Combat Skirts by Sahana Ahmed in Gangtok

Photo by Shabana Chowdhury Ali

Meeting Gangtok

Sahana Ahmed

I had fallen hard; I should have taken my time getting up. I didn’t know the status of my tailbone yet, but my plans lay shattered. I was on my way to Gangtok, on a personal pilgrimage of sorts, to relive the best years of my youth. Having grown up in the army, being part of a community of drifters, I was likelier to have reunions with places than people, and Gangtok was my teenage crush. Which is why slipping near a waterfall, straight into the water, was a huge dampener, pun not intended.

Now I was worried I would not be able to climb the stairs in Lal Bazaar, or endure the trek to my old home in Burtuk. I was worried I would have to skip Palzor Stadium, and Penengla, and my school too. I wanted, so badly, to meet Gangtok, but I could hardly walk two steps without wincing.

There was a time when I could conquer the steepest of stairwells – and they are ubiquitous in Gangtok – without breaking a sweat. The memory of those days was still alive in my legs and so, there was hope still. My classmate, Sonal, had once counted the number of steps we climbed each day. Almost one thousand. Our school was in the valley, in the cantonment, four kilometres from the bus stop. We would rush down the hills in the morning, for our bus was always late, and what wonderful names those buses had! Shaan-e-Sikkim[1], Lachung Mail, Khatara[2]… The first two were plush, almost luxurious, with big windows through which floated in thick mist (which then disappeared into the mouths of the less shy). Music played on the speakers, mostly Bollywood, sometimes Bhojpuri, whenever the driver with the handlebar moochh[3] was on duty. There were so many songs that I first heard on the way to school. I still remember the grey, drizzly morning when I was hit by the beauty of 1942: A Love Story

After school, Sonal and I used to run up the road to grab window seats. We had devised a way to beat the others. We would run and chant, sometimes made-up words, the rhythm growing faster and faster till we were practically flying. Our feet loved the challenge; it always worked!

It was the magic of those carefree days that I wanted to relive. It was that magic that I tried to capture in my first book. Unlike my protagonist, I never D-A-T-E-D a boy who made my heart flutter like prayer flags in the wind, who whistled pahadi dhuns[4] while the Kanchenjunga blushed. I wish I had. What fun it would have been: to make all the aunties go psst psst, to make the (impossibly fashionable) local girls go green/googly-eyed. I wish I knew a boy from Mayo who could make the TNA boys give me a second look. I wish I did.

Alas, all that did not happen. All the boys fell for Sonal. I was left with stories.

This piece is dedicated to my friend, Sonal, a victim, later, of bride-burning.

[1] Shaan-e-Sikkim: the pride of Sikkim

[2] Khatara: rundown

[3] moochh: moustache

[4] pahadi dhuns: tunes from the hills

Gangtok (left); MG Marg (right)

Photos by Aquib Chowdhury

Waterfall (left); Sikkim (right)

Photos by Aquib Chowdhury

Sahana Ahmed is a poet and novelist based in Gurugram, India. She can be found online at