God in the mountains

Shyam. G. Menon | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 11, 2012

It was a generally nice climate at that camp beside a river. The group of school students before me were bonded by mother tongue; region, city-life, quite likely, financial status as well. They were from well-to-do families. None had spent as many days in the Himalayas as they were doing right then. Most of them had never seen snow in their lives. Yet many had holidayed overseas. A few had touched snow in Switzerland, but not India. Oh really?


Every day, the students would wake up, rather impervious to the natural surroundings, and soon enough, indulge in school talk, approaching exams and the like. They were mostly largely obedient and well-behaved. It was a wonderful group, and eminently presentable anywhere as ambassadors of their school, except for this bizarre tendency to not notice where they were. They were physically a long distance from the co-ordinates of birth and schooling. Their minds were still back there.

One day, it rained. The temperature went down. Next morning, there was a lot of snow on the distant peaks. The snowline was much lower than before. At less than two hours' drive from the camp was a high mountain pass. We thought — the majority of students from this group hadn't ever seen snow. So why not take them to the pass, which would definitely be snowbound? We hired vehicles for the task and set off. I was in a jeep, with maybe five or six students.

Occasionally, we stopped to ensure that the vehicles were travelling as a convoy. At one such pause in the journey, I realised that I wasn't the only instructor noticing this — the students were in a ‘why-this-fuss?'-mode, and quite tuned out from the changing ambience. It was now colder, the road winding through the pine forest, and everything sprinkled lightly with snow. Further up, the snow became thicker, and I made enthusiastic attempts in my vehicle to trigger conversation on the subject. I got some disinterested “yeah” and “oh really?” for response.


Eventually, we reached the mountain pass. We had some tea and biscuits at a nearby shop. Then we took the students to play and just be around snow, which had accumulated quite a lot at that point. Nature communicated better than me. Within a short time, everyone was stamping snow, sliding on it, holding it in their hands. When it was time to leave, an old gloom returned. The snow session had been like a quick entry to and exit from another dimension. Now we were once again in familiar space. I was silent. A boy came up to me and asked which religion dominated the Himalayas. I took the question seriously, called on my walks around, and gave him an overview. His need was more specific — would there be a place of worship belonging to his religion somewhere around? Then others in the group spoke of missing their weekly discussions on religion. I tried my best to relate. I couldn't. For me, the only God right then was the snowed out mountain.

This wasn't the first time a young person had surprised me, being born in the 1960s and seeing the universe as God. At another camp, in another part of the Himalayas, another school student admonished me for eating meat, because on that particular day of the week, people hailing from my religion, weren't apparently supposed to. Right in front of us was a glorious stretch of the Himalayan peaks. The boy had no eyes for them.

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

Published on January 11, 2012
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