I was on assignment in Kalimpong, a sleepy little town in West Bengal, tucked away in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. I had already covered most of the places of Buddhist interest required by my editor, and was near the impressive gates of the incredible Jangsa Gomba Dechan Choling Monastery with its colossal prayer wheels, polychromatic prayer flags, and its large population of novitiate monks of all ages, sizes, and smiles. With no restrictions on photography, the monastery is a photographer’s answer to many long and fervent hours of prayer!
Just then, I noticed the quartet of young novitiates and one not-so-young monk, looking at me rather quizzically. I smiled and waved to them. Without a moment’s hesitation, the sombre faces broke into broad, ear to ear smiles, at the exact moment that my camera viewfinder met my eye. I must have run off half a dozen frames before I lowered my instrument.
The youngest of the lot, looked at his mentor, said something in Tibetan, got a nod of approval, lightly skipped down several steps, and stopped before me. I smiled, wondering what he wanted. He extended his tightly balled fist towards me. It unclenched, and resting on his grubby palm were two, rather sorry looking pieces of candy. With a very serious face, he popped one into his mouth, and with outstretched palm, looked at me expectantly. With an equally poker face, I accepted the proffered gift with all the grace that the occasion merited. I stripped the slightly moist wrapper, popped the soggy candy into my mouth, and proceeded to suck it, with many slurping sounds of apparent relish.
My young benefactor’s face broke into a smile and his face lit up. Blissful. Radiant. With a final wave of goodbye, I entered the gates of the monastery, suddenly aware of a strange new spring in my step, and a catch in my throat. Making my way up the steps, I realized that little things really do count in life. One is tempted to dismiss them, but they are the seeds of daily joy that grow and enrich the gardens of our lives.
Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here