Nothing ennobles human beings more than the company of their beloved ones in an environment suffused with the splendour of nature. My latest such experience occurred last summer when Maggie and I visited Shimla. The verdurous hillsides that rise majestically all around cling to your soul with an unearthly tenacity. They bewitch you so much that you feel oppressed and liberated simultaneously. You become the questing knight of Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci. You are drowned in transcendental beauty. You are intoxicated with it.
Having spent the day visiting various places of tourist interest, we were dropped back by our driver at the Old Bus Stand from where we wished to walk up the fairly steep ascent to the Mall Road. The narrow lane is lined on both sides with goods of all sorts ranging from exotic trinkets to day-to-day grocery items. The mundane and the sublime coexist in an edifying spirit of camaraderie in the markets of hill stations.
|A view from the Mall Road|
Photo by Maggie
A colossal statue of Hanuman that overlooks the entire town welcomed Maggie and me as we stepped on to the Mall Road. We sauntered along the road constructed by the British and now crowded with tourists from various parts of the country as well as outside. Standing at a relatively deserted part of the road, we watched the saffron Hanuman towering above the trees and even the mountains. The thick foliage that surrounded him crept into my imagination and began to metamorphose into a story. Instead of Keats’s knight questing for his mysterious Dame, my fantasy drew up a female protagonist robed in the saffron colour of the Indian ascetic and was on a spiritual quest. While Maggie sat on one of the pews in Christ Church seeking spiritual union with her God, I sat beside her conjuring up the dimensions of the ascetic who had invaded my imagination. Maya was finding her dimensions in my imagination.
As the sun disappeared behind the foliage that marked the horizon, Maggie and I walked into an elegant restaurant for our dinner. Shimla’s apple wine failed to surpass the intoxication of its mountains.
Even when Maggie and I, perched precariously on our ponies, were climbing up the rugged trail leading to Kufri’s adventure land the next morning the fictitious woman in the woods surrounding the Hanuman temple kept haunting my imagination. Maggie screamed as her pony slipped on a pebble. “Hold on tightly,” instructed the guide who was walking between our ponies. He kept instructing us when to bend forward or backward so that the pony is not overburdened by our ignorance of riding rules. I watched Maggie on her pony making a fine balance between fear and ecstasy.
Balance and harmony. Merging of contradictions. Evaporation of polarities. Was Maggie merging into Maya or vice-versa? How is a story born?
Being with your beloved unfolds stories. Naturally. Like the blossoming of the tree when the season arrives.