It had been just three grueling km’s and I was prickling in the midst of this uncharted trail of humongous Himalaya.
As far as alpinism is concerned, I was not a tenderfoot. I crisscrossed Himalaya quite often. But that day was mortifying, I was short on breathe and nobody seemed to appear in the distant sight.
While I was cursing myself for being a galavant, out of nowhere, a boy accompanied by a brownish-white horse appeared. He had a tight grip over the reins of that tamed animal which seemed absolutely innocuous.
I beckoned him.
He started moving in my direction while squinting and gasping at the same time.
After taking approx fifteen steps, he was now standing right in front of me.
I need to ascend that peak (gestured towards it) and I don’t have any energy left to scale even a step more. Could you please drop me over there? I would give you whatever you quote— I asked.
Sure sir! — He replied in a poised manner.
He instructed me to sit on the horse, I obliged.
Being an extrovert, I always try to crank a conversation with a stranger but it’s already been more than ten minutes since this servile horse is schlepping me on this steep trail but his master, the boy hasn’t uttered a word.
To break the quietness, I asked him — what’s your name, buddy?
My name is Shiva, Sir— he replied.
Shiva, You seem very young, why are you doing all this at such an early age? you should have rather been studying in school and dreaming about what you want to be after growing up.
He looked at me with a tormented face and said — Sir, Padhai Mere Naseeb Me Kaha? Sir, education is not in my destiny.
I was taken aback on this remark coming from a barely twelve-thirteen years old boy.
Somehow, I mustered the courage and asked him again — what made you speak this, Shiva?
Sir, when I was six years old, my father died from falling off the cliff of one of these mountains.
Since he had known these mammoth mountains and it’s puzzling trails quite well, he was some sort of a mountain guide who used to go with the trekkers coming from the city on their mountaineering expeditions — And this way he used to earn just enough to feed our family of four — me, my mother, younger sister and himself.
But now, since he is gone and women in the villages of India, don’t go and work outside, my family is totally reliant on me to survive.
It’s been six years, I am working relentlessly to feed my family of three.
Oh, my bad, the family of four — Chetak is also a part of the family.
Chetak, who? — I asked, perplexed.
Sir, the one, you are sitting over right now. He might be just a horse for you but not for us. He is like a guardian. He works hard twice as I do. I may be steering him in the mountains but actually, he is the one who is guiding our family through the tunnel of darkness. To be honest, I was never close to animals this much unto my own uncle backstabbed us and usurped our only land, my father had accumulated for the posterity — he murmured, his eyes moist.
I stared at Shiva, sympathetically.
But you know, Sir, now when I see in hindsight, it was a kind of a blessing in disguise. The contentment I get when I see the smiling face of my mother and sister is unparalleled — he said, with a grin on his face.
I and Shiva, both didn’t realize, the destination had arrived.
I got down from Chetak, took out my wallet, and paid him the quoted price.
Thank you, Sir— he said, smiling and then started walking away.
And I was still there, standing and looking at the mountains and then at Shiva, thinking, which is more exquisite?
The surreal beauty of these mountains or the unrelenting fighting spirit of this twelve-year-old boy.
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