from other touristy spots. I was received by a cheerful old monk, who seemed extremely happy to see me. And why not, I was the first visitor he had seen in a whole week! I didn’t speak his language, he didn’t speak mine so we communicated in an innovative dumb charades where only key words are allowed in English. He happily showed me around – the monastery, prayer room, museum – carrying my little camera bag on his shoulders like a school child. I also remember him napping, while i went trigger happy with my new tele lens. When he woke up, he offered me a drink… a cup of tea!
As we sat on the steps looking at the yellow sand and the sky blue infinity in front of us, the conversation went as follows:
Monk: Where you live?
Monk: ohhhh… (clearly he didn’t know where it was or may be he knew Bombay)… Hot?
Monk: you… No mother… No father… no husband?
Me: Mother-father yes, husband no!
Monk: Why you come alone? No fear?
Me: Who lives here?
Monk: I… Only me living here.
Me: You no fear?
The happy monk played with my camera for a while, saw the pictures before asking again…
Monk: What you do?
Me: (oh god, this is a tough one… He is clearly not going to get it, no one in gujju land knows what I do even after so many years… Say something basic…) Uhh… I work in tv.
Me: TV… (Making a square with two index fingers)… Television!
Monk: ohhh (with a jubilant now-I-get-it smile) You happy?
Me: (a long pause, then a south-Indian nod, moving my head from left shoulder to right; neither means yes, nor no) Hmmm…
The cheerful monk looked satisfied with my answer.
That, precisely is the moment of realization. The voices in your head question the authenticity of your stress. Kiski channel, kaunsa show, kya TRPs… tum faaltu mein hanuman baney apni Poonch pe aag laga ke Ghoom rahe ho! This man here is way more happier than you. He doesn’t even know TV, and he is ecstatic just to see a living soul after many days
That night, the owner of Lha-Ri-Sa Resort in Leh had organized a birthday dinner for me. After putting a traditional Khata (white scarf) on my shoulders, the waiters brought out the glasses. Black Dog, Jacob’s Creek, Absolut in attendance. He politely asked me, “What will you have Madam?” I shyly asked him, “Do you have Old Monk?”