I had a brief sabbatical at Khandala. The place was getting ready for the rains. Which, for Khandala, unlike other hill-stations, is the main season.
It may sound like a child's nursery rhyme, but I lived alone, in a large house, on a hill overlooking a valley. My only companions were the trucks and the cars that whispered along the road 1,000 feet below me. Well, 750 feet below me, and it is was a sheer drop. Day and night they moved along the road, the wheels if progress, emerging out of the tunnel, then spedding on to Khandala.
A caretaker came during the day, more to take care of the 2,000 orchids than me. The orchids were in a hothouse, rows upon rows of them in identical pots. Some of them of colours that a painter would find difficult to reproduce. All day they sweated in their controlled temperature. In the nights, when the place was locked up and their caretaker had roared off on his Bullet motor-bike to his home and family in Lonavla. I could hear the orchids talking to one another, recounting experiences in their native Bangkok and Darjeeling.
There was not much to do and yet there was a lot to do. Sitting on the lawns in an armchair and reading the Times that an agent of Mr. A.H. Wheeler delivered at the house on the hill four days our of seven. Watching the Sahyadris gently disappearing in a blue haze among the plains of Karjat. Consciously breathing in the chlorophyled air: inhale, one, two, three, exhale, one, two, three… Trying to beat the computer at chess and once in the seven days almost doing so. Sleeping in the afternoon, and, through the long twilight, observing the sun setting behind the Duke's Nose – Cape Gris Nez.
Then it would be the hour of the fireflies. Flitting from tree to tree and into the dark, silent house.
It was busy-peaceful life. There were books that I had taken along and I was determined to finish, away from the seductions of the video and the magazines. An old collection of Art Buchwald (returning to the guru, should I say?), James Thurber, and Mr. Naipaul's wounded Civilisation. It is only when you read Mr. Naipaul that you realise how petty and irrelevant he must be finding all of us, who converse with him and invite him to dinner, must be. And, perhaps, rightly so.
And so the days passed, slowly, and yet too fast. And the advance guards of the monsoon approached over the seas and unburdened themselves on to the ghats. The first day, there was a thin silver streak of water cascading down the mountain opposite the picture window of my bedroom. A full day of rains and the next morning there were two streaks. And on the morning I left, there were three, and possibly four, distinct waterfalls. The Khandala season was beginning, but I had to come back.