The Little Would-Be Doctor in Ooty
It was frigid in Ooty, all night and well into mid-morning. We arrived to this mountainous hill station on a toy train train, a five hour ride in one of four cars that stopped periodically at chai and snack stands nestled in lush green, rolling hills. I watched a little girl whose parents were lovingly trying to feed her chapatti and chutney. She refused, relented, refused again. Her father was so patient, but at the next pit stop he inexplicably switched to another car and we never saw him again.
Shortly after we arrived, stunned at the clarity of the cool air, we found a room with two heavy blankets, hot water from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and cable TV. TV! We watched NatGeo Adventure most of the time while recovering from the latest stomach ailment – we were often in some state of needing recovery, and there were no pressing engagements that needed our attention. The very idea of the mountains all around us was enough travel for me at this point.
While watching a show about a guy walking the Carmino del Santiago, I had this strange sensation knowing that at this very moment, there were people all over the world, at the exact same time, finding their way among the lands of others, motivated by any number of passions. It felt so warm (the cozy blankets didn’t hurt either) to finally feel a sense of community in this strange and gargantuan universal space we’ve been inhabiting, with almost no awareness of the outside world.
I didn’t realize how cut off I’d been feeling, though a sense of removal was palpable. Somehow, I needed to watch other people delight in the world’s offerings to remember how lucky I am to be nestled in a hill station under blankets, drinking tea and wondering what India will end up like for us this third time around.
One day we went on what the local tourist map said was a 10 km rural walk around Ooty. It was gorgeous. Tiny hilltop churches and Hindu shrines commingled and everywhere there were vast, endless expanses of mountain, sky and sun. It was a small, leisurely walk and it was also as momentous as anything I could remember. We ate cheese spread sandwiches under a tree down from an abandoned construction project, and drank chai in a tiny shop served to us by a shy local girl.
We were trying to figure out which of two ways would take us to the next village when a little boy saw us and asked us where we were going. We told him, Kammandu, and he nodded his head and said, this way. We followed him straight up a mountain of small, sun-kissed tea leaves until we reached a small road and a pretty, large pink house. That way, he pointed. Then he ran inside.
Soon, his mother emerged. Come for chai, she said. We smiled and entered. The house was airy but grounded, like a transparent cocoon suspended on the very top of a tree. The chai was delicious, and we reveled in this nurturing mother’s warm embrace.
The son did the translating, and told us his father was a military doctor while his mother proudly showed us photos of the family taken at the Botanical Gardens in Ooty. We never found out how this wealthy family came to live in a house on a hill in the middle of a tea plantation. The little boy wants to be a doctor like his dad, and with his huge, soulful eyes and quiet, kind demeanor, I’m sure – and I told him so – that he would grow up to be the best.