A candle flickers in the little altar above my bed. Besides me, in this one-bedroom house, a local family of four sleeps on beds of carpet on the floor. Their faces glow in the dark, lit up by the same candlelight that lights the faces Buddha and the Dalai Lama on the altar above my head. The similarities of expression in their faces—the contentment and sincere happiness—impress me deeply. I’m writing from Mane, a small and remote village in the high desert of India.
The journey here involved taking an early morning bus, hitchhiking and catching a ride with a truck driver who only spoke Hindi, hiking up a mountain of stone, and jumping on rocks to cross a river with the helping hand of a local boy, twelve years old. Here in Mane, about one hundred and fifty people share the land of a valley of mountains made of rock and sand. The soil, carefully irrigated with water brought from the top of mountains, is used for planting potatoes, peas, and barley, and for giving food to cattle.
Under the shade of trees, children play outside. I catch a glimpse of their smiles, receiving the world and me as a friend. “Julê,” they greet me in the traditional language of Spiti. “Which village do you come from?” they ask me. I laugh to myself, and they don’t understand why. A city of a million people is unimaginable to them. Even the expression ‘a million people’ doesn’t make sense. Still, they invite me in to play catch and cricket. Little do I know that these kids, fed on potatoes, barley, seabuckthorn juice and dal, are strong and fast as bullet.
As I run with them, I am brought back to memories of that magical time of when we were kids. Of times before cellphone and internet, when play was done outside. When cars were scarce in our neighborhood, and when there was no need to worry about crime. And I move, stepping on this grass, chased by Spitian Indo-Tibetan children, and I feel that sweet nostalgia for when getting clothes dirty with dust was a sign of accomplishment, that feeling that we indeed were living our childhood fully. I remember comments made by a family member or maid on the dirtiness of our clothes, and then I would feel a secret joy, watching as I showered all the dust and sand flowing down the drain. Today was a good day.
Mane reminds me of childhood, despite the obvious differences between urban Northern Brazil and remote Himachal Pradesh, India. Like me, these children of Mane also go to school. They have to study alongside the two other dozen kids of the village subjects as Hindi, English, Sciences, Math, Buddhism and Sanskrit. But life here, differently from that of a city, has a greater harmony with nature. Their parents’ work is mostly farming and praying. With one hand, a woman, mother of a family, pulls a string to guide a cow or donkey towards pasture; with the other, she goes through a mala (prayer bead) reciting mantras. Spirituality and work are indistinguishable, interwoven as one.
It is night now, and late for Mane standards. I reflect on this day and feel grateful that places on earth like this exist. That certain cultures have preserved a life lived in simplicity and naturally. And I let the dreams of the nighttime under a sky full of stars carry me home, thinking as I used to in those times of play: Today was a good day.