He has a shy smile. Sushil Kumar, he repeats his name. He can’t be more than 20-22 years old.
It’s Shangarh, a quiet, mountainous and rapidly developing village in the Sainj Valley in Himachal Pradesh, north India, not far from the foothills of the Himalayas.
I’m stopped by his warm smile, his bright blazer, the matching vibrant tones of his t-shirt and his skin, and that he’s willing to engage with me – two strangers in a land far away from home. Bihar state in eastern India is where his home is. For me, home is…it isn’t, actually. Depends on the landscape, and the company. Quiet mountains are home. Friendly, meaningful conversations. The smile of a stranger.
The rapid commercial development of Shangarh is depressing for someone like me – I prefer peace and quiet and the absence of noisy tourists with their selfie sticks. For someone like him, rapid development is survival. It means employment for him and food for his family in far away Bihar, among the poorest states in India.
He’s shy but he opens up slowly. His parents live in Bihar, he says and are as old as me, tongue firmly in cheek. All his sisters are happy, he adds. I wonder if that means he’s an only son and must work in order to raise money for his sisters’ marriages? Or whether they are married and therefore happy?
He’s been working in Shangarh for a year now. Will be there for a couple more months before going back to Bihar. The weather here is very enjoyable, he says. It is – Himachal Pradesh is at a higher altitude and enjoys much cooler weather relative to the plains.
Sushil Kumar references how tourists roam around here. He, too, likes to explore the hills of Sainj valley. A little bit. I’d like to talk more, get to know him better but we have to be on our respective ways…two strangers far from home, meeting on somewhat common ground.
© 2021 Marlon de Souza