MUSSOORIE: Nov 12
I don’t know why I do it. Is it the joy of seeing her eight year old eyes twinkle with astonishment or just sharing how different our worlds are. It’s probably a combination of both, I guess. But I love to tell my daughter, the many stories, memories, instances that cross my thoughts.
So just the other day, when we were trying to struggle our way up the Landour climb (no it wasn’t the climb sadly, it was the traffic that made it a struggle!), I was telling her how when we were children, we’d see these women carrying huge heaps of grass every evening. We often saw them first in the morning , dressed in simple cotton saris and blouses , a head scarves on their heads, sickle in their glass bangled hands moving in rhythm, walking hurriedly as we walked to school, sometimes trying to match pace with them. “We lost often, actually make that always!” I confessed with a smile.
In the evenings when we walked back, bags on our backs, feet almost dragging us home, we’d see them again. This time around, we’d usually be ahead of them, but loved to walk behind them. All we could see were their feet and a portion of the sari, the rest would be hidden behind huge piles of grass. To us it was great fun to look at the site that seemed like grass piles with feet walking up the Landour slope. Occasionally we also tried pulling some strands of grass, just for fun. On one of the days when I was walking back with my elder brother (the sister was usually faster) we both pulled at the same lady’s pile of grass, the combined pull made her turn back. Her face red like the rhododendron flowers, beads of sweat on her face, the brown eyes washed in the evening light stared at us before she started waking again, her back bent with the weight.
I can’t put a pulse to the many emotions I felt but I remember having hugged my mother a little tighter that day. I’d seen her face as flushed as the lady’s when she washed clothes for the joint family of eight or made little balls of koyla for fire, her hands wearing the roughness from them for days on end.
Years later when I went to my mother’s village Musmola, (in Tehri Garhwal), I saw my many aunts walking back with piles of grass as big, sometimes with firewood from the jungles for the cooking.
And then two years back when I went to Maletha to witness the sowing of paddy, the women’s faces looked as flushed. But I knew the redness wasn’t just exhaustion, it was also the excitement and happiness. For it was these women who had led a long and fierce movement to stop their village from stone crushers that threatened to destroy their fields. And this crop would be sweeter than most, the joy of victory, embedded in every grain of rice.
Is it not right then say that women in the hills are the backbone of life here? Be it the Chipko movement that made the women’s voices reverberate, not just to the rest of the country but several others, the morchas by them to oppose liquor, Bachendri Pal’s smile when she became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and Divya Rawat showing what it means to demonstrate reverse migration with mushroom farming.
And though some of the women here might know it and many won’t but the daughters of the hills have been touched by the strength of the mountains she climbs, the clarity of the rivers she fills water from and the warmth of the fire that she lights to cook her family a meal. She is Shakti!