Perspectives in India



                I lay flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling. My parents were fast asleep, but nervousness kept me awake.

                “I can’t do it,” I decided. “We have to cancel. I’ll say I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”

                I looked out of the hotel window. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but the tent-like mountain Kanchenjunga seemed to shimmer against the black night-sky.

                I had been dreaming about a holiday in Gangtok for weeks. I had been fantasising my book-reading there, imagining how it would be to talk to children from the other end of the country about The Story-Catcher, my collection of short stories. I had imagined the journey across cultures, and a morning with children in picturesque Sikkim.

                Everything had come in the way. Landslides had prevented Raman, owner of Rachna books, from making it back to Gangtok before I left for my travels. He had managed to send me a single message saying that the book-reading would definitely happen, and that I should carry copies of my book. More communication had been impossible.

                “How are you working things out?” I asked Raman when I finally got to Gangtok and met him.

                “I’ve contacted a school – Rey Valley. They send children to Rachna Books every year.”

                “That’s lovely! And how many children do you think there will be?”

                Raman shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe about 20 …”

                “Perfect.” Everything did seem perfect at that moment. The bookshop was delightful, with a charming old-world feel. Each book there had been hand-picked by Raman himself. Casually, I asked, “And what age-group will this be?”

                “I think the children are all in kindergarten – maybe the oldest ones will be in the first grade …”

                My heart sank.

                “So you could say age 3-7.” Raman frowned. “What happened?”

                I bit my lip. “My target audience is 8-13. The Story-Catcher is not a picture-book.”

                “Oh!” With no internet and little communication, we had not spoken about this at all.

                I do tell children stories, but the school had been promised an author reading out from her recently-released book. I swallowed. What could I read out to children who were that young?

                I shook my head. This was impossible.

                Yet, when asked if I had dealt with children that age, the answer was ‘yes’. I had.

                Not a book-reading, though. No.

We went back and forth several times. Somehow, I allowed myself to get convinced into conducting the session, but that night in the hotel room, doubts crept in again.

                By morning, I had decided to call Raman, apologise and cancel. I knew that it would be awkward for him after having invited the school, but I had no choice. My finger hovered over his number on my mobile phone.

                In the distance, the snowy Kanchenjunga shone in the morning sunshine. This was not my imagination any more. Clouds flew before it, swept by the wind. The mountain stood there, majestic and timeless. My breath caught.

                Hundreds of people had climbed the mountain, honouring the tradition of letting its summit stay untouched. That splendid mountain of snow had thrilled so many; it had filled hundreds of mountain-climbers with excitement, fear and awe.

                I licked my lips. All I had to do was tell a bunch of three-year-olds a story.

                I put my phone away.

                I did not share my doubts with my parents. I packed my books into my bag, and thought about what I could do. I planned my storytelling session in my head. Storytelling, it would have to be, showing them a few pictures as I went along.

We walked silently to Rachna Books; the climb did not allow for conversation. I looked at the valley below and the quaint bookshop perched on the hill above.

                The weather was lovely that morning, and we chose to do the book-reading outdoors, surrounded by the freshness of the mountains. Gangtok is beautiful. The vines, flowers and waterfalls would help me tell my story.

                I could hear the sound of water gushing in the distance. The aroma of coffee wafted up from Raman’s “Café Fiction” below. It mingled with the smell of a cold morning in the hills.

                Bright, eager faces surrounded me. Shining eyes were filled with the expectation of a wonderful story.

                Kanchenjunga had disappeared under a blanket of white clouds.

                I breathed out and smiled. That morning, I told the children a story of a child and a dragon.

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