Dawn breaks over Sukna, a small village in the foothills of Darjeeling. This is where my mother lives. This is where I was born 40 years ago, when elephants used to trundle down the dirt road in front of our house. Times have changed. Now young men walk the dusty lanes transfixed onto their cell phones just like anywhere else in the world.
When my mother got her first posting here as a nurse, she was petrified of coming to this wild place. Her relatives in the hills had told her of men turning into tigers in Sukna - you could tell because these tigers wore watches!
After two years in Sukna, she married a local forester - perhaps the only phatasmagoria she actually experienced. In the miasma of this wilderness they had three children. Just after the youngest one, which was me, was born the family got transferred away from this place. My parents returned 16 years later after their retirement. Unlike my mom, my dad was deeply attached to his trees.
Jet-lag has me waking up every morning in the wee hours. But I don't have much choice either. The stray dogs howl though the night, and just when they settle down the birds and the roosters begin. I don't mean to complain about the birds but when a horn bill squawks outside our single-pane uninsulated window you better listen up.
Sukna is the last village on the historical Hill Cart Road before the climb up to Darjeeling begins. It has a quaint railway station here along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway route, a Unesco World Heritage site. Locals affectionately call it the "toy train."
Just a few paces away on the train tracks, the village's open air casino is busy! During the festival season the game of dice is popular although I do not think these kids are authorized to participate.
Anyone interested in bespoke trousers and shirts? You just show up here. That is the beauty of this place.
And no waiting weeks for a doctor's appointment. You just walk in.
This is the road that leads to my parents' house, and where the elephants used to amble about.
Now most of those elephants live in this nature preserve about a 5 minute walk from our home, but often times they stray into the village. Interestingly, these pachyderms are drawn by the smell of the moonshine some of the villagers make.
Roadside assistance to repair the horn on my scooter. Driving in India without a horn is like driving without a wheel. You honk all the time. It can mean anything from "I am turning now," "I am passing you now," "I am about to stop now," and "I just can't help it." By the way, a 30 minute repair job on the horn (yes horns can be repaired) costs about a quarter.
Back at my parents' house this simian visitor was spotted first trying to enter the living room. Now he appears to be meditating by the papaya tree.
My mother harvests bay leaf with the help of neighborhood kids.
The Panchanadi river between the village and the forest reserve - my favorite spot.
Further down the dirt road, across the river is the Mohorgung Gulma Tea Estate, a large terai tea garden. I was surprised to see this new tool which is basically scissors affixed to a tray being used to harvest tea leaves. The workers told me they had been using this for a month now. Because most of the tea produced is the inexpensive CTC variety in this garden, I guess such a tool is a good efficiency tool.
Upstate NY and Sukna could not be more disparate. Yet fate has offered up both these places as home for me. People dearest to me, who make up my life and my story, live on either side of the planet. Thank god for this human heart because it is big enough to hold within it all the distance and the differences. It has room enough for the whole world to live within it. And for all these blessings it is a happy heart, and a happy earth.