It’s a chilly winter night with a drizzle in the air. Clouds are descending on to the terraced rice fields of Bir, a Tibetan Colony in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Ashish, a young Himachali lad who runs a small guest house hears hustled footsteps outside his place. He peeps into the verandah through a window and sees the outline of three men in robes- monks from a nearby monastery.
Ashish recongizes the young monks, his friends from a previous job he held as a helper in the monastery guest house. He’s met them on several nights after quitting the job; a job he had to leave when his parents came to know that beef is acceptable within the monastery kitchen. Ever since his father left his family when he was four years old, Ashish has been a man looking out after his mother and sister. Working from as long as he remembers, Ashish has engaged in all tasks and odd jobs that would put a meal on the table.
The monks, in their maroon robes shared one umbrella and were wet at the seams from their walk up the mountain. They didn’t mind the walk up for this escapade. In their early twenties now, their families in Tibet had managed to get them enrolled into one of the monasteries in Bir. Growing up in the small mountain village, life was simple, secluded and organised but their feet itched some times. Some kind of an unrest brewed within the young hearts.
Ashish opened the door and hushed the monks in. They took out their chappals, left the umbrella outside and walked in making sure there wasn’t anyone watching them from behind. Inside, a dim light tried to warm up the room.
“Is the bucket ready?” asked one of the monks.
“Yes, ofcourse,” replied Ashish in fluent Tibetan and took the cloth off from the bucket and brought a bottle which had a hole on its cap.
This was a simple contraption used for efficient smoking of charas (cannabis), a device which had terrified Ashish when he first saw it long back. Now, the gravity bong, was a regular fixture of these meetings. The second monk rolled out the ‘stuff’ and placed it where it had to be and lighted up the contraption. The bottle on top of the bucket filled with water gets occupied by the vapours and smoke which is gulped in through the mouth.
They took in the vapours turn by turn and looked up at the ceiling and the sky beyond. If it were day, there would be paragliders taking flight in the air and the sky would be dotted with colourful parachutes for Bir is known to be one of the best paragliding spots in the world. For the monks in that moment, the senses were heightened and no more of external stimuli was needed.
Enrolled into the monastery without it being a conscious choice, the temple of faith had become a prison for these young men who needed an escape every once in a while. A hectic daily schedule with little interaction with the outside world can become limiting for some young minds. As for Ashish, living the life of faith outside the monastery, he plays in a field which is beyond that of rightdoings and wrongdoings. Whatever feels right, has light, has to be done.
As they sit there, echoes of a gong waft through the space and filter through their ears. They remain oblivious to this daily occurrence. The gong has been struck in the monastery to indicate the conclusion of the day’s schedule and time for bed. Amidst and beyond all of this, the head lama of the monastery sits on his cushion, omniscient of all events. He observes them occurring, lets things unfold as they have to and strengthens his inner will to add to the spring of life.
(Illustration credit: Deepali Shinde)