|In a park in Darjeeling|
Maggie and I were two among scores of people who got up at 3.30 am to go and watch sunrise when the rain was lashing the windowpanes of our room in a hotel in Darjeeling. It was the summer of 2010. We had spent three days in Gangtok already. Gangtok was a cheerful sunrise while Darjeeling was like a gloomy sunset, Maggie would say poetically later as we sat in the leisurely toy train that moved from Darjeeling to Kurseong.
Our tour of Darjeeling was to start with the sunrise seen from Tiger Hill and our hotel had arranged a taxi to take us to Tiger Hill at 4 am. The sunrise would be at 4.45, we were told. But it started pouring right after midnight, a kind of rain that didn’t sound quite characteristic of a hill station. When the reception rang us at 3.30, I asked how anyone would see a sunrise in that weather. “Your taxi will be ready at 4.” The answer was terse and the call was over. Most people of Darjeeling were equally terse and morose, as we would learn soon.
Darjeeling was a town of shutdowns and hartals in those days. The Gorkhas were demanding a separate state for themselves: Gorkhaland. The agitation had gone on for decades and had sucked out the vitality of the people. You would see sullen faces all over, on the streets, in the shops, at the museum.
Since the entire amount for the Tiger Hill trip had been taken in advance by our hotel, Maggie and I had little choice but roll off the quilt and pull up the pants. The rain subsided as we set off to Tiger Hill. The drizzle never stopped, however. And the sun did not rise for us though we waited on the watch tower till 5.30 or so.
A Jupiter year has passed since then. I wonder whether Darjeeling is a happier place now. Have smiles returned to those weary and sullen faces of 2010? Does the sun rise cheerfully beyond Tiger Hill in the mornings now?
I still remember how Maggie and I had decided back then that we wouldn’t return to Darjeeling. We would return to Gangtok again and again, we agreed. Now, 12 years later, I wouldn’t mind returning to Darjeeling again. Even if the sunrise gets drowned in a drizzle again. Both West Bengal and India have undergone many political changes since 2010. How have these changes affected the people of Darjeeling? I am interested in seeing personally.