WINTER ISSUE

October was on the brink of November

October was on the brink of November. Just like Lakpa’s car was on the brink of an undulated height of a bump, teeming with the sort of impatience that could be heightened with only a swig of concentrated Honey Bee[1]. The car went into a swirl around each golai[2], the language of each curve met on the road from Shyamnagri to Dorjiling flowed through him like his mother tongue. With the bottle of hard rum on the left hand, that he chugged down his throat in episodic breaks; his right hand on the steering wheel, Lakpa furrowed his eyebrows in deep concentration. The road was dark. He checked his watch, two in the morning.

He was caught in the perils of the witching hour. Much talked about around his contemporaries, around casual drinks. He had got a whiff of some spectral haunt that took place here – around this time of the night – through them. The rum was a deliberate anti-depressant. Or to be precise, an anti-spectre potion. Lakpa had sworn in to get so drunk by the time he was taking his car in round swirls up the Mohini road. This was his potion to keep the spectre out. And it was his aim that night to get so drunk that any aspect of encountering even a tincture of a spectre was all lost to him.

He had stopped by Rohit’s gaming parlour a friend cum pornography supplier. But it was known to his family that Rohit helped install Lakpa some niche latest songs on his Nokia 1000. He had asked Rohit, to burn some music on a CD. Lakpa was a nomad in a digital world. The night he was coiling up the hills from the plains, he blasted music from his music system will all the music Rohit had copied on the CD. It reminded Lakpa of his childhood somehow, The loud music and Honey Bee. His father was a connoisseur of radios. He had a collection of them. And displayed them on a rack just above his bed. His radio collection increased in number like the mouths he had to feed. Some of the radios were stolen products that were sold in the Sunday haat[3]. The sellers sold leather gloves and watches. With no apprehension of getting caught.

Sunday haat was made for people like Lakpa’s father. Whose romantic, artistic life outweighed the stressors arising from a hand to mouth relation he had with the economy. It was intense. But the radios, they kept on adding on the rack. The rack was only a wooden beam. Nailed carelessly by a father who was spifflicated on cheap rum and stolen radios. Over time, the rack only hanged under the immense weight from all the radios. And his liver gave away and he got bed ridden. Ama Tsuldum pounded herbal Tibetan meyn[4] from Meyn-Tse-Khang[5] using a pestle and mortar. She would go thump thump thump with the classic device. Its first use to be dated back to the Neolithic Age. One morning when she had only been slushing bhoe-cha[6] for breakfast. She heard a crash.

Lakpa had been only six years of age. But he remembers the crash till date. And the bhoe-cha that was spilt on the kitchen floor. He was practicing his handwriting on a notebook that had its edges turning inwards, like a giant ear, rather an amjo khapse[7]. As if they had waited ever so patiently to hear the crash that particular day. No sooner than Lakpa had shut his notebook and walked in the room that was partly a living room and partly a family bedroom. He and Ama Tsuldum had instantly met each other’s eyes. In a flicker of a tear drop that rolled down Lakpa’s flushed dry cheeks. Both mother and son had a tacit understanding. They rushed towards the bed Lakpa’s father had been lying on. He had been buried underneath his radios. They removed the rack and radios off of him. But he just lied there. With shut eyes and face wearing a demure hue, that made all signs of life having been snuffed out of him. The other children had come inside later. Doma the eldest daughter who had been out in the sun drying the laundry that she had carelessly hand washed; Gyatso the light haired one; then came the whole bunch of them: Rapsel, Ngyima, Dawa, Yangla, Norbu, Sonam, Wangmo and Sangbo. Who were fixated on playing marbles outside, in the aagan[8]. The news of the death of Lakpa’s father had floated in and about the town like his soul and finally settled when the nearest monastery was informed of the death of Lakpa’s father. And a few monks were requested to be sent in.

Lakpa on his car, shook his head in a disagreement. As if he wanted to un-respond to the crash if he could go back in time. The bottle of Honey Bee had gotten just to the right temperature now. He rolled down the window of his side of the car. And felt the air play with his hair. Tease his skin. Mohini road, silent and empty like as if it had lost touch of civilization. He looked outside the window. He had a shaky conviction that things were not as bad on Mohini road. As his contemporaries in the Dorjiling Driver’s Association had discussed. There was an ocean of darkness lit by one too many bespattered houses below. The hills gave one a vantage point to look back on the distance covered on ascending its undulating hills.

Currently, Lakpa’s music system blasted a song from the 90’s. Chalte chalte mere ye geet yaad rakhna, kabhi alvida na kehna[9]. It echoed through the desolate road.He had just entered the part of Mohini road that was thick and impenetrable in its forest cover. The song hit him cold. His father had adjusted the station on his radios to play this song. It was played on station 75.4, Lakpa was the only one to keep around the house. And aid his father in sickness. He was a homely fellow. Hardly talking to his neighbours even. It was him who kneaded the dough in the kitchen for phale[10]on regular days, and when Losar[11] came, Lakpa’s arm muscles were toned as if made of steel. His Honey Bee had been wearing off. He thought of taking a swig just after the bend around the corner.

Lakpa was in a state of mind, that only made prominent the memory he had repressed all along. Changing gears and steering his wheels, it hits him. The memory of the day that his father had to be cremated. That was a week after his father’s death. Ama Tsuldum was expecting some distant relative to show up during the cremation day of her husband, maybe. Maybe she had a voice from a deranged ghost say unto her ear, to delay the cremation of her husband. Or perhaps, it was only her disbelief at the gravity of the calamity. All the village folk, in their unbreakable community spirit, bound by sisterhood and brotherhood. Buzzed in and out of Lakpa’s house. Khada[12] flying at his father’s body out of nowhere, when they took off to the cremation point on foot, at eleven kilometres. His father’s body, it was discussed among the village folk, was almost in mint condition. Like as if he was breathing from somewhere underneath, and would get up any time.

Saang[13] and mantras that filled the air had a disturbing babel to it, after they had covered some 5 kilometres. Lakpa was affront, crying and clinging unto the pangdyein[14] of a hopeful Ama Tsuldum. They turned around to check what the cacophony had been about. From the stretcher that earlier carried a body in deep repose of convalescence had a man resurrected that looked around in dismay at the fuss going on beneath him. People having spotted a dead man come back to life, gave a causal effect of a breathless running about. In a perplexed state of mind, Lakpa’s father tugged at the hand of one of the muscular men carrying his weight from beneath the stretcher. The balance that placed Lakpa’s father high in the air was disrupted, as all four men carrying him dropped the stretcher and were to be seen nowhere.

Sangbur[15] was hurled headlong somewhere down the bushes. Lakpa’s father having landed with quite a crash. Was fresh as a blooming marigold. He realised he was wrapped around a shroud. Standing up and to move towards his wife and children was a foregone conclusion. He waved his arm at them. He flashed a smile at them. They moved towards him with the caution that had them pacing four steps back with each step taken forward. They looked at him like as if he were a leopard released from a zoo. They were poker faced. On his way to the cremation site at Gobibari. The road was strewn with khada. Lakpa’s mother frozen in time. His siblings slowly taking their steps back. Lakpa swallowing his adrenaline rush, blinking his eyes, doubtfully called out, “Pala[16]?” Meanwhile, his father thrown on the Bung Jung Road, out of his stretcher made no response. His only attempt was to butterfly himself out of his shroud-y cocoon.

When the monks came back, they had a huge chanting of mantras, and sprinkling tuih[17] on Lakpa’s father after each line, their hands shivering. Clothes were brought for his father to wear and they all set off for home. No word was passed among the clique that wanted to take Lakpa’s father. Living or dead. A disgruntled malami[18] was waiting for them outside their house. In silence, incorporation of Lakpa’s father to the society continued. Their relatives kept away from them. Who had earlier prayed for the good health of Lakpa’s father in sickness and got maneyribu[19] for his good health. Lakpa’s siblings continued playing amongst themselves. Marbles held in between their fingers that squeaked then brushed against their woollen gloves. They held universes in between their fingers. Lakpa who kept away from the lot of them and had friends, was ignored by them. They walked past him. He had grown dead after his father was unwelcomed alive. Bullied by the gigantic Topden in the football ground. He only wiped his tears with a pullover he had on. The only pullover that he had, with holes in them. The rims of the sleeves distressed that receded back from his wrist each week. After Dolma gave them a wash each Friday.

Lakpa’s father had lived. Ama Tsuldum did not have to take her pagdyein off for quite some time. She had his company for another thirty years. And it was seen that Lakpa soon start earning for the family. On turning sixteen, he was made an apprentice to Ranjan Rai who had three cars. And lived across the street. Ranjan was a driver by profession. And soon taught Lakpa how to wash his cars, using a sachet shampoo at Re.1 for each car, bought from Surinder’s shop. Lakpa washed Ranjan’s car for two years. Using a pipe hose connected to a tap inside Ranjan’s house.

He was taught driving once he turned eighteen. Ranjan helped him through the documentation of obtaining a driver’s license. All the small-town care overflowing out of him for Lakpa. Ranjan took Lakpa in the early hours of the morn for driving lessons. Ranjan clutched onto the steering wheel with his two hands that had each alphabet of the name ‘Kajal’ tattoed on his eight fingers and two thumbs. He took in a drag of smoke from his right hand, most of the times. Then, Lakpa only tucked sweetened beetle nut shreds in his mouth. Those were the days, Lakpa had enjoyed, going on long drives with the only intent of going where the road took them.

And now, he has been driving for some hour and twenty-three minutes all alone on the Mohini road. His car has just hit the forest cover. Lakpa takes a swig of Honey Bee that sends a burning sensation down his throat and intestines. Settling warm in his tummy. He was grateful to have been associated well with Rohit. Such amazing music to keep him company. It had been a year since Lakpa’s father was cremated. Finally. For real this time.

The responsibility of getting groceries, for his father’s death anniversary from Shyamnagri was conferred on him. He had dropped a few tourists at Hatidogra Airport from Dorjiling. And it took him some time to get everything on the list from Kusasari Market, in Shyamnagri. He purchased his liquor from a local liquor store. And after having everything settled, moved to Dorjiing at around one in the morning. This was what he had planned on telling his family. He would not mention the part where he had gone to meet Saraswati Tamang. Who worked as a salesgirl in a garment shop, in Shyamnagri. He had seen her when he had entered the shop with Ama Tsuldum two years years before his father’s final and actual death. She was looking for fabric to tailor a chupa[20] for Dolma for her wedding. Dolma was reluctant to come and shop with them. She wanted to wear the motheaten chupa of her mother she had worn on her wedding. Stored in a trunk under the bed. The silk was exquisite and the tailoring was done in Lhasa.

Lakpa and Saraswati were glued to each other on Lakpa’s next visit to the store. He had been asked to get some more chupa material for his other siblings. Dolma has been married for three years now. Lakpa has been taking Saraswati in his car, around Shyamnagri for three years now. A love wrought in car rides; open windows; racing hearts and music played from Rohit’s CD. And when the both thought the time was ripe. They drove to a river bank. That hardly had any people around. Scrolled up the windows. Locked the doors after having moved to the backseat. Their skin raised in goose bumps, and shifting into one too many positions. Leather jackets taken off. Trouser flies were off. Brassieres deliberately unhooked. In the nearby rivulet. The sun kissed the shimmering water a final goodbye. Inside the car, beads of perspiration that appeared on their face shone. Hot and steamy encounters. All of it was savoured.

At two and some minutes in the morning, Lakpa was distressed. It was his father’s death anniversary in two days. And tonight, Saraswati and him had driven to the rivulet. They were meeting after a month. She had been to her brother’s place in Totaguri. Her sister-in law was having a baby. She was called to assist her. Tonight, inside the car, there was no switching to the backseat, no clasping of hands and aggressive unclothing. Saraswati broke the news. Lakpa’s seed was growing inside of her. Saraswati placed his hand on her stomach. The signs of pregnancy weren’t that apparent. She had only been a month pregnant. A resentful and bitter condolence from Lakpa that asked her to get herself aborted. Shattered Saraswati’s heart into a million pieces. Tears were shed. Lakpa, would be covering all the expenses. And would be there for Saraswati during her abortion and after. He would keep away from home, on the context of having the parts of his car serviced at Shyamnagri. He would rent a house for a month. For Saraswati and him to stay until she healed from her surgery.

Lakpa’s eyes were red and looked dead ahead on an eerie road that he managed to numb his senses from. With the brandy and Saraswati’s alarming pregnancy. And winding left and right on the Mohini Road. You never know what you would encounter on the next turn. It was discussed that it was named Mohini road after Mohini. The expectant spectre. Legend had it, that Mohini traced the ragged ground of the forest in her spotless white saree. It was said that she wore her hair long, it did not stop at her waist even. It flowed like a river off of her head, reaching her ankles almost. Her skin ageless. Not a wrinkle. And porcelain white. Piercing eyes and lips curled into a smile on only one side of her face. Her laughter was said to ring with coquettish high pitches and hypnotise men. Mohini, was believed to entrap men and the witching hour was the ripest time of the night to assist Mohini in hear feat.

With a sharp shriek that flitted when Lakpa pulled over, at having a deer run across the road before him, the tyre released a burnt smell due to the friction. He takes a deep sigh. His senses are on high alert. He hit the brakes at the right time, at least. There was no sin committed. He tried to but he could not get his car to a start again. The engine of the car needed servicing, he guessed. He gets out of the driver’s seat. He moves forward. Trying to bring the engine back to life. His fingers are only stained with the cheap grease Raju Motors, the car servicing garage Lakpa would take his car to, used extensively. He spits on the ground. Outside, it is cold. There was danger lurking from the woods. And he was all alone. With no companion. Lakpa, looks around. The wind has been blowing around. Leaves rustling at this time of the year. Had his edges on end. The autumn wind would give a shaking to the pine trees. Birds would flit around the woods. Lakpa’s car with the lights on soon attracted all the gnats that the woods had to offer. He could smell marigolds lingering in the air. And his stomach gave a low grumbling. He had not carried any food on him. His backseat was bursting with cartons of dalda[21], et al. The engine did not roar back to life, on his trying to put the car to a start. He goes to check the car engine yet again, another time. And as he bent low fixing the wire. He had a feeling, that he was not alone. That he had a company. He looks before him towards the car, and sees only long stretched shadows of the pine trees.

He tries and takes a little peep behind him. From his left shoulder. He spots a figure, clad in white. His chest cannot withhold his loud beating heart. It was pretty tall too. His legs froze as if the cement had come to a drying. He feels the need to urinate and what else? Lakpa is profusely sweating, he tries but cannot bring himself to turn around. His spine has a chill, he had never felt before. The figure moves closer to him he can hear the garment of the figure brush on the road smoothened out by oil, coal and tar.

It stands behind him. Breathes near his ears. Its mouth, close at the nape of his neck. Its breathing has Lakpa’s shoulder muscles in a tension, his skin raised in goose bumps, and his mouth dry. The figure parts its lips and sings a song. It’s the kind Lakpa has never heard before. And the figure then lances right before him now. Lakpa is face to face with the figure. He is gobsmacked at the sight. Both blink at each other for some time. The figure is the one to break the ice between them. Not Mohini, thought he. The figure introduced herself as being the wife of Ram Bahadur. Who lived in Jaubari. She had to go the hospital in Dorjiling. Reach there earliest as possible. One of her relatives was expecting her. Lakpa was relieved. She could not be Mohini, at all. She did not have long flowing tresses of hair. And her skin was far from being porcelain white. It was rather tan. And she had wrinkles near her eyes, that is formed from squinting much under the sun.

Lakpa asked her to be seated inside. On the front seat. All else was occupied. Lakpa got on to fixing the wires and let the motor cool. He tries to revive his engine again, this time he is successful, it is roaring. They move towards Dorjiling, having each other’s company. Lakpa is glad to have tossed the empty rum bottle out of the window earlier. It would make a bad first impression. Nevertheless, he reeked of brandy. But his new friend failed to take notice. She enjoyed the music Lakpa had back on after driving. But never sang to it. They were silent for the better part of the time. Both looked forward. Straight on the road ahead of them. But Lakpa could feel her eyes resting on him. Maybe, that’s just female gazing he guessed. She is only checking for her safety. They take swirl around the golai and sway left and right. Once, the turn is so adverse, Lakpa’s new founded company is almost lying on his shoulder, and places her hand on his thigh. Her hand was light and soft. But it was enough to make all else feel hard. He could feel his member grow inside his pants. And despite she not having a face from heaven. She was beautiful in her own way, with no makeup on. Her body was not as lean as Saraswati’s, Lakpa observed.

Yet another time, it is her to make the first move. She asks about his whereabouts. He is more than glad to talk to her. Her voice was sweet. Responding with a “ae…. hai”[22] after each sentence that he dropped. And he need not ask her about hers, she had told him already. They just listened to music in silence. Lakpa was more than grateful to Rohit for the music. It masked the seething sexual tension between the two of them.

But things changed after some time. She broke a question to Lakpa, asking him what he thought about Mohini. Lakpa and her had still been driving across the forest cover. Lakpa resists but he says what he feels like regardless, “abo[23]…what should I say? Mohini is pale as the moon, has long hair and loves to haunt men who drive alone on this road at the dead of the night.” She smiled at hearing his response. It had been an hour. The clock struck 3. “Daju[24]”, she called out. Lakpa was dismayed for being fraternized. “Drop me here” she said, in the middle of the nowhere, “I will drop by at my sister’s and drop her a message.” It broke Lakpa’s heart. “Right here?” Lakpa asks. “Hajur”[25] she replies. And Lakpa then brings his car to a halt. He drops out and before leaving off, turns around, she says “you have wrong notions about me” and flares her nostrils. Lakpa was baffled. He had done her charity by giving her a lift in his car and had not even charged her. He was defensive and spat a “what do you think about yourself, baini[26]? Khai[27]…. thinking of yourself as a heroine or what?” She knit her eyebrows, ready to lash onto Lakpa, “No, Mohini. I gave you company and look at you. Ungrateful. That is why I ask my sister to haunt the lot of you and bring your blood to me”. And left.

Mohini? What was this woman? No one quite knew. Is she a spectre, a witch, a spirit? If she is a spectre why did she feel so human? If she is a witch, why hasn’t she been stoned to death. Jangdo Jyakri[28] would surely love to do that, his pockets have not jingled with coins in a long time. It would be a good ego boost for him too. But there was a possibility that Mohini’s body be a host to a spirit. Then, how could one possible exorcize the wraith?

Lakpa was speechless. He could not move for quite some time. Mustering up his courage he could only do so much as closing the door which Mohini did not slam, despite her sheer display of haughtiness. And now……he felt something wet and warm between his thighs. Lakpa was not a bed wetter but rather a at-the-prospect-of-Mohini-I-am-a-car-seat-wetter. Outside, the sun was slow on its rise. Inside, Lakpa sat frozen. With a conviction that he had not been all alone after Mohini left. There was some energy stirring inside the car. He could not understand what. He grabbed his steering wheel and drove off, screaming Om Mani Pema Hum[29] at the top of his lungs, with his eyes fixated on the dimly lit road before him. He feels a hand creep over his arm. Lakpa can hear his heart thudding in her ear, as it had sprung up on his shoulder. With all his senses numbed, he has lost all control of the steering wheel. The wraith then corrects him, “You should be chanting Guru Rinpoche’s mantras. Though it does not help. I am speaking from experience.” 

The stretch from Shyamnagri to Dorjiling was resounding in the reverberated laughter of the sisters. People thought the forest was breeding in hyenas other than foxes and wolves. They did not have one in the zoo, and glad they would be able to see one from now.

Ama Tsuldum was confronted by a certain Gyenla Tsering, a day later, on the day of her husband’s death anniversary. He had newspaper clutched under his arm. Ama Tsuldum was answered of her son’s absence. Why he had failed to get the groceries he was supposed to with the money she had entrusted him with. And why he never answered his phone. That her son had already been lying dead due to drunk driving while she had been cursing at him for his inadequacy. And that there would be no welcoming of Losar, again.  


[1] Honey Bee is a smooth and rich Indian brandy having honey which gives it a sweet taste.

[2] Meaning, curvature in Nepali.

[3] a market, especially one held on a regular basis in a rural area.

[4] Meaning, medicine in Tibetan

[5] also known as Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute, is a charitable institution based in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

[6] Tibetan milk and butter tea

[7] Also known as phungu amjo [donkey’s ear] is a rather huge deep-fried snack usually enjoyed during Losar or the Tibetan New Year

[8] Meaning courtyard in Nepali

[9] Translation: While going along, remember this song of mine.. Never say farewell. Movie: Chalte Chalte.

[10] Tibetan bread

[11] Tibetan New Year

[12] White silk scarf used on all Tibetan occasions

[13] Herbs that are burned to ward off ill luck and negativity

[14] A colourful apron worn by only married Tibetan women

[15] The utensil used to burn saang or herbs

[16] Meaning father in Tibetan

[17] Holy water for Tibetans

[18] Attendees of a funeral procession

[19] Tibetan medicine and enriched by spiritual blessing

[20] Traditional outfit for Tibetan women

[21] Also known as vanaspati, is saturated fat. Dalda is used amongst Tibetans as a substitution for butter for burning their butter lamps.

[22] The conversation between them is in Nepali. “Ae hai” can be translated as “ah, I see.”

[23] Meaning ‘now’

[24] Meaning ‘brother’

[25] Meaning ‘yes’

[26] Meaning ‘sister’

[27] Meaning ‘what’

[28] Jyakri is a shaman summoned for exorcisms among Nepali ethnic groups that speak the Tibeto- Burman languages

[29] One of the primal mantras for Tibetan Buddhists

About the author: Driktso (she/her) is currently pursuing her Bachelors in English Literature from her computer but is enrolled as a student at Delhi University. She has aided people in their book-writing journey. And hopes to write and publish a book of poetry someday, titled, “Why I don’t like People and 100 other Poems.” Driktso deems that poetry, like self hatred, comes untaught to us.

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