- Sulogna Mehta
Blue Mist, Autumn Rain
Udita Upadhyay stood by the open window and suddenly, like the yellow-tinted leaves of autumn air, memories blew in.
She is not a poet, professor or philosopher but posted to this picturesque Himalayan district a month ago as the district collector.
She looked around, as if searching for something but couldn’t find. She couldn’t even ask anyone to find it for her. There were house-help staff – she just needed to order but couldn’t. Something always stopped her.
Last week when she had attended the annual Sports Day of a women’s college as the chief guest, she had received numerous bouquets of roses, orchids and chrysanthemums – in fact at every function she attended, she received those flowers. But she couldn’t say, “Not these, I want those wild, nameless blue flowers, growing carelessly on the hill slopes.”
While driving on official duty, she could not ask her driver to stop the vehicle amid curious glances of onlookers and pluck those blue flowers. She felt somewhat self-conscious.
Her acquaintances knew, “Madam ko phool bahut pasand hain” (Madam loves flowers a lot). Fresh roses and orchids would be sent to her, adding to the beauty of her office and spacious living room.
But she couldn’t reach out to those blue flowers. They were so near – yet far - Just like they had been 17 years ago.
She brought out an old diary from an obscured corner of the bookshelf concealed among a variety of non-fictions. She kept turning the pages and stopped to read where she had written about the last day of her college trip to Sikkim.
“9 AM. I came out of the hotel with a few friends who had some last moment shopping to do. I wanted to feel the magic of the mountains all around and inhale the misty air. I would be leaving the hills this afternoon but I would never say goodbye because I will come back someday.
I took the road leading to Pemayangtse and started ascending. I heard a faint chanting - the Lamas must be reciting prayers - ‘Om Mani Padme Hum,’ rotating the prayer-wheels. Ah! Peace, Peace, Peace…
There’s the monastery up there, its red and gold façade dazzling in the sunlight. The magical, colourful flags are waving before the still, sombre structure. The chirping of crickets could be heard even during the daytime.
There wasn’t enough time to re-visit the shrine. So, I decided to venture a little ahead before taking the way back to the hotel. The music from a cascading waterfall down the green hills a few metres away drew me towards it and oh my! What are these?
Hundreds of blue, deep blue flowers adorned a shrub near the roadside. The shrub seemed to be smiling an elusive smile, for it was near, very near, yet beyond my reach. You have to lean precariously towards the edge to get hold of the flowers and even then you may fail. And if you dare approach an inch further, you will be risking yourself to several hundreds of feet below in the chasm. I watched two blue-black butterflies kissing the petals and tried to capture all that I saw in my camera, trying to treasure each of those fascinating moments.
I tried my best but couldn’t touch the flowers and therefore a bit disappointed, I stood looking at River Rangeet rushing down, far below. Earlier, I had seen the deep blue flowers on the hill slopes, enroute Pelling.
I was getting late and so started walking back. Just as I was about to turn around a bend and walk down, I looked back at the blue flowers before they disappeared from my sight - those elusive, enchanting blue, beyond my reach. At that moment, I saw something that filled me with surprise, joy, wonder and disbelief simultaneously. A Sikkimese youth came running, carrying a part of the shrub that glittered with countless bright blue blossoms. Handing them to me, he stood gasping for breath.
“I saw from a distance that you were trying hard to pluck the flowers. So...”
“Thank you,” I said with a faint smile without betraying any emotion in my measured tone and asked, “What are these flowers called?”
Call them anything you like. These are ‘junglee’ (wild) flowers, growing here and there. He replied smiling.
“Thank you once again.” He nodded and as I was about to turn, a little boy of barely five years, came running. He held a single, big, bright blue blossom in his tiny hand and gave an angelic smile, while offering it !
“That’s my nephew. Probably, a flower from this bunch might have fallen while I was running with it and he must have picked it up,” he explained unasked.
I patted the little one’s cheek with a ‘Thank You’ and we turned in different directions.
I thought these flowers were wild. These people don’t respond ‘You are welcome’ when one says ‘Thank you.’ They just smile, beautiful as the wild flowers and as transparent as crystal drops of cascading waterfalls.
Back at the hotel, my friends and I got ourselves clicked with those flowers. I kept the flowers inside a brown paper packet. At home the next day, I found they all had withered, yet there wafted a faint fragrance. I kept one of the dried flowers.
Wild blue of the mountains, tamed forever inside my diary...”
As she closed the diary and looked out through the glass window, she suddenly spotted them that November morning. Blue blossoms of the mountains, under an azure sky, in one lonely, obscured corner of the garden.
“Were they always there? How come I have never noticed earlier?”
She found the wild, nameless flowers sparkling, smiling and dissolving mysteriously in the morning mist. Once again, all was tranquil, like Buddha’s eyes.
Outside, slowly, very slowly, the deep blue mist gathered, grew, intensified.