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“If you could go to a place or a person, where would you rather go?” he asked. 
“I’d go to a place where my favorite person is.” I answered rather cheekily.

“So mushy” He had laughed.

“Falling in love with a place is easy. A person, not, okay?” I had snapped.

“And yet you’d go for the latter. Profound” And we had laughed together. 

***

Six years later, my adulthood started taking a toll on my life. My faith starting to falter, my beliefs getting shaky and I started craving space, an escape rather; to lose myself and find myself over again.

I clearly remember the night I had filled the type-form for The Wise Wall Project, after my regular overdose Ruskin Bond and day dreaming. The idea of painting one of the remotest villages of the country, almost 7,000ft up, with a bunch of strangers, amidst the dazzling hills and landscape was exhilarating. Adventure wasn’t really my forte but impulsive decisions absolutely were. And just like that, one fine day I was on a 36hrs train ride to Kathgodam.

I still believe that it’s a miracle that I reached Khati alive and survived. But that’s a different story we can keep aside, for another time.

“Wow. So, all of you are here. Nobody has been thrown off the cliff yet” said a very wise person once aka Deepak, and little did we know how real the feeling was supposed to get in a few hours. But it all feels like a different time, a different life perhaps. 

“The good news is it is 10 days. And the bad news is it is 10 days.”
“All of us have left our comfort zones to be here, so maybe we could just try being nice to each other, to understand, to overlook, to adjust; make the best of what we have?”
“Maybe”

A few things, a few people, a few days, a few moments are meant to happen to you, and however clichéd it might sound, that is what you call is “destiny”.

And sometimes if you’re lucky, you stumble upon people warmer than a home-knit sweater, deeply kind, steadfastly trusting and believer in all the goodness in the world. “How is it possible to be so giving and so loving, that too to a bunch of strangers, whom you’ve barely known for a few hours?” I had often wondered looking at her. Stranded in a mountain with a bunch of young adults throwing tantrums, honestly I would have dreaded such a situation and maybe I’d have thrown a few, off the cliff too. But not her, she would rather sing her way into their hearts and her laughter could melt boulders, I believe! I ended up spending most of my time with Shraddha Ma’am, listening to endless stories, laughing together and marveling at the wonder she is! Just like her name, she re-instilled my faith in people too. Loving her was so effortless. And at any given breath, I would want to go back to our days in the kitchen at Khati and re live them over again. If I can ever become half the person she is I guess I would die a happy person.

 

I remember people in moments, in conversations and in snippets. I remember walking down the village with an almost stranger and ending up as friends. “I don’t like owning things.” She had confided in me. “I believe, knowledge should be passed on and not just kept to oneself” and till date, I haven’t gotten over it. It keeps reminding me over and again, that our time here is limited and we are taking away nothing with us, beyond life; she had unknowingly taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life—to learn if you may, but to impart as much.

Life in Khati is a revelation in itself. The weather has many moods, the sky, almost surreal and the nights, mostly difficult. Yet it is the people who would make you want to contemplate your life. The villagers reek of a familiar whiff of belonging and the village almost feels like that favorite nook from your childhood where you often frequented to as kid and had the most difficulty parting with. There are no roads to Khati. Unbelievable but true. And each time a person falls ill, the whole village comes together as a strong binding force, carrying the ailing person down, turn by turn, bridging all the troubled waters. And funny how we hold grudges against people all our lives, never even considering giving them a second chance? 

I remember the starriest night ever, sitting around a bonfire, singing songs together, laughing our hearts out and listening to stories. Later, four of us roommates had ended up talking about life in the dark of our room. Isn’t it easier confessing in front of strangers than people we love, people we know? Maybe or maybe not.

I remember a tree house, a long hot water bath after three days, waking up to the sight of horses grazing, cherry blossoms and rhododendrons in full bloom, the distant school bells ringing, the green benches, petals in the folds of notebooks, flowers tucked in the hair, gudd ki chai, kadhi-chawal and so much in between. I remember people tearing up, having a lump in their throat on pondering upon the toughest questions of their lives. And I’ve seen people falling in love, finding themselves over again and finding their soul mates in the trip too. 

 

“We can be good healers” Shraddha Ma’am had said, probably on our second night at Khati. And strange how she kept her words, like always. 

Khati has been a whirlwind of emotions, but I came back as a more grounded, more humble and a more empathic person for sure. The Wise Wall Project has been my leap of faith and I cannot be any more grateful to people who made this happen. I’m just glad that I was there. And last but not the least, here’s hoping that the stories of Khati, of the people of Khati, remains forever etched in our memories, and in theirs, one art at a time.

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