The third impression was that of silence. I stayed some distance away from the Mall, which is where all the action is. From my temporary and humble abode the landscape I could see was great; the location of the hotel was terrific; and being a heritage property, the hotel was just my type of place. During the afternoons, sitting out, I heard sounds I had last heard during my childhood summer holidays at my grandmother’s place or my uncle’s place in Asansol and its environs. Bumble bees buzzing around the flower pots; sleepy birds periodically exercising their vocal chords; the distant sounds of vehicles slowly negotiating the steep incline of the approach road; early morning and evening prayers from the nearby temples and mosque; people singing Garhwali songs at a wedding in the distance.
A few words about Garhwali weddings. There were four that I counted. The most memorable was a procession with the groom riding a horse, preceded by a vehicle towed behind a car, the vehicle (I can’t really describe, and I don’t have a photo to show) had eight, yes eight, large horn loudspeakers at the back, and a mixer and amp system on board. The singer sang a simple ditty, consisting as far as I could make out of the words “Aaj mera ladka ka shaadi hai” sung 63 times. He was accompanied by an incredible trumpet player, whose power could surely bring down the walls of Jericho – move over St Louis, St Dizzy, St Clifford and St Miles, you got competition!
The fourth impression, and this one left a clear mark on me, was the bright sunshine. Did wonders for my tan, I can tell you. Not that I needed one, but what I got now is really incredible. The tones on my face range from a darkish brown to something akin to a black chocolate gone bad – not in a smooth transition, you understand, but in patches. I never was a good looking guy – I belong to that rare group of men best described by St Wodehouse as “the less of you see of us, the better we look.” The patchwork quilt of Pantone shades of dark brown that my face doesn’t do much to enhance my elusive beauty.
I distinctly saw a couple of horses in the Mall take a dekko at me, rear on their hind legs and refuse to proceed further with whatever they had been engaged in; obviously they needed time to recover from the shock. Also, I recall that on two incidents at night, cars had to brake suddenly when they discovered that out of the impenetrable darkness suddenly appeared something which could at a stretch be called a human being. Doubtless, my large, white, shining teeth reflected their headlights like a mirror and saved them and me.
Another strong impression was that of the strutting self-confidence of the local monkeys. There was a troop of large fellows, who used the veranda in front of their room as their proprietary thoroughfare. Well-built and well-muscled, they swaggered with measured pace down the veranda, looking for all the world like a mafia troop out to settle some business. I stayed out of their way, cowering behind my teacup – you never know when the tommy guns would pop out, and I didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire.
However, the lasting impression was the bumble bee and the sleepy bird. It was nice to go back nearly fifty years to my childhood. If only that journey back in time could turn my hair black!