We were tired by the time we reached Jiskun, a sleepy village in Himachal, en route to Rupin Pass. We were done with Day 3 of our trek. Our trek leader Sam asked us to walk around the village and talk to the villagers. “It’ll be a nice way to know them,” he said.
We sauntered down the roads, not sure what to talk about and whom to talk. I was not fully prepared to meet Dasvi Ram Varma. He was the pradhan of the village and also the priest of the village temple, where people worshipped the deity Dhara Jhaakh devta. Unlike the temples in the south, the ones here are opened only for auspicious days and festivals.
When I reached the temple, the pradhan was surrounded by the trekkers of our group. He spoke and we listened in rapt attention. He must have been a septuagenarian. And listening to him, it seemed as though our childhood was back, if only for a few minutes. He regaled us with stories of his life and this village. Its customs, traditions and his idea of life. He spent many years in the army and later in the forest service. With the penchant of a narrator he told us stories from his heydays. He told us about rare animals and birds found in this Himalayan region. He spoke about customs that they still hold on to and some which they have let go of.
Jiskun goes to sleep completely during winters. The roads are covered with snow and people stock up their homes with vegetables and groceries before the snow fall. But most of them leave for Punjab, not only to escape the harsh winter, but also spend time with their spiritual seer Radha Swami, whose ashram is by the river Chenab. Several villages in Himachal strictly adhere to vegetarianism in concurrence with the spiritual practices of the cult.
Kids in Jiskun go to a school nearby till class 12 and if interested to study further, they go to Shimla or Chandigarh. The villagers are very hospitable to visitors and if your conversation is to prolong for a while, they are likely to continue it over tea at their home. “No one should leave the hills with a bad experience. Those who visit us should go back with pleasant thoughts about the people living here. And the name of our village will be taken with respect when we treat you with respect,” he said.
They have interesting customs when it comes to weddings. On an appointed day, the grooms come bedecked for a swayamvar-like ceremony, where the girls will choose the man of their choice. “What’s the point of enduring a marriage which is not of your liking? It’s much simpler to find out what the couple wants and let them be,” and he broke into a couplet –
Teri meri shaadi, aisi reet ki na pandit na shehnai
In sab ka kya kaam jab shyam ne bansi bajayi
Let our wedding be beyond rites and rituals. What’s their role in a wedding when the lord himself has ordained it?
The sun had set and we felt the need to return to our home stay for dinner. We invited Dasvi Ram to join us. He refused. “My wife will be waiting for me,” he said. In the entire conversation, he spoke about his wife for the first time. We teased him gently about it.
Was he the one who called the shots at home too, as he did in the village, we wondered. He walked faster and we almost ran to keep pace. “No one person needs to call the shots. In so many decades of our marriage, we have never fought. When I speak, she listens to me and when she speaks, I listen. That’s all you need.” The man from Jiskun faded as he walked away. A longer road lay ahead of us for the rest of our trek.