Arindam is an RI, a Returning Indian, as the new acronym goes in migrationspeak. His Facebook page informs his friends that he's "pinged 105 cities across the world". So when our car crosses Melli, on the Bengal-Sikkim border, his voice is a stubble of sounds: "Imagine, I've never been to Sikkim!"
I like that exclamation mark and provoke it with promises of the unseen. We are headed to Namchi"at a height of 4400ft, the name appropriately means 'Sky' (nam)-'High' (chi)"and I try to entertain Arindam with stories as we climb skywards. I tell him about the spirit of poisoner-princess Pende Ongmoo, who is said to haunt the town and, when he shows no interest, perhaps because of motion sickness, I switch to a story about Sikkim's most famous son, footballer Baichung Bhutia, after whom the stadium in the town is named. Next come stories about the Buddhist monks who climb the Samdruptse to offer it prayers to calm it down: It's a dormant volcano, such go the whispers.
When stories of football and fear fail, I reveal the real reason for my visit to the town: I want to see how Namchi is gradually being turned into a pilgrimage town. The atheist in him sits up. Perhaps it is easier to see God in Becoming than in Being.
When we reach Namchi, it is evening. We go to the local parade ground where a mela is underway. Pretty girls dance in prettier bakus, young men sing Nepali
11:20 AM, May 08, 2012