Meanwhile: The girl by the side of the road..

I found this story while browsing through the archive of New York Times….writer is Paul Spencer Sochaczewski…

You can read this post on following link also:

LEH, India — In 1979, I took a black and white photograph of a girl in Ladakh, a remote region high in the Himalayas that is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. She was perhaps 10 years old. She wore a rough robe of homespun wool, she carried a slate on which she used a stick dipped in muddy water to write her alphabets, she carried a simple army-style book bag slung over her shoulder.

I have no idea what she was thinking, but to me her gaze says, quietly, “Watch me. I’m going to surprise you.”

I went looking for her last month. But there was a slight problem. I didn’t remember where I had taken the photograph.

One of the benefits of being a somewhat organized pack rat is that I keep my old journals. I found my notes from the trip 26 years earlier. At a town I had identified as Bongzo, I had written about a little girl, whose “hands were rough with ingrained dirt, the texture of sandpaper.” We had arithmetic as a common language, and I wrote “2 + 2” and watched her stroke the numeral “4”. I gave her a ball point pen. “The girl’s eyes lit for a moment with immediate recognition,” I had written. “After realizing the pen was for her, she grabbed it and in one motion hid it inside her homespun robe.”

I was in Ladakh for a weekend, to write an article about the golf course in Leh, the region’s capital, which, at 3,445 meters, or 11,300 feet, is the world’s highest. I had a free day, and understanding my esoteric interests, my guide, Tashi Chotak Lonchey, had taken me to the monastery that I had visited 26 years earlier (yes, one of the monks was still alive and he recognized himself in a photo).

We then drove off to visit a sacred forest. On the way to an ancient juniper tree grove in Hemis Shukpachan, we passed the village of Basgo. “Maybe this is the place where you took the picture,” Tashi suggested. Bongzo? Basgo? Close enough to be worth a stop.

None of it looked familiar. My only thought was that in 1979, my friend David and I must have stopped here for a tea break during a bus ride to Ridzong Monastery further along the same road.

Tashi and I stopped at a large house near the road and showed an enlargement of the photograph to an old woman. “It could be Tsewang,” she said after some thought. “Her husband Tashi Angchok is just up the street.”

We found Tashi Angchok working at the family restaurant. He offered us tea as he studied the photograph. “The smile looks similar to my wife’s,” he said. But his wife, Tsewang Dolma, wasn’t around the day we stopped by. She teaches at Tridho, a one-class school some three hours away, near the Chinese border.

He took the picture to his mother-in-law, and came back with a handful of old photographs showing his wife as a young girl. The mother, Sonam Angmo, said that my photograph seemed to be that of her daughter, but she wasn’t too sure.

We left the photograph with Tashi Angchok and went to explore the forest.

On the way back we stopped again at Basgo.

“It’s her,” Tashi said confidently.

We asked how he knew.

“I showed the picture to Tsewang’s sister but didn’t say ‘Is this Tsewang?’ I simply asked ‘Do you know this girl?'” he said. “She said ‘yes, that’s my little sister.'”

The family has invited me to dinner next time I’m in Ladakh. Then I’ll get a chance to actually have a conversation with this girl, now a grown woman, whose picture and spirit has graced my home for a quarter of a century…


2 thoughts on “Meanwhile: The girl by the side of the road..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s