It was exactly two days short of three years when finally, at long last, my mother and I made it to Shimla. These three long-lasting years had stood steady witness to so much—illnesses of varied nature, broken bones, broken hearts, and even death. Not that the sun did not come out. It did in the smile of a child, the chorusing chirp of birds, over a simple yet delightful meal of rajma chawal where your mother would add an extra dollop of desi ghee, since you needed fattening up, quite ignoring your protests that your paunch could no longer be sucked in, with an incredulous arch of the brow, in a voice breaking in its track, scoff, “Tummy and You?!’’ Yes, munching on “mooli’’ sprinkled with black salt under the mellow sun of your garden or replace the radish with the first flush of oranges flecked with “kala namak’’…There’s more, late evenings find your small family taking in, with enthusiasm reserved for teenagers, a Soap bemoaning the number of commercials that cut into the drama, thus sharing equal screen-time with the main play; the post-dinner walk to the ice-creamwallah for that chocobar. Naturally, now it was a homecoming for my Mom—these Covid-Girdled years, a thing of the dark past, with the opening clank of the front gate greeting her return (mine too, but the partiality couldn’t go unheard) wide-armed.
The morning after our arrival, I, still rubbing the grainy residue of sleep from my eyes, found the lady of the house sitting in her and her husband’s, my father’s Study, with its bayview window streaming in dandelion yellow sunshine; she gushing over its toasty warmth with cup of tea in hand. Yes, this is what they mean, by “homecoming’’! And before I get down to business, bear with a little more of rhapsodising, if it must be called so, though honestly, must state am simply reporting facts. Back to the Study. I know, I know, the rarified mountain air can make the head giddy, especially if you have spent a spread-out spell in pollution congested Delhi, where the lungs, in-reflex resist fresh air, habitual in its congestion, but I could swear I saw my late Father in his most beloved place, reclining on his diwan with a book in hand, the steam from his tea, growing faint as usual, he forgetting about its presence, being so lost in thought with the volume.
Perhaps, he too, had come over to welcome home his Significant Other…Now to put one’s shoulder to the wheels, knuckle down and get the show on the road. November 12th, 2022, Saturday, Election Day, Himachal. Our Shimla neighbourhood—Engine Ghar, Sanjauli—has a sizable number of very senior citizens tipping 80-plus. The three pathways leading up to the voting station on that sun-filled Saturday have, over the past few years, morphed into perilous stretches. The pathway that took the residents of the neighbourhood to the landing which would take us to the Mall, to Forest Road, to different colleges, to the local bazaar had been sheared into half, reshuffled into serpentine pebbly, shrub-ridden walkways, where you had to modify your walk, refashion your body to edge your way through the alley. This at the peril of cracking a rib, dislocating a knee or breaking your back, to touch on the few tumble and fall crippling mishaps that were in-built, ready-made in this craggy, unaccommodating jungle lane.
The other route is on the left of our home, and it seems, that the civil engineer and his team who planned its layout, were in collaborated brain-fade. How else would you explain a concrete ram-rod road which would make Spiderman hang back, take a breath, before his leaping ascent and descent?! However, to temporarily forget the ones who are living a post-post retirement life, or even pregnant women, but what about lolloping school-going kids, gawky, fast-footed teenagers, a middle-aged lady, lugging vegetables for her family?! Either be ready to crack your skull or worse! There used to be a railing for inhabitants to grasp but in the past three years they have, by poaching paws, been spirited away. (I know, I know, I still have to get to the point but without this preface, cannot make it to the tarmac!) Then phew, finally on the right—since I am making our house the centre-point— this concrete road has been there ever since I can remember; my grandfather would, several times in the day, climb up and down, without coming up for air.
The road, that’s what it was, had just the right gradient. That concrete footpath too, somehow (maybe a rub-off effect) had bolted upright, and some planning committee had come out with a boneheaded design to convert this now vertiginous side-road into an Ambulance Lane! Seriously?! You’d have to be a Formula One Driver to make it to the bottom without crashlanding, and to what avail is a hospital wagon all smashed black and blue?! And last of all, if no such gut-churning accident occurs, how in the name of heaven, is the Saviour Vehicle supposed to “reverse’’ in such pinched sparce space?! Given the fact that the residents of Engine Ghar are holed in a Well of sorts, how was it possible to climb out of this pit, and cast one’s vote?! Here only referring to our very senior citizens. Most of them wanted to do so, even if they knew the bulk of the candidates were snow-flake characters! They wished to be a part of the scene, to feel they made a difference but…but how, with laboured breath, could they make it to the top?! Some Infuriating Questions: Everything is Online. Electricity bill, Online. Water bill, Online. Property tax, Online. Even the garbage collector has to be paid his monthly 106 rupees Online! If you aren’t Online you are Offline; suffering from the Rip Van Winkle syndrome, need to shake it off, clear your head, and head a mile a minute Online! And so, why not the provision to vote Online?!
Even over three decades back in America, you could cast your vote telephonically—and no, you needn’t be an aged-to-the-bone citizen to qualify to do so! Wonder how this slipped our Online Avtaar?!
Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.