Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Earlier this year...

Leaving behind the city life seemed a thoroughly romantic idea. Images of virgin forests and introspective treks in the hills, gulps of clean air and watching rain slide off green slopes were seductive enough to lure me here. But as is the life cycle of bubbles that are fed on a diet of imaginary surfeit, mine too burst- leaving a damp vacuity in its wake.
The damp vacuity eventually revealed itself as my living quarters. Complete with lizards, millipedes, spiders and grasshoppers that come and go as they please.

Opening your windows to the great outdoors lets in a host of creepy crawlies that insist on sharing your bedroom. The Be One With Nature packages, designed for the well-fed tourist, are for those who long to escape from urban chaos but not from hot water, cable television and fluffy pillows. This time around I was in no such Resort In The Wild Made To Look Fascinatingly Rustic.

At dawn the birds started their racket, announcing the very first ray to filter through the woods. Wake up sleepies. A freckled frog squatted comfortably in the bathroom sink- enjoying the occasional fat droplet that dripped from the tap. I allowed my amphibious guest some privacy while I stepped outside, determined to enjoy daybreak.
Through the trees, I saw swatches of red and yellow. A few women were trickling out of the compound gate towards the open paddy fields. One waved to me and I followed. A welcome morning walk. We followed a trail that wound its way through the neon green and led to a gurgling, giggling stream. As we knotted our hair, I looked at the sparkling water. An open-air bath in a cloud was infinitely more inviting than one in a tiny, walled enclosure.

I was suddenly delighted with the dupatta I had around my neck, something I often consider a waste of cloth. For though skinny-dipping may be allowed in some parts of the world, interior Orissa is not one of them. And you can’t undress on a riverbank in a field in a village.

I quickly learnt the fine art of draping a dupatta around myself- avant-garde half sari, half asymmetrical short skirt. I tossed aside my cushioned sole supports and stepped onto the wet stones, searching for my own little cascade. Ride the current down the curve of a rock. My own waterslide to a fresh water shower. Watching the water eddy around me in tidal waves of white foam. Crisp, seeping right through the instant-wrap bathing suit- a soaked wet wraparound. Drowning in the refreshing cool.

Someone tossed me some coconut fibres and pointed to my sneakers, left in a mudpuddle. Looking around at the impromptu wet-sari-song-sequence the four of us had choreographed; it felt strangely incongruous to be scrubbing a pair of bulky Adidas in the wilderness. Mental note: Leave logos behind next time.

Women in wet block prints, shiny shoulders and backs reflecting the early morning sun. This modest bathing ritual seemed incredibly sensual to me. Makes you wonder why jeans are considered inappropriate. But it’s best to leave these arguments somewhere along the dusty highways that bring you to a village.

It’s moments like these that remind me why I chose to live the way I am now. Suitcase survival tactics. Making sure my world can fit in a backpack. It’s enormously unreal when something as basic as the feel of mossy wet glossy rocks makes you feel intensely alive.
I’m still waiting for my sneakers to dry. For now though, I can still feel wet earth stuck to my feet when I wriggle my toes.