My friend and I were riding horse while the owner of the horse was holding the bridle and walking behind us. It wasn’t a pleasant journey for me. As a soft hearted person, I could barely tolerate the fact that the poor horse owner was walking while we were enjoying the ride.
Kedarnath temple (Uttarakhand, India)-our destination- is not accessible by motor vehicle from Gauri Kund (Uttarakhand, India) onwards and we were too old to walk on our own. So the only option we were left with was to ride horseback. We had hired two horses; one for me and the other one for my friend. But the horse I was riding was not guided by the owner.
Mountain trekking is full of fun on one hand, can be very risky on the other hand. Walking along a narrow uneven stretch with frequent ups and downs is not only difficult but also risky.
A slight misstep could immediately lead one to the last fall of their life. One time the horse I was riding, narrowly escaped a fall. I was very scared. My horse, unlike the one my friend was riding, was free as she was not guided by her owner.
Sensing my frightened face, Padam smiled and said “Kumla- is very experienced and intelligent. She knows her way very well. She will never put you in danger. So please relax and enjoy your journey.”
To pass my time, I started talking to Padam. He told me that he had named his horse Kumla. Her real name was Kamala but affectionately, he used to call her Kumla. According to Padam female horses are generally gentler than male horses and Kumla was most gentle among other female horses. According to Padam she was smart and intelligent. On his own words “When I had just bought her in Pithoragarh, she was untrained and naive but amazingly she learned all the skills pretty quickly.”
During our journey, I asked Padam about his own life. Padam seemed to be a smart guy. He began with describing his business experience. He described in detail how he was struggling in that business. He also told me that his everyday routine consisted of preparing the horse early in the morning for ride, finding a customer, fixing the rate with customers after a tough bargain and starting the journey to Kedarnath temple.
Padam told me “The business I am in is not an easy one. Many people start this business only to give up shortly. But I am in this business for many years. I usually work on alternate days because the journey makes both of us (horses) very tired. With the income from this business, I am able to support my family very well. My two kids go to school. My dream is to give them a good education which would help them in getting a good job with the government where life is easy and relaxing, I have heard from people.”
Throughout our journey from Gauri Kund to Kedarnath and back to Gauri Kund, I kept wondering what a difficult life Padam was living. Walking a nine-mile narrow stretch twice every day with his two horses must be very hard for him. I also felt that the job he held was inhumane from our (a rider) perspective.
By the time we got back to Gauri Kund our relationship had turned from that of a buyer and seller to a good friend who would not hesitate to ask personal questions. By that time he was very open to me and I was very open to him too.
He invited me for dinner at his home. While having dinner, we started talking about things like what could be done to make the lives of people of this region easier. I told Padam “I want to tell you something. I am a professor. I teach Labor Economics at a European University. I am also a columnist for a Europe based international newspaper. I am thinking of writing an article describing the need for paved road from Gauri Kund to Kedarnath. This would make the life easier for yourself and thousands others.”
Padam’s smiling face turned into a worried one. He looked serious after listening to me. He said “Sir, you are much more educated than me. My long experience has no meaning in front of your academic background. If you don’t mind I would like to say something. I know you are highly educated in economics; however, you are missing a very basic rule of economics. In economics, big fish swallows small ones. If we get a paved road here, big businesses will swarm this place. They will make much money. Rich will get richer, and the people like us, who are struggling for survival, will become unemployed and become poorer. What we have now is much better than what will come with the paved road”
After listening to Padam I got emotional. I hold his both hands tightly and kept shaking them for a long time. I hugged him and said “Padam, you are a great economist. There are many things I could learn from you. You are my teacher.”
(Source : English Samakalinsahitya)