During the initial years of service, I came across many interesting but unique experiences, encounters and individuals. Whenever I am in a mood to recall, ponder over and narrate, I suppose, my joys know no bounds. One such memorable incident happened in the thick of Monsoon in North Sikkim, sometimes in 1991. Having disposed off the first half work, I took a lunch break (officially not possible). Before I could complete the process, I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of an old Lepcha couple, dressed immaculately in their traditional attire. They hesitated to utter a word upon discovering that I had not finished eating. Omkith, the woman understood my predicament faster than Passang, the man accompanying her. Wiping her face and adjusting her headgear, she turned towards the door and signaled the man to follow her. I felt for them, more so, on discovering that it was raining cats and dog outside. They, therefore, appeared very pleased upon being asked to sit on the sofa, having elaborate and intricate ethnic carving. I promised to listen to their grievance soon.
First I heard Passang. Thereafter, I gave a long and patient hearing to Omkith. It transpired that the couple hailing from the famous village of Hee-Gyathang, Lower Dzongu had got separated after getting an ‘order’ from my predecessor’s Court approximately three years ago. A certain amount was fixed to be paid as maintenance allowance to Omkith. With the passage of time, both of them succeeded in retying nuptial knots as per local customs and traditions. To my surprise, the maintenance allowance was not discontinued even on ascertaining the sound economic status of the second husband of Omkith, residing in the adjacent, picturesque, Lingdong village. In view of the fact that Omkith had fresh issues after remarriage, Passang was dragged to the Court to explore the possibility of an enhancement in the maintenance allowance.
The perusal of the enabling legislation revealed that my predecessor had, perhaps, no authority to decide the said allowance. Thanks to the innocence of the people as also the geographical isolation of an otherwise stunning landscape, the matters beyond one’s jurisdictions were not only heard but expeditious disposal was also ensured. When I explained my compulsions under the circumstances, the couple simply won’t budge. They unanimously preferred a ‘review’ of the earlier ‘order’ by me rather than proceeding all the way to the next nearest Court at Gangtok, a distance of nearly 67 kilometres.
I began reading the law books in my occasionally used Court Room. I also browsed through some of the old case records in order to help the couple. When I failed to get a precedence, I settled for another break of ten minutes to enjoy a piping hot cup of Temi Tea. This trick not only energized me but also gave me the much needed clue to resolve the issue. I called them after some contemplation to the Court Room. I made it very clear that I was not going to write anything on the case record. However, I was not averse to consider a sort of a Milap Patra, to be jointly signed by them and same was to be counter signed by the area Gram Panchayat members. This formula had clinched many issues earlier. In view thereof, I was somewhat optimistic about its success even in a marital dispute. To my relief and satisfaction, they gave their consent and returned within an hour. They had all the required signatures on a white crumbled sheet. When I expressed my surprise over the signature of the Panchayat Member, apt came the reply “he was already in the Court building in connection with some other case”. After some heated arguments, an amicable amount was agreed to. This paved the way for a solution to be confirmed verbally by me. I was led to believe the famous saying “all is well that ends well”. I did give them a five minute breather before making up their mind, more so, in view of the fact that Omkith had mentioned about her regular attendance at the time of marriage of her former children, otherwise staying with Passang. Perhaps, he was destined to pay more in view of his better economic condition in comparison to the second husband of Omkith. Though they were hardly on talking terms, participation of Omkith during the wedding of her ‘former’ children reflected a very strange relationship. At the same time, it was indicative of persistence of emotional bond even in a situation of physical separation.
When everything was settled, the couple left quietly. Omkith, showing a beaming face did not forget to say ‘Khamri’(Lepcha equivalent of Namaste).My clock showed 15:30 hours., meaning thereby, I had to continue in office for another thirty minutes without any visitor or engagement. As expected, my ‘intelligent’ PA and ‘quiet’ CA had left for the day when I was deeply engrossed in hearing Passang and Omkith. Upon turning towards the window, I noticed that rainfall was not in a mood to relent or subside. Sharp at ten past four, I gently walked towards the portico. To my dissatisfaction, my old trusted peon Tashi had taken his “fill” for the day. He appeared determined to lock the doors of the Collectorate. I waited for full five minutes for the driver. Alas, he was no where to be seen. I was left with no option but to enter the vehicle through an open door. Fortunately, the key was very much there. There was, therefore, no justification in waiting. I was driving towards my residence with a certain degree of caution not because I was a learner but the heavy downpour had resulted into overflow of nearby drains. The clean, sparkling road was completely isolated in the stretch of the first kilometer. Nevertheless, the vegetation and the rocks were dazzling with freshness. Suddenly, at a sharp turn, I was compelled to slow down. I saw two people walking hand in hand under the cover of a small, colourful but torn umbrella. Before I could pickup momentum again, I was curious to know as to who were they, braving the intermittent rain. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that they were none other than Passang and Omkith. Perhaps the adversity of the Mother Nature had brought them together even though it was a momentary affair. I was stunned and immobile. No word would come out. By the time I decided to reignite my engine, I heard a very feeble, yet audible and discernible “Khamri,Saheb”. I was deeply impressed by the collective and forceful voice and togetherness, though, temporary, of the estranged individuals. I was tempted to respond by nodding my head. Before hitting the pillow, I was still thinking about both of them huddled together under a torn umbrella, yet facing the wrath of nature in unison.