A Day To Remember
They came onto stage like gnarled oaks and pines – upright against the winds of time and age, and yet stooped in grace and glory – veterans of many wars, some alive, some widows – all from the same village – Chhoti Haldwani – bordering Kaladungi – in the terai of Kumaon, where forest still abounds, where animals still roam, where men are yet men, and women true leaders of life – we were celebrating the 100 years since Jim Corbett – yes, the Jim Corbett – bought the land which is now Chhoti Haldwani, and which he left to his beloved friends, the villagers, in 1947 when he left India for Kenya, where he passed away in 1955.
The celebrations – the jashn – went on for three days – organized by the Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti, and encouraged by Anjali and Rajiv Bhartari – Corbett readings, nature walks, dances, folk songs, films – memories – the same canal, the same forest, the same mandir, the same glade, the same bungalow, the same trees which Corbett writes about with such passion in his books – they are all still there – and you can stay in the village as guests of the villagers – you can walk along the wall which Corbett had constructed 80 years ago around the village to protect the crops from wild animals – you can be within fifteen feet of a tiger, as we were, in the forest just across the Boar River – you can read Corbett and realize the tremendous concern of the man for both animal and human – and above all for India –
On Christmas Day, I went up with my family to Nainital to celebrate where Corbett would have celebrated – first of all the Christmas service at the St. Nicholas Church, led by Pastor Sundar Lal, and then to the St. John in the Wilderness Church, where Corbett’s mother and father are buried – we found Mrs. Corbett’s grave, and felt a special bond, because my wife and I , and our son and daughter-in-law, where married at the same church in Mussoorie where Corbett’s parents were married –
But the highlight of the festival – the jashn – was the 26th. evening when the war veterans of the village of Chhoti Haldwani were honoured – a shamiana was erected near the village school, and an officer from the Kumaon Regiment in Ranikhet came to greet the veterans and the widows on stage – there were 21 of them, and each more emotional than the next – as the veterans snapped to aged attention on the stage, and the officer returned their salutes, and shared word with them, it was as if all of us were one, and time was eternal, and life and death but companions on a sacred journey –
One of the widows was a stooped five feet in height – at the most – and yet she carried herself with such dignity that one could feel Corbett himself bending down to touch her feet –
History is so much more than controversial facts and figures – it is a living testimony to the grit and greatness of man, of god, of the gods, and, above, all – the human spirit –
As the sun set with a sigh over the hills of Kumaon that evening, all living creatures, great and small, were united in joy and wonder --