A professor of computer science at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, Kamal Lodaya was an editor of the children’s science magazine Jantar Mantar in the 1990’s. Kamal occasionally writes stories for English and Gujarati magazines.
It was foggy that evening in Tawang and the shops were closing down. We looked at places which might serve us chhang, the local beer, but they looked rundown and not very inviting. We decided to check out the Dragon restaurant.
Tenzin, at the counter, said they were open until nine. “No,” she smiled, “we do not have chhang but we can give you beer.” Mild or strong? “Strong,” she said. I made a face and she laughed, saying “we also have whisky.”
One of the tables had emptied and Tenzin went about organizing chairs for us. We ordered our drinks, and some momos to start with. On the next table, two women were having their dinner. Near the doorway a group of young men was downing whisky. Although it wasn’t too big the place looked well-lighted and its wall decor was not grim. It also had a good clean toilet.
We relaxed and talked. Tenzin kept walking from the cash counter near the door to the back where the cooking area was.
Our order arrived. The young women finished their dinner, paid and left amidst cheerful chatter with the ladies at the cash counter. A younger, shorter, stockier woman, was there now, together with an older woman who looked like her mother – and she was.
A thickset young man and his friend came in through the door and stood chatting at the counter. The older woman said something to the younger ones and disappeared into the back of the restaurant. The daughter’s name was Sange Dolma and Tenzin was her cousin.
Sange Dolma, it turned out, was here only for the vacations. In another week she would leave for her medical college.
Where was that? “Bagalkot,” she said, taking our breaths away.
I wanted to know how she went from Tawang to Bagalkot. She recounted,
“One day to reach Bomdila, then reach Tezpur the second evening, take a night bus to Guwahati, catch the Bangalore express on the third day morning. Fifth day afternoon the train reaches Bangalore. From there another night bus reaching Bagalkot on the sixth day morning.”
I was reminded of a conversation with a lady I got talking to in Dirang, on the road to Tawang. “Maybe when Tibet was there,” she said, “we monpas (Buddhists of the monyul, lands to the south of Tibet) might have had a hard time deciding between Tibet and India. But once China took over Tibet, there was no question for us that India was our country.”