The taxi climbs the mountain and stops at the end of the road. We climb out with our bags and head across a small bridge, then up a steep set of rough-hewn stone steps. When we are almost out of breath we hit our next landmark, a whitewashed hut with a red roof overlooking a wide valley. There are several possible paths we could take, all seeming to lead into a wilderness studded with trees and fallen boulders. After some debate I call Ria, our host-to-be. ‘Ah! You are here!’ She gives us directions to follow the path down and across the “big rocks” — “I’ll send someone to help you,’ she says, “He’s wearing a red t-shirt with a teddy bear on it.” Oh — I think, someone to help with the bags. Not necessary — but nice.
We wend our way down the narrow path, not a house in sight. Just when Viral has begun to wonder if we’re going the right way, a sun-browned little girl not more than five years old, skips around the corner. Close on her heels is a boy a year or so older. He’s wearing an amused expression — and a t-shirt, red with a teddy bear on it. Our bags are almost as big as they are. “We have a room for you,” they inform us politely, and then these surprising siblings, Viola and Roshan proceed to lead us to their home. A charming and humble cottage with arambling garden, where we are greeted by three dogs and their mother. Our room (the tent was traded with another guest who wanted to camp) is simple, with a wide balcony. The mountains like sentries stand guard around us. The children jabber excitedly in Hindi, German (!) and a smattering of English. Roshan is almost adult-like in his hospitality, his smile warms you up. Every night he checks the cactus plant that climbs the side of their home for blooms. Buds like palms folded in prayer that open only when day is done, “Beauty Under The Moon” they are called. Viola is wriggly, pixie-like, and seems to deliver a non-stop running commentary on the world around her.
Children can surprise you sometimes. Viola came up one afternoon as we were working at our laptops on the balcony. She sat in the hammock swing and watched for awhile. “What are you writing?” she asks Viral in Hindi. “I’m writing about meditation,” he answers. “Oh I know how to do that,” she says confidently. “Why don’t you try doing it right now?” asks Viral, “Close your eyes, get very still and watch your breath.” Viola’s eyes shut immediately, she has a little-girl-grin on her face. I look up from my work at this point, and think to myself, “I give her five seconds”. 45 seconds later her eyes are still closed, the grin has been replaced by a faint half-smile. With one of her legs she keeps the hammock swinging back and forth. “Now keep your leg still too,” says Viral. And her legs go quiet. Her eyelids aren’t fluttering the way some children’s do when they try and keep them shut. “Are you still watching your breath?” asks Viral in a low voice, she gives a small nod, the expression on her face unchanging. She sits there peaceful and valiant in her hammock — this slip of a child, with two jaunty pigtails, for almost five whole minutes. Right up until Viral calls out to her, “Vio-la?” At which her eyes fly open and the grin reappears, she is back in her live wire mode again.
I have thought of those odd and inspiring, almost-five-minutes many times since that afternoon. Because at 31 I know my mind too is a fidgety child — that has the capacity to practice being still.