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WINTERBERRIES; A tribute to Ruskin Bond

The wind sweeps the last of the fallen leaves from the driveway. It was getting grey and dim outside. Bagira, our beagle boy sneaked inaudibly and sat by the fireplace. The bread was puffing up in the oven and steaming spiced tea was brewing in the kettle. The windows were creaking painfully as the hook could not resist the steady winds blowing down the valley. The sun had set earlier than usual and everybody managed to escape work early after the local radio announcement from the municipality. Before I could pour some milk into the tea, it was already dark. On the treetop of the whispering pine, an owl was hooting faintly. The soft whistling of the leaves and occasional chirps from the nestled cuckoo and her chicks would catch the attention of little Bagira. It wasn’t typically a quiet night where the crickets would orchestrate with the nightjar in a breezy Jasmine fragrance.

The wind was mixed with a resinous woody smell of the cedar and it was resonating in different decibels. For a while, the winds would go passive and the other minute it would howl with hunger. Bagira’s timid eyes curiously looked up and down as the wind swept in from below the door. I placed an old fluffy rug to cover the vent. The hour changed and the church bell rang with many echoes. The absence of the moonlight made it difficult to see what cracked up and fell with a thud down the street. Sounds like the old fence of our distant neighbors which was begging for a fix since the last hailstorm ten days ago. With the cup of masala tea, I pulled my chair to the window to keep an ear out and Bagira helped me invigilate. The chimes that used to dance in the cool afternoon breeze had gone silent suddenly. I peeped out to check. I could barely see the hook holding nothing but an unraveled thread. The tinkles flew off somewhere else.

Tara spotted those winterberry shaped chimes in the Farmer’s Autumn market on a sunny Saturday afternoon. She loved the ruby red colored bells and had begged her way out to convince me to buy the set of chimes after she gave one of her other pair of chimes to Neela, in exchange for an old wooden bird feeder. We bought the chimes along with some bundle of greeting cards. This is the same day our neighbor’s fence cracked during the late evening hailstorm. I sat there grinning on how Tara finds her ways to things she wants finishing my cup of tea. A refilled cup would never satiate as much as the first one. Knowing this, I still took an ounce or two of the tea which would rob half my appetite for dinner later.

In the middle of these thoughts, it had started to drizzle. down by the old well where the dandelions grow, I heard a few growls. And along with the showers, came Bagira’s friends. His gang includes an abandoned one-eared Dalmatian who has been named Jacky anonymously and Professor Lal’s Doberman called Sheru. Naming a dog in the Himalayas is not very complicated you see. The dogs would usually have English names to avoid coinciding with any person of the neighborhood or a relative. There is a Jacky, Micky, Bruno, Charlie, Casper, Daisy, Johny, Lucky, Lara, Murphy, Ruby, Tiger, Tommy, Tyson, and Hunter among the native names Appu, Bagira, Billo, Cheenu, Dabboo, Jaadu, Nikki, Raja, Rani, Sheru, and Jalebi. You might as well try your luck calling a brown color dog by the name Brownie and there a 99 percent chances that he would look back at you wagging his tail.

My Tara peeped out and called out Bagira to intimidate him of the arrival at our doorstep. It was 6:00 pm and pitch dark outside. I would not let the dogs in but they can perch on the porch for the time it is drizzling. Tara was handed a pair of socks before she went out onto the porch with Bagira. I got up to prepare dinner for all of them. The sound of the raindrops was heavier as compared to the downpour. The tin roofs amplify the sound by many folds. To be able to talk, you need to sit really close to one another which is the best part of these roofs. It is one of those winter evenings when Bagira and Tara would sit close by the fireplace instead of chasing one another down the hallway to the kitchen and out to the backyard. I totally love the peace that these winters bring along as the errands pass by easily with the two of them in sight.

The clock struck seven. The church bell rang again, faintly this time. It is time to prepare for Tara’s bath. It took a lot of coaxing and pestering before she finally left the company of Bagira, Jacky, and Sheru. But with all the mudslinging and wild fig plucking she does with Devi from our neighborhood, she needs a good scrubbing at the end of the day and I am sure Devi needs one too. They are the Chip and Dale of the neighborhood.

“Tara andar aai jaa”, I called her for the bath.

“Aai Amma”, she said with a cross tone.

Usually, Bagira accompanies her to the bathroom and sits by the door, lovingly to give her some company and carefully enough to sit at a distance so that Tara doesn’t throw a mug full at him. She had tried it several times before wetting the floor and the mats and ultimately getting scolded by me. Tara sits in the tub trying to read the label on the shampoo while I clean her. It all went smoothly with Bagira on the porch and Tara in the tub.

Soon it is time for supper. Bagira and his friends are served outside while I and Tara will have ours by the fireplace on the high pile woolen rug,  a Changpel gifted by my colleague and friend, Kelsang Gyatso. While we had our warm bread with stew, the wind outside had started to calm a bit. We won’t have a blizzard or hail for sure but there is definitely going to snow.

“Not yet”, Tara said.

“Let it Snow”, my heart said.

I knew Bagira would be restlessly patroling the main door so I placed his bed by the tall window glass and slightly moved the curtain so that he can have a good look outside in between his featherlight slumber. After an hour or so of chit chatter, clicks and clacks of dinner plates, hissing wash basin, knocking cabinets and goodbye to Sheru and Jacky, we finally settled into our beds. Tara’s warm milk and a storybook. Going through the pages of “The Grizzly Bear”, with her head resting on the pillow, I felt sweet warm breaths gently blowing against my arm. Watching her sleep cozy and comfortable washes out all the dreariness of the day. A final peep outside the window and I slipped into the quilt myself.

Morning tiptoed in a hush. Bagira woke us up a little earlier than usual. There was an urgency to go out for his morning walk that day. Tara packed herself in her jacket, mittens, hat, and boots on that unusually quiet morning, I released the front door.

.

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White winter morning in all it’s glory. Whitewashed hedges, mountains, our neighbor’s  plum tree, the tall church bell down the hill and literally everything. Everything was covered in snow and through the snow white whiteness, just around the corner of our front yard near the young cedar tree, we found our bright and lovely ….. winterberries. 

Lovely red winterberries!

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With Love,

Muscari Lane

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