I was 10. My father had just been transferred to a faraway land called Kaza (that’s what happens when you fail to please the politicians), which meant, my summer holidays were going to be spent there. The journey from Palampur to Kaza was a long one, three days to be precise. We travelled during the day and rested at night.
It went something like this : Day 1 at Shimla, Day 2 at ReckongPeo, and at the end of Day 3, there it was – Kaza.
Kaza was a cold desert, yet, considering the absence of civilisation in most parts of Spiti valley, it was nothing less than a hotspot. On one side, there ran Spiti river – roaring and rumbling, without realising the fact that it would soon lose its identity to Sutlej. On the other side, people said, you would find Tibetan villages if you keep travelling for a day or two, and eventually, Chinese soldiers would detain you! I never tried that option. The town sat at an altitude of 12000 feet. There were few trees – only as many as I could count at that time. I did not understand what it meant, until, I dashed down the stairs and sprinted towards the river, and my nose started to bleed. Kitty, my elder sister, explained the science of low oxygen and atmospheric pressure. I did not listen; only stared at the blood and cried.
The real vacation began the next day onwards, when we started to play cricket. There was a huge ground, right next to the house: we never saw the end of it, nor did we try to walk that far. I loved the sight of it. But, at the same time, the vastness of this ground confused us. Until then, we had only played on the terraced fields of our hills, and therefore, we used to hit the ball on one side of the wicket. But here? Here, we could hit anywhere, and as far as possible. It was a big deal!
We talked about it for hours.
And then arrived this guy: a typical Spiti boy, with dry, rosy cheeks. He appeared two-three years older and smelled of sheep that he was shepherding. He said something, which we did not understand. Then we asked him his name etc, which he did not understand. This is not too uncommon; almost every district speaks in a different tongue in our state. Somehow, after a few verbal and non-verbal exchanges, we were able to figure out that he wanted to play cricket. And so began a quiet friendship.
Every day, he would wait outside our house, call me,not by name of course. He would yell in his own tongue, or whistle or simply howl. Then I would bring the kit and the two of us would play. I batted and he bowled, most of the time; and when he batted, I signaled him not to hit the ball too far, and he complied. He never complained. We did not exchange any words, only sometimes, when I said something and he said something in reply and we laughed at the circumstances. I wanted to ask him a lot of things. What was his name? Where was his family? Why didn’t he go to school? Did he consider me a friend? Unfortunately, it never happened.
Then, one day, I left, not to be returned for many years. When I said goodbye – which was the day before I left – I could not convey that I was going back home. He thought it was a normal goodbye and ran towards his sheep. The next morning, when I sat in a bus, I thought of him. That he would be waiting outside the house. Perhaps whistling! Would he be upset too? That we would never meet again? The bus played a Kishore Kumar song. Akela gaya tha main, na aya akela, mere sang sang aya teri yaadon ka mela.