I was born and raised in a small village in north western India called Dhapla. Mine was not a hospital birth with doctors, nurses and machines surrounding a sterile bed where my mother lay. Instead she was writhing and moaning on a bed that looked and felt more like a material covered board. Meanwhile village women attended her every need with consoling, soothing voices, urging her and encouraging my arrival. The hands that were close during this time were gentle in movement although calloused and rough from work on the various farms in the area. My village is nestled in a valley far from the noise and everyday trappings of city life. Visitors are few as this farm rich land is reachable only by traveling through a jungle and crossing an empty rock laden riverbed. When the rainy season, known as monsoon arrives during the months of late July and early August, travel is treacherous and often not even possible. The rainwater fills and begins to rush into the riverbed forming intermittent whirlpools. The force is so great it is feared that a child or elderly person could easily be pulled underwater and swept downriver. The only way to travel between Dhapla and the other side of the mountain was by walking. As the years passed both jeep and motorcycle were being used and provided a much safer way through. You see, on the other side of this is a city called Kaladhungi. This is where the marketplace is, the doctors, the buses to neighboring cities and much more. Traversing the river was the only way to obtain some of the provisions we could not grow. Regardless, part of growing up a villager meant being able to cope with all that Mother Nature sent our way.
I may have been born in Dhapla, but my life changed when I was barely a year old. We lived in such a small village with no place to work, making life a bit difficult for my father and the other men in the village. Growing vegetables and fruits but also depending on good weather did not provide enough of a guarantee of sustenance for a sizable household. Much more was needed to support a family meaning it was often necessary for the man of the house to leave the village. With this concern in his head, my dad traveled to Delhi. There he found a steady job working in a government college, leaving my older brother, mom and me with other family members for a period of time. We briefly lived the farm life but soon a decision was made for us. We should all be together, opportunities seemed better in the city and a plan was made to leave Dhapla. Delhi was to be our new home and Dhapla, our old home. All this happened before I was even old enough to explore or get lost in the growing crops; in the blink of an eye we were uprooted.
Dhapla didn’t truly become a full fascination for me until I started spending family vacation there. Usually this was a period of about two months where mom, dad, my brother and I would join my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents in the valley between the monstrous green mountains. Looking back I have memories that make me smile. Toddlers, who are fascinated by lights and sounds, will seek both. I was no different and perhaps that explains why the most captivating memories I had as a young child were of bright green grass, bold yellow sun and the vivid reds, rosy pinks and majestic purples of wildflowers. My keen sense of hearing led me to the sounds of birds up in the canopy of trees surrounding the fields. They would chirp and caw causing my attention to wander trying to find them. At such an early age I was drawn to Dhapla’s beauty.
My family planned each summer break and our trip to Dhapla. This time brought me the greatest freedom from the confines of city life where I would be cooped up inside. Running wild with no worry was exhilarating and I often managed to find some mischief to get into. While writing this “flashbacks” popped into my head and I momentarily stopped to revel in their uniqueness. One depicts my grandmother nudging and guiding me while I tried to climb a tree. Lord knows why I wanted to go up there now. Could it have been to see a different perspective of the farm, or locate the bird that I heard singing to me just a short while ago? Then again, maybe it was the idea of being taller, older or I was a brave adventurer when I was up there. Like any other boy my age I had my share of scraped knees, a bruise or two but it never stopped me from being me.
Dhapla was blessed with beautiful fruit trees and some of the best producers were in the yard close to the house. A huge mango tree pre-dominated the front driveway with its many green orbs of sweet juicy fruit and not far from that tucked in a corner was a grape vine which resembled an overgrown bush. It was near this that I climbed one day when everyone left for their chores and I knew inevitably some of my family would go to the fields to harvest. I wanted to help as well and remembered the grapes growing by the building. Not wanting to be idle, I decided I’d find myself a prime, high perch to harvest grapes. After quite a period of time, my family must have sensed my absence because I started to hear my name being called in the distance. Soon it was not far from my grape picking spot. I was so proud of my abundant harvest and held clusters of deep purple grapes close to me. The way the wind carried the voices and the urgency with which they were looking for me made me feel that I should answer them and share my grape bounty. When they spotted me I could see the worry on my mother’s face and knew that I should get down. I was reluctant to leave the green confines of grape leaves but shimmied down with an arm full of yummy fruit. This became my favorite spot and I returned time and time again. I liked it for two reasons, its cooling shade and its tasty fruit.
The summer weather was usually hot and dry, with minimal to no rain. In order to provide water to the fields, irrigation canals were built. These “water ways” became a cooling spot for me and my siblings. We would sit on the walls of the canal and dip our feet into the frosty cold mountain water. This provided relief and entertainment as we splashed water on each other, soaking ourselves to the skin. I could literally spend hours there, listening to the birds, and watching for monkeys who tried to nab seeds or whatever grew within their greedy reach. As the months wound down and school loomed on the horizon we became somewhat blue. We knew we’d have to give all of this up to return to Delhi and school. I personally didn’t miss Delhi so much, only my friends. Packing and saying our goodbyes to my aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents always made me sad. I would stand for a few minutes and take it all in, looking at the mountains all around me, taking a deep breath of fresh mountain air, and listening to the gentle mountain water in the canal at my feet, I would pray the next ten months went by quickly as I was already thinking ahead to next summer. Hearing my name being called I walked through the fields of wildflowers, past the massive mango tree at the driveway and said my goodbyes.
As I grew, I went back to Dhapla time and time again. Summer was a time I looked forward to as it was filled with solace, beauty, the scent of the earth and the magic of growing.
To this day, Dhapla is heaven on earth to me and represents peace and freedom.