I’m comfortably snuggled between pillows on the woollen carpet, among a large group of people. Seated around the metal fireplace of the hostel’s common room, we try to squeeze in our freezing toes for the warmth. The amicable guy from Kerala instantly strikes up a lively conversation with a fellow anime freak (me, of course).
Diagonally across me another person wipes his glasses and shuts his laptop, while asking where I’m from, and sharing that he’s from Odisha. A short and cheerful ruckus is caused by the group from Madhya Pradesh on the opposite side of the room. The guy from Kolkata passes me a glass of fruit juice.
A woman with a confident smile and a blue woollen bandana on her forehead commends my hair-do. She and her friends from Karnataka get into a groovy battle on the dance floor, while coaxing me to join them. A guy from the hills rolls up the sleeves of his blue jackets as he expertly manoeuvres wooden clogs to feed the fire. Eyes accustomed to urban facilities stare at his chore, realizing their long-due appointment with nature.
Somebody has left the door slightly ajar, and the cold wind send all of us shivering. The magical drinks make us tipsy, while the delicious, steaming food induces burps (varying in intensity though). The dance floor carries the weight of all our footsteps (R.I.P. the sleep of those in the dorm rooms below). Out on the balcony the snowy mountains around Manali receive the mesmerized regard of all our eyes. At that moment, the varied sceneries our eyes have witnessed in the past hold no value.
Every time I meet somebody from a new region, the geography lessons I had as a school kid tingles somewhere in my brain.
Back here in the city, I bump into new faces all the time. I’m picking my favourite brand of cheese slices when my hand collides with an acquaintance from Assam. A short stroll in the park would end up in a cake slice treat from a Punjabi group celebrating somebody’s birthday. The waitress serving a steaming bowl of Chicken Thukpa before me at a restaurant in the Tibetan refugee colony instantly conquers my heart.
Delhi is a boiling pot of cultures from diverse parts of the country. Subtle yet fascinating differences occur within a few metres in my neighbourhood, where they’re actually across hundreds of miles and centuries.
The greater the distance, the closer bonds I seek. After all, we’re all part of the same tree, aren’t we?
P.S. – the details about the people I have mentioned are not representative of their states or cultures.
The first portion of the post is about common room stories at Young Monk Hostel, Manali, Himachal Pradesh.