old man smoking cigarette

Tales from Sikkim: a day in the country

Poverty in a city is stark, baring one’s soul. A curse stuck out for all to see through torn skirts and hungry sunken eyes. 

Sikkim cannot be labelled poor in such sense. The poverty here is brought forth purely by crudeness of the landscape rather than the need of economic abundance. The steep hillocks of the state dissuades shininess entering into its rugged hills. It is almost barbaric, unlike the low rolling hills of Himachal, Sikkim has a harsh profile. One that refuses to be cut, buffered or filed. Some of this harshness has rubbed off on its people.

For instance, take Cherryplan, a man from my village. His name invokes laughter and a snort in many hearing it for the first time. I agree it is a funny kind of a name but the adults in my village have gotten used to it now. He is one funny guy, cracks jokes at everything be it government policies, the new tax systems, people, tourists, just about anything. People love him as he makes them laugh. 

When I was a kid I used to laugh too, a lot. But as I grew older I came to know that he used to be a project planner, he had made a project to plant Cherry trees in the entire state as the altitude was perfect for the species. 

He envisioned Sikkim to look as pretty as a blushing bride in winter with pink, red and white cherry blossoms lining the either side of all state highways. I was surprised at how amazing the proposal sounded. However, it got rejected.

“Too utopian,” they had said apparently.

He knocked at several office doors with his Cherry plan many times but to no avail. 

“Not feasible.” 

“No funds.” 

“Not authentic.” 

He was provided with all the reasons diplomatic enough to be provided. Nevertheless, the name stuck.

Now he is old and nobody really knows his actual name, he walks with a funny gait and blames it on his arthritis. Thankfully he doesn’t have to convince the authorities on that one he says, or they wouldn’t let him have it. He still makes everybody laugh, but between those jokes there’s a pause; especially when he rubs and rolls his tobacco to prepare his cigarette. Just when his tongue wets the entire length of the cigarette, he stares blankly at the space in front of him, it is unsettling. As though his eyes pierces into a realm invisible to others, he pauses momentarily in that transfixed stare devoid of hope, of laughter.

But the very next minute he snaps out of it, blowing rings of smoke in that space and laughs…

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