Passing the annoying swarm of kids, who with torn shorts and mud-laden shirts, wantonly ran with seemingly no purpose, I arrived at the doorstep of a pale green wall only clad by a neatly carved piece of wood hung on to it by a single feeble nail. On it, with recently brassed embossed letters read the sign: ‘Hotel Magnifique estd 1937’ .
(no, this tale is not based in any section of Central Europe, nor is it about any remnant pro-colonial die-hard still inhabiting what was once a French colony, but this story resides in the high and hilly town of Ranat, well poised at the foothills of the Himalayas in Eastern India. The hotel, built in 2004, used to be called ‘Hotel Kilaasik’ until the management realized that the high-brow French twist improved sales by 34%. Class is most times but just a marketing gimmick)
This was going to be my base for the next 3 days as I would touristy-ly observe and encroach.
First things first. Let’s lay out a demographic baseline of Ranat by classifying complex individuals into categories. There were exactly three kinds of people to be found here:
a. The bearded and braided Western tourist with an ‘OM’ laden orange shirt, almost convinced that as advertised in the brochure, (s)he would finally find higher meaning in the world by a few more sips from the ‘holy river’ and a few more whiffs of the local sage’s ‘holy smoke’ (the sage had a neat halo over his head in the brochure – That had to count for something).
Indeed, modern day Nirvana now simply constitutes of being high with just a dash of diarrhea.
b. The goatee donning, Nike obsessed obese Indian (Hi.), carrying European backpacking memories and with just another cushy job in America land, taking 7 of the allowed 11 vacation days to discover his own country for the first time. Taking artsy pictures with a Nikon camera pushed into the faces of old poor men and women, looking for that singular defining moment when their perennial calm smiles dim, brows raise, wrinkles emerge and eyes fill with bewilderment, at the sight of a magnified lens aimed at their face. Somber expressions sell.
c. The local folk. Selling brochures, amulets and local trinkets to the Westerners and wandering Indians. [ money(c) = stupidity(a+b) ]
I lied before. There are more than three kinds of people to be found in Ranat, but three is a good prime number to throw in here to desperately try and retain your attention for a bit.
There are in actuality seven kinds of people to be found in that small mountain town. No, that was just another lie. Although it would become the truth if it said so just above the sage’s halo on that brochure. Brochures after all, like the internet, are sources of unmeasurable credibility.
Having just driven, ridden and hiked for the past 17 hours and as the late evening skies turned a shade darker, the pale green walls of Hotel Magnifique now shone to me like the fresh leaves of spring. I turned the knob of the large, albeit ornate, wooden door before me. Pushed it creakily open, inhaling the mild scent of what smelt like pages from books from the long untouched corners of public libraries.
I was now all set to check-in, set my luggage down and spend the remainder of the day getting some well deserved shut-eye.
Sigh, that sleep never did happen. The hours to follow only went from uncertain to bizarre, from mysterious to revealing, from feeling well adjusted in life, to being stirred by the most unassuming inhabitant of the tiny town at the foothills of the giant white mountains…
Writing a fictional story is one hell of an arduous task, as I have been learning. There is so much thought, planning and craft in execution required. Anyhow, with very less heed given to quality, I’ll try learning the art more and hope to continue the above tale soon with day 2. [If you have reading material suggestions for how to write
fiction better, do comment and share]