Pahari (literally, "of the mountain") is a term used to apply to virtually anything, everything, and everybody from the hills, especially from the Himalayas. Just as the Punjabis are renowned for their generosity and the Marwaris for their business sense, the Paharis are generally acknowledged to be sweet, helpful souls. That isn’t always true, of course--it can’t possibly be. But this trip made me wonder.
Scene 1: I’ve just slipped on a mountain path and twisted my ankle. It’s hurting like hell and plunging it into cold water hasn’t helped. The doctor’s come, prodded at my foot, and given me a jab in my butt.
Doc: “It doesn’t look like a fracture, more likely to be a torn ligament. If it’s still swollen tomorrow morning, get it X-rayed.” He prescribes a painkiller, which he isn’t carrying, and says it can be gotten from a pharmacy in the market that’s 2km downhill.
Local waiter-cum-general dogsbody, who’s been hanging around, looking concerned: “I’ll go, sahib. I know where it is.”
Round 1 to the Pahari.
Scene 2: Morning, and the foot’s ballooned into a sore, throbbing bump. I limp down the path to our car, using a borrowed walking stick. Dharamshala’s small, and good diagnostic clinics are rare. The doctor’s recommended one near Kacheri Adda in Civil Lines, supposedly the best - and singularly difficult to track down. We spend more than half an hour driving around Dharamshala, asking one passerby and then the other for directions.
Husband to bystander, looking desperate: “Could you please tell us the way to Kacheri Adda?”
Young man, seated on a stationary motorbike and chatting with someone: “Where in Kacheri Adda do you need to go?” We enlighten him.
Man: “That’s not too close, and the way there is confusing. You could get lost… why don’t you follow me? I’ll guide you there on my bike.”
Round 2 to another Pahari.
Scene 3: Dr Khanna’s Diagnostic Clinic. I’m sitting in a small room waiting to be called in. Next to me is an elderly lady who’s come with her daughter, now with the doctor.
Lady, in a sympathetic voice that makes me suddenly feel like I’m with my mum: “What happened to you?”
I tell her. More sympathy, more solicitude. More unconditional love.
Round 3 to yet another Pahari.
Scene 4: We are at the Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College Hospital. The lift isn’t working, and the orthopaedics department is, of all places, in the basement. And the ramp is broken in places. I can’t walk at all, and the wheelchair is in terrible condition and gets stuck. My husband’s struggling; I’m trying to do what I can to help when a total stranger, an elderly man, arrives. He helps my husband lift the wheelchair (with me in it) to get it going again.
And that was just Round 4. There were many more, more instances of people who made us feel we weren’t alone, people who went out of their way to help, to do even a little bit extra that would make me comfortable.
People who proved that the proverbial sweetness of the Pahari isn’t a myth.