Shangri-La in Tibet: Sans Coronavirus
‘In fact, there is no Shangri-La. It is as mythical as the River Saraswati.’
The fifteen-year-old daughter sat sulking in the living room of their house in the multi-storeyed apartment. Since the first wave of the lockdown due to Covid-19, she had not gone anywhere out of Delhi. She was lost in thoughts. She had not attended the last rites of her maternal grandparents who lived in Agra whom she loved dearly. Now the online classes were over. She was promoted to the tenth class. Now with the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping the city, she despaired, no hope to travel anywhere this year, again.
The sulkiness showed on her face when the mother and the father stepped from their office into the living room. The daughter usually chirpily greeted them, but not today. Yet they sat on either side of her.
The daughter was taciturn. She felt landlocked like Nepal between India and China.
‘What is the matter, dear?’ the father asked.
‘I want to travel.’
‘Where?’ the mother probed.
‘Shangri-La,’ the daughter replied.
The mother could not suppress her laughter. She laughed out loudly. The daughter was, however, not surprised that her mother was poking fun at her expense. She generally laughed at anything and anyone if they appeared or sounded to her as either preposterous or idiotic or unthinkable. But the mother took her daughter’s right palm and gently massaged it to assuage her sulkiness. The mother asked, ‘Do you know where it is?’
The mother said, ‘There is no Shangri-La, no Shambala, and there is no country like Tibet. Tibet is in China. India and China are indirectly at war. You know that, ah?’ She had read about myths: Shangri-La is a mythical place invented by James Hilton in the novel Lost Horizon and so is Shamabala in the Himalayas.
‘You always think negatively,’ the daughter said. ‘And you do not want me to go anywhere. But you go out for a haircut and shopping and what not.’
The mother stared at the father of their child. It was the kind of stare that called on him to say something in her defense. But instead of saying something, he was watching the situation, and making her look silly before their daughter, their only child.
The husband looked at his wife, and lowered his head towards his daughter’s face, and said, ‘How do you want to go, when do you want to go?’
The daughter revealed to her parents that her friend’s parents were traveling to Nepal and from Nepal to Tibet, then to Shangri-La. They had welcomed her to join them if only her parents would agree. The parents listened to their daughter’s details of her travel plans. They had planned travel before the rainy seasons, before the new academic year, online or offline.
The father agreed to her daughter’s wish but told his daughter that he had to speak to her friend’s parents.
The daughter was delighted: a smile rose on her face after a long time.
The mother saw the delight on the daughter’s face, who was brighter now in a long time. But she said, ‘Both of you are crazy. In fact, there is no Shangri-La. It is as mythical as the River Saraswati.’
‘The prayers you do every day to go to heaven after death is also mythical,’ the husband said in a soft voice. ‘Imaginary, more fictional.’
‘Mom but I can pray to Kailash ji when I see Kailash Mountain on your behalf,’ the daughter said.
‘Being smart, ah?’ the mother remarked while in her mind flashed the crystal pyramid of Kailash enveloped in snow and ice and dangling clouds.
Mount Kailash the abode of Lord Shiva in the Himalayas is the holiest mountain for the Hindus. In it, some see the largest and the biggest and the highest natural swastika. Some see in it, Mount Meru, since eons ago, long before the Mahabharata. ‘Why don’t the three of us go to Mount Meru?’
‘You mean walk around that mountain? It would take days and days, mom.’
‘Why not? This is the best thing we can do, when we walk we are also maintaining social distance and there won’t be visa issues to Nepal.’
The father and the daughter saw a new woman in that wife and in that mother, respectively, adventurous and considerate. The husband gently touched his wife’s arm stretched on the back of the sofa. The daughter gently kissed the mother.
‘What about Shangri-La?’ the daughter asked.
‘You can go there after your marriage,’ the mother said.
But the father said, ‘When we are in Nepal, you go there with your friend to Shangri-La.’
The daughter remembered what her friend had told her: ‘To see Shangri-La, you have to be in Tibet, and Tibet is Covid free.’