My dearest Saur,
I have never written a letter addressed to a place as I was always intimidated by the largeness of the spaces I inhabited. I felt like a non-entity there. I make an exception for you tonight, because you make me feel like I was an entity of some significance here.
I sit under the canopy of the starry sky, where a scintillating full moon and its magical light descends directly upon me. I am braving the cold and taking over my evening spot on Mausi’s terrace, just like I used to in those days of September. I am leaving tomorrow, uprooted from your comforting arms to return to the push and pull of city life. I sit here with a heavy heart, full of both inexpressible sadness and boundless gratitude for everything that you made me feel in these last six months.
On the first day, I took a walk around, and saw your walls painted with simple, yet endearing patterns, with portraits of women, with scenes depicting Garhwali culture and rural life. It was love at first sight, even though I hardly admitted it to you in my initial days.
It’s not just your beauty — an elongated u-shaped village situated right above a stream, surrounded by rugged mountains on all sides; but it was how you made me feel from the very beginning. There was an air of peculiar familiarity about you, as if I had rested here in some lifetime and I was brought back to pause again, away from the maddening rush of city life.
I will be honest though, I wasn’t completely at peace from the moment I came here. I fought hard to make peace with you. This might seem paradoxical, but your vibe disquieted me on a much deeper level than a new place usually would. And I denied it, for the longest time, until I revelled in your magnificence completely one day, and you wrapped me in a loving embrace.
Was it the rains that got us closer? I remember how the bunch of red roses behind my hut looked after a night of rainfall, with residual raindrops garnished over their supple red petals. And that sight of the heavy fog rising from the bottom of the valley and blending with the clouds, was a grand sight that you showcased. I could not stop gaping in awe for hours at it and if it weren’t so cold outside, I would’ve sat all day and sang with an open throat to you.
Saur, you taught me to surrender, sometimes through necessary sternness and more often through unconditional love. You gave me patience, by sending countless delays my way, which was an integral virtue to have by my side for accepting the life I was to have with you in those months.
I relate to you on so many levels. Your plight of physical abandonment, of having to witness the trauma of seeing aspects of you leave, and settle in the upper, parent village, resonates with the trauma I have been through when my siblings left one by one, from our huge family and became parts of other families. I feel your grief of being deserted, I can connect to your despair, I can even weep with you for your loss. I used to think how barren you must feel sometimes, like those barren trees of winter, who are robbed of their leaves. But they see through the season, only on the promise of spring where new, fresh leaves would adorn them.
Does your spirit hope for the same some day? I think so. But your people are so rich in loss, my dear, for you have the power of love by your side. Your people are rich in things that matter so deeply in life. They embody the simplicity and resilience that we city people can only hope to build one day through deliberate attempts.
One of the most remarkable things about you is that you have witnessed so much, and yet you have only love to give in return. And this is the most poignant lesson I am taking away from you. I am so grateful for it, I am so grateful to you for allowing me to belong to you, even when I held on tightly to the belief that I could never belong anywhere.
In your energy, I ambled slowly into the forest all by myself, despite warnings about meeting leopards or tigers. I ventured into the unknown parts of the mountains around you fearlessly. I was very scared in the beginning, on the first visit on my birthday, but your presence from a distance, the reverberating sound of Garhwali music widening its reach into the valley from one of your houses reassured me that I was never too far from you and also that I could always come back to you. Under the green shelter of your aura, I came to love the trees in my closest and farthest vicinity more deeply. I hugged them on many an occasion, they made me feel like I wasn’t alone, when I could
not reach out to people.
My lovely Saur, you stroked me with such care and gentleness, especially that side of me which is too edgy, that I was vulnerable once more, with you. You catapulted me into fully accepting solitude and at the same time, you showed me the shadow side of this kind of solitude. And I love so much for that, because I wouldn’t have valued the connections I have in my life without seeing this contrast, without having lived with you.
Today, we sauntered about gleefully in your space for the last time, but within I was overwhelmed by gloom and departure blues. After saying goodbye to each family, we reached Padma Bhaiya’s house, our neighbours, our favourite family, and what Bhaiya said summed up the collective sentiment that we are all feeling. He said, “When we live around certain people, we get used to seeing them, hearing them every day and it doesn’t matter much, but it is only when they leave that we realise how big an empty space they left behind.”
Saur, when I spent many a days in your care, I took it for
granted, I slipped into mulling over how mundane everything had become; but it is now when I am leaving, that I realise how deep and huge a territory you occupy in my heart. I am taking away the strength that your memory renders me, rather than the despair and grief that your absence and parting from you is going to make me feel.
I cannot say you transformed me completely as a person, that you have changed the most fundamental facets that make myself what I am. No. But you mirrored me with austere honesty, you brought me closer to awareness, and that means a lot more to me than tangible massive changes. Being in your shade opened up realms for me that I never thought I could access. You taught me that catharsis will always be one step away, I simply have to let myself be. And in the end I realised, that you are as much a part of me, as I am of you. That we come to a place, to melt into the pores of its soil, that we are ultimately together in this experience on our journeys. I understood eventually, after being at a silent conflict with you, that you and I are one.
And for this, I am eternally grateful.
Saur, you were not merely a milestone on my trail, but a distinctly enticing trail in itself, brimming with surprises, flashes of insight and sublime love through and through. These past six months have turned out nothing like I had anticipated or wished for, they have oscillated from terribly bad to infinitely beautiful. You snatched away my expectations, and gave me more than I had asked for, in a way that I could not have predicted. With you, I finally accepted the realm of the unknown. Needless to say, I am leaving a part of me here, an old version of myself that can be buried beneath the earth.
Tell the trees I will come back and hug them with even more love someday, convey to the birds that I have been an avid listener to all their beckoning calls, tell your people that they have empowered me so much and that they hold immense power within themselves, tell the animals that I am grateful for the love they gave me without so much as a movement of their feet, tell them that I love them for communicating with me, tell your children that their happiness is not an illusion, that hope is a wonderful thing to have by your side; tell the stars and the moon that I love the hue of the mountains on them; tell the assertive winds to bring you blissful rainfall rather than storms, tell the clouds to keep shapeshifting and never fall into a mould. Lastly, tell the forest and the meadows that their space was my refuge, where my voice broke out of its cage and opened its wings to the air.
Thank you, dearest, for calling me to your nurturing abode.
With all my love,
Revati is a photographer, francophile, lover of snail mail and an occasional poet who was a part of a pilot fellowship by Project Fuel and DueNorth. She spent 6 months coordinating projects and documenting the momentous and profound everydayness of Saur, a quaint ghost village in Uttarakhand