The Queen of the Hills

by Snigdha Manna

CW: Anxiety/Depression

Every day I wake up with a longing in my heart – a strong urge to escape the labyrinth of daily life. These days, waking up feels like an exhausting task in itself. Then comes the excruciatingly painful part – surviving the day. Another day with nothing to do, but to wait for things to get better. Even hope has its limits. As a person who relishes working, two years of unwinding pushed me off a cliff and I fell into a spiral. 

In school, I was known for being socially active. I loved interacting with as many people as possible. Cracking jokes was an integral part of it. People would laugh and their laughter would fill my heart with happiness. The serotonin secretion in my body was catalysed by the beautiful curve on their lips. ‘She is our sunflower girl’, they would say. Little did they know it was just a selfish deed to content myself. Things changed quite drastically. In the last year of school life, I felt like mucky confetti scattered on the ground from last night’s celebrations. Sitting at home in front of a black mirror for hours drained me out both mentally and physically. Solitude took power over me. Succouring others didn’t matter anymore. Texting ‘hi’ to a person became a scary task. Every time I managed to fathom some courage; I fell back. Meeting and talking to someone became a distant dream. Hence, I embraced my loneliness. 

In my solitude, I craved one thing – Darjeeling. It is a small hill town in the northern part of the state of West Bengal. To everyone, she is the ‘Queen of the Hills’. To me, she is a therapist, a provider of solace. Standing tall in her queenly demeanour amidst the Himalayas, the Queen knows me better than anyone else. She wears a gigantic emerald green blanket. In that very blanket, she produces the finest quality of tea available to mankind. Tea from her plantation is devoured by people around the globe. She keeps little for herself. After all, she is a queen, and her job is to fulfil the needs of her people before satisfying her own. She managed to grant herself the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site – The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – where the century-old steam engine still manages to chug its way down the lofty slopes of the hills.

I met her first when I was ten years old. She welcomed me with open arms. There was warmth in her embrace even at an altitude of 2,042 metres above sea level. She has been a source of comfort ever since. Whenever there was an opportunity to sneak out of the hectic schedule, I would ask my father to plan a trip to Darjeeling. I didn’t mind the monotony of my journeys. No matter how many times I visit the Queen, it will never be enough. The thirst is unquenchable. During one of my vacations, I couldn’t go to Darjeeling because my father had some work. There was a niggling itch in my throat. Not a cough. A vexatious itch which is worse than a cough. At first, I wasn’t able to figure out why it was bothering me massively. Later, I realised, the sunflower girl was nothing without the Queen. I was able to keep it all together without breaking into pieces because she was there to hold me, console me. Under the façade of the bubbly girl was a worn-out and terrified soul. Without my knowledge, Darjeeling was taking care of my deranged mind. 

It has been three years since the last time I paid a visit to my therapist. Inside my head, there’s a war going on. Sleeping hours are the worst. I’m wide awake in the middle of the night with my heart pounding inside my chest. In the silence of the night, I can hear screams and my head aches in pain. With much difficulty, I manage to fall asleep and when I do, I don’t feel like leaving the bed in the morning. It pulls me in and refuses to let go.

The only thing I wish for more than a lovely cup of tea in the morning made by my mother is a walk down the streets of Darjeeling. I want to wake up at 4 am to watch the majestic Kangchenjunga bathed in gold as the sun rises in the east. I want to feel the cold breeze to caress my hair. My ears yearn for the sound of children playing in the lap of the lush green hills. A cosy breakfast at Glenary’s while I devour the view of the mountains from my table. I want to play with the clouds at Batasia Loop. A train ride to Ghoom station. A visit to the Oxford Bookstore to get myself something to read while I enjoy the heavenly taste of Darjeeling tea in the evening. One cone of chocolate softy ice cream from Keventer’s to end the day. Most of all, I need assurance from the Queen. I need her to remind me that if happiness is fleeting, then so is sadness. Even the worst storm will pass and I will survive them all. 

Like many others, I tend to escape from the hectic, monotonous life. To travel, is to find myself anew. It works like a mojito on a hot summer day. Reality can be harsh at times. Packing bags and booking tickets are ways of evading the harshness, and to experience, to create a world of our own – a fictional escape. Often, it is misapprehended as ignorance. One can never elude reality, no matter how hard they try. But they can, most certainly, find ways to conquer every bit of it. That is what Darjeeling helps me with – a source of courage, wisdom and strength. COVID-19 has surely made it difficult for us to travel. With so many restrictions and the fear of catching the heinous virus, escapist travelling has become impossible, especially when it is needed the most. Confined to the four walls for more than a year is not a pleasant treat. Sometimes, it feels as if the walls are caving in and suffocating me. I am stuck in the wheel of life which continues to run without any disruption. 

Right now, life is irritating. The uncertainty of tomorrow is constantly looming over my head. Life feels like a fancy, ill-fitting garment that I was forced to wear. I can’t rip it off because the party is not over yet. And I certainly can’t meet the Queen in homely, casual clothes. But she stretches out her hand gently and tells me that one day, I will be able to meet her without fancy, uncomfortable clothes clinging onto my skin. One day, I will be cured of my misery. One day, I will become a healer just like her. Every day I hope for that one day. 

Snigdha Manna is a Literature student at Calcutta University. She is a vehement dreamer who finds peace in writing. Her work mainly focuses on art, culture, politics, mental health, history and personal narratives. She reads a lot of books and drinks a lot of tea. She enjoys painting, sketching and photography. Snigdha despises plastic bags and loves Jake Peralta.

Social media: instagram – @sniku_piku 

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