Chacha ji is my balcony buddy in Vashisht, in the North Western Himalayas during the summer season. A balcony buddy is someone to sit and watch the human traffic pass beneath and around us with, someone to make the odd comment to or interjection about anything and everything with. Someone to pass time with.
From our sunny corner we can watch the tourists struggle up the hill, the boys in the blanket shops ply their wares, we can tease the little boy Satyam on the next-door balcony and almost reach across the street into two tourist rooftop restaurants. Behind us there is the shuffle shuffle clap clap of his daughter at the loom and the usual to-ing of his extended family. So there is plenty to feast our eyes on.
I understand probably about 50 per cent of what he says and 99 per cent of his meaning, while he probably understands 50 per cent of my Hindi and absolutely nothing of my English. It hardly matters; we play our role like the two old guys on the balcony at the Muppet show or two birds on the tree of life.
We bounce off each other with a shared chuckle, raised eyebrows or the many hand signals that have developed over time when people want to talk without being heard. One is the universal signal for crazy, the other is a dismissive downward gesture as if one were throwing away rubbish and the last most expressive one is the hand raised upwards as if you were holding a small bird in the palm of your hand before releasing it. This says many things but a general approximation would be “What can you do? It is in Gods hands.”
Chacha ji’s hands are never still. For the last week while he sat and walked and talked around the village he has been making rope from goat hair. First he spun the wool onto a small hand held spool. When he had two spools of twine, he spun them together to make a strong twine. When he had three reels of strong twine, he sewed them together to make a rope about the width of a bridle or reins.
“Strong,” he reckons, giving the half-complete work a tug. “Last about 15 to 20 years.”
He looks so quaint as he totters around the village in his traditional Himachal clothes. The home made woollen jacket, the local pyjama style pants and his slightly bent legs give him the appearance of being a rather doddering old man. Tourists like to stop and take photos of his beautiful weathered walnut face and he nods encouragement with his bright inquisitive eyes.
In fact Chacha ji is probably one of the richest and smartest men in this village. With rental properties all over the village and a large successful family, he remains as sharp as a tack. Alive and alert, interested but most of all amused by the ever changing world around him. He lets it all wash over him with a delightful mix of old age craziness and age-old wisdom.
Dianne Sharma-Winter is a freelance writer living between India and New Zealand. She writes on travel, culture and humour using India as her muse.