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A gong keeps going, bells ring and chants flow from a section of the monastery. Amidst these solemnities are a couple of young monks sprawled on the cold steps leading to a living quarter, sharing a joke; someone else is absorbed in the screen of the mobile; lay people circumambulate the large stupas, old leaning on their sticks pausing, their eyes crinkled with wrinkles as they consider me looking at the ornate roof of the monastery.

'Where are you from?' an old man asks. His eyes do not flicker with knowledge when I reply, he has not heard of Madras. He must be in his eighties, if wrinkles are of any indication. He must have come to Bir fleeing Tibet, he is a man who has his head facing a different direction, living with a hope he would in his lifetime go back home. For him India is not home, Madras is too far from his radar.

To help him I point across the valley and tell, 'I live very far from here, it takes two days to travel to my place.' How long, how many days did he have to travel across the mountains from Tibet to reach Bir? I have no idea. Home is not something that one can take for granted. I join my palms in respect and take leave of the man.

Story by:

Uma Gowrishankar

12 February 2016