When the morning air strikes that perfect balance between chill and warmth, it almost smells sweet. And it was this sweet smell that diffused my nostrils this morning when I went for a walk in the nascent summers of Shimla – the summers that usually have a very short life span, but while they last, they are something to be cherished. The first thing I felt was a pinch of regret for showing haughtiness when Mom asked me to take Dad’s morning-walk-stick along. It’s actually less of a stick and more of a baton, and it is to keep the monkeys and the stray dogs away – the creatures that are at liberty to loiter in the Shimla streets that are almost deserted from dusk till dawn. The sight that made me feel the regret was a group of 3 monkeys – not a large group this one, from what one might expect of Shimla – a dumpy one sitting lazily on a shorter tree growing on the slope whose top almost paralleled the height of the road, another one swinging from the cable line that went above and across the road and a third one – the mightiest – walking on the railing, making its way menacingly towards me in a measured, determined step. I hesitated, but remembered the timeless adage which said that never mind the monkeys and it’s a high probability that they won’t mind you (notice I said “high-probability”. It’s because there have been a few strange, gruesome cases, when things go wrong, that you don’t want to hear about!). So I went past them, pretending not to look at them (in fact, I’m sure I created some kind of record for looking the most sideways while keeping your head straight!). And true to the saying, the monkey also minded its own business and walked past me. The last glimpse I could catch of our ancestors, before I turned the corner, suggested one of them busy eating into the money plant that our neighbours had so assiduously taken care of for so long – all in vain.
As I approached the main road, which is steeply elevated, I begin to think of my childhood days – all the times when I passed by the same shops that I was passing right now, how we, as kids, always hated having to fasten the top button of our uniform shirts, eclipsed by our tie knots, which were in turn, usually made by our respective mothers and the golden principle was that the knots were not to be muddled with for eternity. I thought of how, by the time the school ended, the shirt top buttons would be unfastened, the sleeves roughly folded up to our elbows; how we used to buy the 50 paisa “chuski”, out of the daily pocket money of 13 rupees – 10 as an emergency requirement (which lasted about a week), 2 rupees for the bus fare and 1 rupee for big babol/boomer/center fresh/chuski.
I also thought of all the times we had observed the holy ritual of visiting the Mall on a Saturday evening, not to shop (though The Mall is basically a promenade, more like a shopper’s paradise), but to just roam, just to look at all the pretty people of the opposite sex and find solace in the confirmation that they were wasting their time in the same precious way. This all formed an indelible part of how I grew up. Now I would be going for an MBA and life would be very different. It would zoom by before a blink of an eye. I know I would long for this slowness in life characterized by a life in Shimla – the lazy mix of sunlight with the chilly air, the azure of the sky which seemed to bestow upon the town a sense of plenitude, the deodars, which seem to be conspiring in huddles, all of this and more add to the lethargic beauty that Shimla epitomizes. Deep in thought, I realized that I had almost reached back home. And for a change, I cannot see any monkeys to welcome me back. Is this change a start of something new? I wonder.