Crossing Streams

Before you know its worth, the incident you thought was just another drop in the ocean becomes part of an irretrievable history. And all you can do is to wonder if you’d lived it differently, would you still be the same.

If we had not been forced that day to go to a picnic of sorts with our parents, Chaitanya, my now dead brother, and I would never have crossed the stream to enter a different world. Shergaon, we discovered with time, was an example of a place where people don’t bother with inane things like time. A hamlet about 20 km from Tenga Valley, our home-of-the-year in one of the Indian states called Arunachal Pradesh, it lived a life quite removed from what we had ever seen.

Almost 30 years ago, I was just as reclusive as I am today, and just as awkward in forming human ties. I preferred a book, or a pine needle instead. Even a newly-legged toad would do. One of these attractions was precisely why, I think, I turned down my parents’ offer to picnic that morning. Well, no, it wasn’t an offer, it was an instruction to get damn well ready for it. They won, I sulked.

It was the same story with Chaitanya. (We call him Shonu affectionately.) Shonu was interested in playing cricket with his friends. But who was listening? We were sure at that time that they, our parents, were the worst anyone could be lumped with. How cruel they were! We were asked to get moving, get ready, and climb up the Jonga (an Indian army issue jeep-like vehicle) jolly well before they lost their top. Who’d heard of a picnic where the picnickers wanted to be elsewhere? And what fun would a village be anyway?

It was a tense drive. Our parents chattered aimlessly (so we thought); while we looked out of the window, wondering if there was a way out of this time-out from hell. Who’s to teach sense to an eight or eleven year old? A twenty-kilometre drive on most mountains in India takes about an hour. It seemed to me like the pine needles would turn brown sooner than we’d reach there. Papa’s “They’ve even got apple orchards!” “And there’s the Lion and Peacock dance this afternoon!” were all met with only Mummy’s enthusiastic exclamations. The target audience was busy looking out of their windows, and, yes — sulking.

Looking out of a car window at the distant mountains is the best antidote to imposed gaiety, trust me. It helped me then, it helps me now.

As we neared Shergaon, the purple-indigo mountains at a distance that could make your head spin at the thought of your tininess began to look more interesting than we’d admit at the time. “Look, that’s China,” Shonu informed me generously. If I were the current me then, I am sure I’d have heard my parents’ collective sigh. Their child — at least one of their children — had woken up! “Hrmmph. China’s not so close,” said I, even though the obvious distance and height of those giants were making my head spin. And I am sure, Shonu’s too.

Perhaps that’s why the conversation began rolling.

We talked of the orchards we were going to see, the butter tea we might have, the children with pink cheeks and dripping-with-the-thickest-possible-goo noses, the slightly scary looking lions with funny legs in the Lion and Peacock dance… Before we knew the time, we’d reached the stream that shhhd along the edges of two different worlds — one that made you do things, and the other that made you want to do things.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was 8, you had to drive through a shallow stream to reach Shergaon. And it made all the difference. The road we had left to reach the stream went on to even more distant lands — those of monasteries and valorous soldiers, and strawberries-under-the-snow. This road ended in a stream, and then went on to kiss the feet of a whole new world — that of blushing green apples, pea fields, houses on stilts. It was awesome. It was so awesome, I can even use the now-exploited word for it. Eyes agog, Shonu and I transformed along with the air. It was as if we could breathe magic. The dirt road was flanked by green fields; the houses were all made of wood painted red, or blue, or green. Or, left in a splendid naked. And their stilts! The people of Shergaon were wizards, I was now sure! I knew it was all because the magical people understood that the houses had to have some means of running away, should the lions decide to stop dancing. The gompha stood like the sole guardian of the valley. Everywhere we looked, we found stuff that makes memories. It was wonderland.

We went to a miller’s small house (it wasn’t on stilts, but had the most impressive carved wood rafters). He made us sit on a cot and offered us something that looked like gooey halwa. We forgot the taste that was so strange to our tongues because we finally saw some cute, apple-red cheeked toddlers lolling about in the courtyard. They all had dripping-with-the-thickest-possible-goo noses. Splendid!

As the morning turned to noon, we walked through the fields (I  don’t remember the crop) to reach the massive wooden courtyard at the back of a red building. I think it was the gompha, but it could’ve been a wizard’s palace.

Shonu ran away to climb up a stone wall to go to the courtyard. We were to sit there to watch the dance. Then the butter tea came. It had the power to bring down the rush of a newly-discovered wonderland, the taste of the brew was such.

But we were adamant. We, Shonu and I, had made up our minds to have the best picnic of our lifetimes. And it wasn’t difficult. We sat there, mesmerised, as the dance began; the tea bowls in our hands, we knew no other way to spend time. The dance, the drums, the smell of wood and incense all joined in. Staccato drone and thump of the drums made our heads all woozy with Shergaon. Well, it wasn’t just the drums.

We had picnicked to remember.


It is Rakshabandhan today. A festival in which sisters tie a string of love around the wrists of their brothers. The string is called rakhi — The Protector — urging the brothers to protect their honour and integrity. Rakshabandhan means The Bond of Protection. I tied rakhi to Shonu for 26 years. It’s been eleven years since he’s gone to, hopefully, a wonderland of which I know nothing yet. He’d have been 38 this Rakshabandhan (also called Rakhi to simplify matters).


Pronunciations in the order of appearance:

Chaitanya: Cha (as in charity) – I (as in indigo) – Tuhn – Yuh

Shergaon: Shar (as in shame) – Gaa – Ohn (n nasal)

Tenga: Tan (nasal n) – Gaa

Arunachal Pradesh – Uh – Run (as in Cameroon) – Aah – Chal Pruh – De (as in day) – Sh

Shonu – Sho (as in show) – Noo

Jonga: Joh – N – Gaa

Halwa (sweet-dish made of flour or cream of wheat): Huhl – Wah

Rakshabandhan: Ruhk – Sha – Bun – Dhuhn

Rakhi: Raa – Khi

A bonus:

Priya: Pri (as in primitive (!!)) – Yaa

All images, except that of the stream have been taken from the internet. The photo of the apple orchard is from a random search — it is not of Shergaon, but the trees resemble the ones in mind. The gompha is in Rupa, a place very close to Shergaon; and the stream at the end flows in a land very, very far away from Shergaon.


34 thoughts on “Crossing Streams”

  1. My dear friend, it makes me happy to know that you have this beautiful place to visit with Shonu whenever you’d like to remember, and rejoice. And now I have this beautiful post to read whenever I’d like a glimpse of one special step in your journey. I hope you’re proud of what you’ve created here, and will remain so. Woozy, indeed.

    1. I must thank you, Angelina, for coming here and giving this memory some of your time and my words your appreciation.

      Thank you.

  2. Priya, you are one of my rewards for blogging. I am a little girl right along with you – with parents who are, well…just plain insensitive to what little girls ought to be able to do.

    At least your brother and you were in cahoots. Whether my brother and I felt the same or not, we’d have found something to argue about.

    My parents, with 5 children, seldom had the chance to take us all to some gathering unless it was a stampede. But the thrill, the discovery, the excitement and enchantment sounds parallel.

    I adore your stories, Priya. If we all shared insights of our lives with people from any culture, we’d find the same feelings! What a blessing, this Internet! What a blessing you are – in all your modesty.

    1. Amy, you leave me speechless with your words. Thank you.

      Such trips to places, which initially made Shonu and me ready to rebel, or at least sulk, usually ended up being quite happily memorable, after all. I suppose our parents knew that we were two very independent, and yet imaginative minds — they always attempted to give us more fodder. And I cannot thank them enough for it.

      Four siblings! Gosh, that sounds like fun! My mother had eight, and my father were six siblings. I do envy the extension of love all of this means.

  3. Thank your for sharing the beautiful memory of your brother at that amazing place and also for the pronunciations at the end.

    Rakshabandhan is a beautiful custom – I’m glad you told us about it. I have two brothers whom I saw last week. I wish I’d known about the string tying custom – for sure I would’ve tied bracelets on their wrists.

    I can’t imagine you being reclusive. You’re so friendly and kind and extremely (underlined) thoughtful.

    1. Oh Rosie! I wish I could’ve told you earlier. But the day will come next year as well, and I’ll try to remember to remind you when it is (the date changes every year, you see.)

      I am a foolish girl — I want to interact with people, laugh with them, and try to create the same wavelength, if it is missing, but after a few moments, minutes, hours of trying, I feel drained, and go back to pasting a silly smile and staring at my fingers. Seriously, you must spend some time observing me to see it happen! With you, though, I am sure I am going to get busy learning about fish cake and moonlight treks.

  4. I was thrilled to read about your memories.I was transported to a very familiar territory where I spent the best part of my life. Thank you Priya!
    For the moment I am enjoying the sheer magic of your powerful narrative.

    1. Were you around Arunachal Pradesh, Daman? It is a beautiful land, with very beautiful people.

      We lived there for 3 years, and found some very generous and loving people. I was telling my sister-in-law recently about a shopkeeper there:

      We had annual function at the school, I’d participated in a dance in which I’d chosen to wear a white lehanga. To match the jewellery with it, I needed a white necklace. The friend, who’d promised to lend me hers, backed out at the last minute. My father rushed to the local market to look for it, but no shop had any! While talking to one shopkeeper, he saw that she was wearing a white poth necklace, and, unabashedly, but in his characteristic suave style, he asked if she could lend it.
      Her mother had given it to her and, understandably, she was reluctant, but when my father told her about my function — about to start in a few hours — she relented. I can never forget the joy her gesture gave me.

      Thank you for your visit, and time.

  5. 🙂

    phoolon ka taaro ka, sabka kehna hai,
    ek hazaaron mein, meri behna hai,
    saari umar, hame sang rehna hai,
    phoolon ka taaro ka, sabka kehna hai,

    Happy Rakshabandhan to you, Priya….

    (there’s a story behind this song for me, but that’s for another time..)

    Also, loved your words – ‘ two different worlds — one that made you do things, and the other that made you want to do things. ‘ – I feel like this the most when i am in the mountains.

    1. This song was iconic, in way, for most brothers and sisters when we were children, so thank you for reminding me of it.

      I hope yours was good, too, AIT — Rakshabandhan and Independence Day.

      Azadi ki Shubhakamnayein, dost.

      1. Oh Priya, i so SO loved your earlier theme !
        i think it worked well with textual posts as well with solitary photo posts.. ( okay, i have a selfish reason too – i loved the way my comments looked after 😮 )

        Tumhe bhi Swantrataa Divas ki Shubhkamnayein, dost 🙂
        (..yet to get azadi, i feel)

        1. I loved it, too, Thinker. And I just might go back to it once the problems with this one become more glaring to me than they are now. Also, I do believe this one is better with text, and pictures. It helps retain the pictures in the size like to show them, and the text is spread over the screen, leaving just a little margin on the sides. I have to agree with you that the worst part of this theme is the design in the comments section.

          Nothing’s perfect. And thankfully, there’s a list to choose from.

          Azadi and Swatantrata. I never noticed the difference between them, except that of the languages. But now that I think of it, there probably is a little difference. Thank you for making me see it.

  6. I hope you keep writing and one day publish a novel. Your talent for word juxtaposition is remarkable> Telling stories of ones family can be dry and boring, but you manage to draw us in as if we are with you.

  7. A beautiful post, as are all of your posts, Priya. It is rich with emotions, sights, sounds, and smells – antsy, sulky siblings in the back of the car, a bother and sister enjoying new experiences together, the vehicle splashing through the stream, ‘The dance, the drums, the smell of wood and incense all joined in. for you, then, and for me, now, as I read. Like An Idealist Thinker, ‘two different worlds — one that made you do things, and the other that made you want to do things’ spoke to me too. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories.

  8. I have chills reading about rakhi, the tie that bonds you and your brother. Beautiful. I hope you’re working on that book of yours? Whenever I read your words, there is not one single sentence or phrase I can pick out that moved me because they all move me! Your writing is so descriptive and unique, it transports me into other worlds and places I never knew existed (and am happy and thankful that I know them now through your view) I often have to come back and reread them and discover more magic and beauty in your memories. thank you for that, Priya and for sharing your childhood, dear brother and family with us.

    1. Thank you, Darla, for I never really knew that these memories and words could reach out and touch hearts the way it is obvious in your comments and those of the others. It, in a way, makes me happy that Shonu is living, after all.

  9. YOU see yourself as awkward in forming human ties? It doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems that your humanity, compassion, and empathy gather human souls to you like bees gather to suck the pollen from the flowers.

    I love this: “we’d reached the stream that shhhd along the edges of two different worlds — one that made you do things, and the other that made you want to do things.” That is such a lovely description, it puts me right there beside that stream.

    Your parents were wise, as most parents are, to drag you & Shonu away from the everyday and show you another world that would be with you for the rest of your lives…and beyond. This is a lovely post that reveals the depth of your love and your loss. Thanks for sharing with us.

    There is something magically restorative about nature.

    1. What would we do without Nature, Linda?

      All of our parents are indeed very wise in their own right. There is no way I could explain the extent of respect and wonder I feel towards the way my parents brought the two of us up.

      I am grinning with glee at the thought that I could con you into believing that I am not awkward. * bellows menacingly *

  10. Besides all the other images you’ve helped me see through your amazing words, the words, ” butter tea” have been on my mind for days now. I finally looked it up on the Internet. Now, I want some. I realize it has butter in it, but on a cold, rainy day, wouldn’t it be divine! Wouldn’t it warm your soul and then move on to warm the rest of you. I, too, cherish the times I have with my brothers. I know your brother is smiling upon you because you remember him so often.

    1. It has been raining constantly here since yesterday, Jean, and I think I could use some, too. I do not have favourable memories of the brew, but then I just had one bowl when I was too keen on other things to try unfamiliar tastes. I could easily ask for one now, and I am sure I’d love it. Perhaps we could have our bloggers meet (whenever it is) in Leh, a town in the northernmost part of India, very close to Tibet. We’d get good butter tea there. The last time I went there, I couldn’t have enough of their mint tea and lemon-ginger-honey. They’re both simply divine.

      Shonu must be smiling upon me, and saying, “Get over it already, cry baby.” Fool.

    1. The last one, Manifest, is appropriately delicate for poems. But I found it too restrictive with prose, so I looked and looked and finally found this — Pilcrow. I like it, too. I’d used it once before and wasn’t very happy with the heading font and colour. One can’t have it all…

      I wanted to work this one with its Showcase template to have a sticky front page with excerpts from the latest posts, but don’t know how to work it out yet. WP does makes things a little cumbersome with appearance. There is only so much one can do if they are not buying CSS and do not know HTML.

      Would you like to try this theme in the full length version as well? Instead of the side bar, you could have Footers for your links and such. I found it works very well with posts that have a lot of pictures, and yet, doesn’t just focus on them, but lets the prose have its share of attention, too.

      1. At least once a week I go to WP theme bank and “try” a few themes on EOSR. As you said, there’s no one that’s perfect and like you, I’m fussy about font colours and features like custom header and sidebars. You have more diversity in your blog that lends itself to changing up the theme – me, not so much.

        Do you have a revolving header? When I came on this morning it was an eagle (or hawk) and now it’s a yellow flower. That’s cool if you can do that. Do know that you could have the ugliest site and it wouldn’t deter me from reading your fine prose and staring at your photos!

        1. Oh? So I am decorating my home for nothing? 😦

          Yes, it is a random header. I have about 12 header images that are shown at random. I liked the idea initially, but not so much now, because the photo editor I am using somehow blurs out the fonts and they look pixelated here on the site. No PhotoShop in this computer. But I’ll do something about it. Thanks, EOS

    2. I had to come and see what EOSR was talking about because I didn’t notice you had changed your theme. I like it a lot. I didn’t know WP had a theme that went right across the page like this. Its nice and clean too.

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