Once upon a time not very distant from now, I had to visit a village situated at the top of a hill in the Eastern Himalayas. I call that village now a village-of-no-memory.
I call that village a village ‘of-no-memory’ because of two reasons: one, it has been completely obliterated from the memory of the world and second, the inhabitants of the village do not have any memory of the world. I don’t know for how many centuries they have been living there but it seems they ascended upon the surface from the depths of the Earth with the Himalayas itself. And therefore, even if the world has forgotten these people, the earth remembers them and they too remember the earth. They are from the womb of the earth and it is in the tomb of the earth that they will return.
They don’t have a body like ours; neither are they ghosts. They eat, sleep, work, rest, fight and have sex but they are not humans. They exist and they exist silently. They don’t usually speak; they speak when they are spoken to. But the sound of their speech-act is so weak that it hardly creates any ripple on the surface of the stream which flows through our Ears to our Mind. One of the possible reasons of this impasse are the sewage tunnels and the stream which flows through those tunnels that remains most the time coagulated because of the garbage: my garbage, your garbage, which ultimately flows into the Big River of garbage. This Big River of garbage behaves like city street dogs during the monsoon and, nowadays, throughout the year.
I followed these people of-no-memory living in the Himalayas doing everyday chores and found no footprints. They don’t leave any footprints on the soil as they walk. They are like grasshoppers. The Environ is hardly conscious of their existence or they doing everyday work. They are with the Environ as birds on a tree. The birds become the tree once they are on it. Similarly, I think these people are Environ. They may be as ancient as the trees in Bhumisparsha mudra on the mountain.
They may be as ancient as the listless stones or the restless streams gushing down but, I think, they are the Wise Ones standing on the earth completely detached from (or are they so attached that they seem detached?) and indifferent to (or are they so different from us that they seem indifferent?) the cold fog coming down along the slope of the mountain like a pack of white wolves with white fangs like death.
I don’t think these people were ever born. They have always been there. They will always be there. They don’t take birth. They ARE death. And they will always be walking around the mountain without any footprints.
Some of them, I found out, have forgotten their names, their ancestry. Some their age or where they were born. Here or somewhere else? For these people “somewhere else” does not exist. They don’t even recognise their presence, their presence here and now mainly because they do not have a concept of there or a concept of then. They are just ‘’are’’. They will always be ‘’are’’.
And it is their ‘’are-ness’’ which does not allow them to have any will. They don’t use the word ‘’will’’ in their speech even. It is not that they don’t try to remember. Which I think they do. But they cannot for their memories have been taken away. I think more than the time, history has taken away all their memories. Their memories have been washed with and into the water of Teesta. These memories have taken the shape of the water of the Teesta as it flowed through various fissures in the mountain to the plains of civilisation, watered the crops of civilisation and finally met the ocean of oblivion.
It is their memories which make the water of Teesta green. So next time when you stand in front of a vast stretch of the blue ocean and when it brings you an array of memories, do remember to ask for theirs. Or, would you mind remembering on their behalf? Because they cannot, they never “will”.
Also read: The Truth of the Tree
These people I met on the hill do not practice any religion. They have their Gods. And they are the old Gods. These gods are unlike our gods. They are very ordinary: one of them is a woodcutter, one a farmer, one keeps animals, one birds, and there is even one who collects fuel from the forest. These Gods are like these people. There is not much of a difference, apparently, between the worshiper and the worshiped. The worshiped, here, does not dwell in the heavens but lives with the worshipers.
They are the fallen Gods: not because they have fallen from heaven. As a matter of fact, they never resided in heaven. They were always fallen: the gods who are looked down upon by other gods. In sickness and in health, the people of the hill take resort to these old Gods who in turn try to help as much as they can. Sometimes, they succeed and sometimes, they fail. Are these Gods human? I don’t know. May be they are more humane.
The place where these people live is extraordinarily ordinary. It is so ordinary that to me it looks extraordinary. How can something like this be so ordinary? The place is at the top of a hill: one of the hills in the chain of hills which joins an overcrowded city in the plains to another overcrowded city in the valley. When looked down from the top, bits and pieces of that snake-like highway which joins the two cities could be seen. I wonder which of the two cities is the head of that snake and which the tail? And which will again determine whether the reptile is going up the hill or coming down to the plains?
Like me, these people must have seen vehicles going up and down the highway. They probably see this phenomenon of vehicles going up and down incessantly and observe something called ‘’speed’’ and compare their lives with those having that speed. At the top of the hill, there seems to be neither distance nor time. And even if they do, so far they have not being able to connect the two. Speed for these people does not exist.
So while traversing through that highway, even if you try to look up and find traces of the settlement of people-with-no-memory, there are major chances you would not succeed. They are invisible from the highway. It is only if you make an effort and take the untrodden path: the path which after sometime disappears in the forest, and end up reaching nowhere, that you will find the place and the people of-no-memory. This “nowhere” is somewhere, somewhere between here and there, now and then, and remembering and forgetting.
Even after visiting this place, seeing these people and observing them, it is also exceedingly easy to forget them. And people have. They don’t. Because at the top of the hill, as I have been saying, there are no memories.
Jayjit Sarkar teaches in the Department of English, Rajganj University, West Bengal.
Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty