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  • I've been trying to write this for a while now. It's been difficult to decide whether to write this or that and if less or more...
    This story stems from one of those encounters I have with people when on a long work fun trip but still so short, so short that it doesn't satisfy the heart. This story stems from people I meet for a short time, whom I may see again sometime in the future or in another world. But by putting them down in words like this is liberating than keeping it all in...

    This is about my dear friend, Nima, who was the cook of our team for the Red Panda project.
    On field, everything revolves around food if not data collection. If it does not revolve around food then it revolves around fire (because it's cold high up there in the mountains of West Sikkim!). And inevitably it revolves around the cook who is responsible for making both, food and fire!

    The moment I became friends with Nima, it was hard to let go of his company. The difference in our backgrounds made it fun to explore what we shared in common and what we did not. I come from an educated family belonging to the city of Bombay and have traveled to places. He from an uneducated family of agro-pastoralists, living in a village that is little heard about in its own state, let alone the whole of India and has never traveled outside the state. He was good at identification of tracks and signs, good at games, a great cook, always ready with a joke and a straight face and above all, he had a pure soul!

    I wondered what would happen when I had to leave in the end, to return home from fieldwork. Saying goodbye has been the hardest of all things in my life (definitely not as hard as not having the chance to say even a goodbye). The last day after fieldwork, was rest-day. I visited all the team members' and their families. We shared a lot of food, drinks, jokes, songs and dances like other days on field. Late in the evening we were going back down to the village of San Khola from Chongri, where I was put up in Pumba's house, the village that Nima too belonged to. Like every other day I was Nima's responsibilty to be taken care of- where I placed my foot, how I walked and to hold my hand through the mucky, sloping trails. This time when we had reached the bouldered but plane around the San Khola river, we continued to hold hands and walk. There was nothing to talk about. We stared into space, looking through the bamboo bridge that would take us to the other side of the river. That moment was not about wondering what would happen after I left but realizing what it was we had shared while I was there. It was equal love.

    This photo was taken during our data collection in Phedi for medicinal plants and red pandas. I had forced my team to let Nima go with us instead of preparing for food at camp. He accompanied and was I glad! It was one of the most challenging trails on field. We had crawled through tunnels of wild and pricky bushes of jalthangne, crossed landslide areas and jumped over several I don't even know what kind of geographical features of the mountains. This picture was taken after we had managed to crawl out from the longest of the jalthangne creepers and joked the entire way about crossing the Indo-Pak border successfully in search of a stolen red panda!
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