Milarepa tucked his saffron shawl closer, as he whirled his prayer wheel. The wind was brutal today. His narrow eyes were even more slanted, his flat nose wrinkled up and his ruby lips parched. His agile 14 year old frame shivered.
Even his woolen cap (woven of thick yak wool) could hardly protect his bald head from the chill.
The roads of Leh were deserted. It was past 7'o clock and the tourists had already started moving back to their rooms. Milarepa quickened his pace. If only the lama hadn't come down with fever, he would never be allowed to come out at this hour.
The sky was inky. Writers had myriad of terms to describe it's hues. But to Milarepa, it had always appeared inky. Like the very bottom of those Chelpark bottles at the monastery.
Inky seemed appropriate because it's color spilled everywhere at night.
This same street glittered in the mornings. Happy tourists, excited kids, loud guides and eager shopkeepers. The cosy little cafes would be filled to bursting, the momo stalls abuzz with customers. The little quaint curio shops, the woolen stores, travel agencies and adventure sports stalls vibrated with life.
And as the ink started dripping, everything would close. The wind from the mountains brought it's chill, it's mist and it's stillness with it. Just as it had done for centuries past.
Milarepa stopped whirling the prayer wheel, as he realized that he had almost missed his turn.
He hurried to the medical store. The guy was stowing away boxes, clearly packing up for the day.
"Para...ceta...ceta ....mol", he fumbled deep inside his robes as his teeth chattered of their own accord.
"Wait. Wait. I just packed it up"
"Arjun, come here. Enough I said!, a panicked voice came from nowhere.
Milarepa raised his head and looked around. For a moment, for the tiniest fraction of a moment, he had actually dared to imagine ...
The voice came closer as a family of three approached the store. The mother was still glaring at the kid.
"You have any cough drops? He has been coughing like mad", the little kid let out a heart-wrenching cough (almost on cue)
"Ji madam. One minute. Aye lama bhaiya .. your paracetamol tablet"
Milarepa handed the crumpled ten rupee note and left. Almost ran, as fast as his legs would carry him up the steep slope of the mountain.
The image of the family was stuck in his head. Arjun was someone he knew. Someone with long curly hair and a cheeky little grin. Incidentally, a lot like the kid he had just seen.
He remembered very little though. Just flashes of memory. Like those stains which won't go away no matter how roughly you scrub the cloth.
He remembered Arjun's docile, tiny mother ... he remembered poverty .. hunger .. cuddling with her bony frame on cold nights ..he remembered the fight she and her new husband had.. and the way Arjun had screamed at the monastery gates.
Milarepa's breathing became shallow. He stopped, bent forward and put his hands on his knees. To struggle against the untamed mountain winds on an uphill slope, was no easy task.
He did not tug his robe closer. He wished Arjun's mother was there to tuck it in. Was there to hold his hand and brace him against the winds. Was there to pat his head on that hard monastery bed. Was there to pour cough drops when he was sick.
As he absent mindedly clutched his robe, he recoiled in horror. There was something wrong with his them. A dark spot had appeared on the saffron folds.
Ink. That was what it was. Ink had not only dripped on him, it had managed to seep in.
Malirepa squeezed his eyes shut in fear, shook his head and forced his legs to walk again. He chanted "Om mani Padme Hum" as loudly as he could. His prayer wheel was rotating in his hand.
If only someone could see the young monk, they would know how bravely his prayer wheel kept whirling against the force of the winds that night.