W“e picked up our rucksacks and said goodbye to Grandmother in the courtyard. Our two porters had gone on ahead. In silence, we left the huddle of houses and clambered down the steep mountain path, past the barren terraces of red earth that rested, waiting for the cycle of seasons to revolve, for the rains to baptize them afresh.”
This paragraph concludes an interesting book titled ‘Window on to Annapurna’ by Joy Stephens. Joy and her husband Duane were development workers in Nepal in the 1980s and 1990s. The author’s husband, a civil engineer was supervising work on a small hydroelectric scheme near Baglung in the Dhaulagiri zone, western Nepal. On their first visit to Baglung, they espy a small village Titeng, clinging to the hillside. They explore the possibility of staying in this hill village inhabited by Magars. The couple were accommodated in a converted ‘goth’ (a barn) owned by a farmer, Naina Singh. They stay on for a year in the village sharing in the joys, sorrows and daily activities of the villagers. In winter when the author first came, there were spectacular views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurnas to the North. The book is a delightful and sensitive read with the author using language in a gentle, peaceful and calm manner echoing the unhurried rhythms of life in the village.
Bhaat (rice) in Nepal is synonymous with food and the author is asked about the staple food in her home country, England. She mentions meat, potatoes and bread which are however, not considered ‘food’ by the villagers. The villagers were uneducated and had very little in terms of material possessions but were happy with their lot in life. The village was a close-knit community and people considered themselves as members of one big family. The unhurried but purposeful pace of village life is described beautifully in the book. The issue of caste and of being untouchable and ‘jutho’ (impure) are described well without minimizing the seriousness of the issue. In Nepal, the artisans are usually members of the lower castes and the tailors (damais) also moonlight as musicians.
The differences in the mind set of ‘bideshis’ (foreigners) and the villagers have been highlighted using gentle humor. For foreigners, trekking is an opportunity to see new sights and enjoy spectacular scenery. For the villagers walking without tangible purpose is strange and difficult to understand. Forests are wonderful places with rich bird life for the author while for her neighbors they are the abode of evil spirits to be visited only if absolutely required, never alone. The descriptions of the Dashain ‘tika’ and the acceptance of the author and her husband as ‘family’ by Naina Singh make for poignant reading. The author’s relationship with the women of the village offers a unique perspective on their lives.
A beautiful and gentle book, Window on to Annapurna echoes the flowing mid hills of Nepal which the author so lovingly describes.
Window on to Annapurna, Author Joy Stephens, Book Faith India