It was many moons ago.
Yet, this memory unfailingly visits, every winter.
The fire crackled deliciously against an inky blue sky. Lured by the promise of heat, I’d move in too close, only to have a delinquent strand of wool from my sweater singe with a hiss, pushing me back in alarm.
Amma and I were having a conversation.
We paused often, to sip the potent chaang and nibble on hot pakodas.
Her arthritis bothered her, she said; the cold weather didn’t help. She was disdainful that she now sat on chairs. A rug on the floor had been her favourite perch. ‘I felt connected’ she said.
I spoke about my visit to Gurudongmar Lake, a spiritual journey for the locals. Amma wondered if the weather hadn’t been too inhospitable. ‘Even we don’t visit in winter’. ‘Did you pray for a son?’
I burst out laughing. Amma joined me in a full-throated laugh, her crinkled skin folding into an intricate origami. Its rarity brought one of her daughters running. She smiled and placed her palm on amma’s shoulders, before returning to the kitchen.
Amma, the matriarch, spoke the language of the Lepchas. And only that. I, the traveller, spoke English. And only that.
Yet we conversed each evening, by the fire - the only time she allowed herself a break from chores.
Khangchendzonga, benevolent to her children and ruthless to those who trespassed, towered over us.
Yes, this memory unfailingly visits, every winter.
Dzongu - a region ravaged by the construction of a hydel power plant, yet, tenacious.
Khangchendzonga - the guardian mother of Dzongu, and the Lepchas.
Dzongu - whose river was soon to be silenced, disappearing underground to provide electricity for bustling cities far, far away.
I, living in one of those bustling cities, often wondering if Dzongu survived.
Unfailingly. Every winter. It comes back to me.