Bloomington Diary – Part 2 – Catskills

After landing in New York our destination for the weekend was not Central Park but Fleischmanns Village, upstate New York, approximately 140 miles north of New York City. Fleischmanns is located in the Catskills mountains, an unusual name for a place of Delaware County in the state of New York. It’s a pretty little place with loads of wild flowers that seem to bloom practically everywhere; a small river with crystal clear water, which seems to be passing all through the place. Fresh mountain air with moisture from the previous rain suddenly gave the impression of entering into my home town. After crossing a little bridge, we landed in our accommodation. The minute we entered the place all 7 of us had the same feeling- it’s like entering a house in Madikeri during the rainy season both in sense of look as well as the scent!! It had that old damply moist smell we all of us knew so very well. The next sentence from my daughter was I want a house like this!!

It was a break from the din & roar of the city to spend quality family time & as well as a special meeting. I was meeting my would-be son in law for the first time. I had met his parents a couple of times back home & knew them before too but not the boy himself. After landing at JFK he had joined us. Funnily, we were 7 different people from India, Kuwait & 4 different parts of the USA itself, holidaying at another town in the country. The world really is shrinking!

We three ladies wanted to explore the village. Before that, we wanted to soak our legs in the river & could hear the children’s laughter from below the thicket. As we passed the little bridge we could see a large, simple building. We thought it must be a school or something, through which we could go to the river. There was no sign board but when we entered we could see many picnic tables behind the building, where a lot of women & some kids were just lazing around. Then, towards the gate walked a teenager with 4 other kids following him. He was immaculately dressed in a black suit with a white shirt & a black hat.  We asked him whether we could go to the river through the compound.

The teenager turned his face away from us as if he had seen 3 ghosts!! One of the girls, around 7 or 8, smiled at us & when we asked her again she said we could go but walked off without telling much as the teenager signaled her to continue walking. We were not sure if we were trespassing or something so we returned to our accommodation.

We had to get some groceries & we three again wanted to go out & explore, knowing that we could find something interesting. But as we started walking our first impression was, what a rundown ghost town, as if we had gone into the sets of some ghost movie or something. All the restaurants were abandoned. One old fashioned boutique which was cute was also closed! Finally, we found one little supermarket opened but we were the only customers. To our utter surprise, it was owned by an East Indian. We bought some onions & marshmallows (luckily it was available!!). He did not talk much to us but warned us not to go out in the night…  we were taken aback as were already little paranoid of the looks around us!! However when we asked him why & he said…”The bears!!”

When we came out of the shop it was almost evening & we could see so many people, practically everyone immaculately dressed in white & black, all in groups of family or friends. Seemed like everyone shared the same tailor! Some men wore some kind of round hat resembling Old Russian style hats. The most interesting thing for us was that all the boys had cropped hair (it was not clearly visible) leaving just two lock of hair on both sides of the ear (payot) which was neatly curled up & was flying in the air when they moved.  It was a sight to behold. Everyone seemed to engrossed in their own thoughts or maybe suspicious of foreigners because no one even acknowledged our presence there..as if we never existed!! Just coming from Bloomington it was a different kind of experience for us.

Then it occurred to us it must be an orthodox Jewish community & today being Sabbath, everyone was taking everything easy. Then the round hat was confusing to us too… anyway we reached back home as we were very hungry. The main problem was the late sunset which was confusing what time of the day it was & going from Asia, our system could not get used to it!!

We had a great family time & it was really refreshing with all the fresh mountain air & loads of wild flowers & unspoiled natural beauty. Next two day, whenever possible, we walked around but no one ever smiled at us except one time when we were at the deck one lady walking with her husband waved at us. When I wished her she did not reply… on one side of the village many houses are occupied by Native Indians but even they did not acknowledge our presence. I have no idea if it was because we were from another part of the world or they just wanted to shy away from someone outside the village border.

We had made few trips to the super market & tried to go to the little boutique hoping to carry some souvenirs but it was never opened.. even though an ‘Open’ placard was on the pavement. Anyway, I was bent upon finding out why the town was so abandoned. On our last day, we three ladies went to the supermarket with the pretext of getting chocolates, (the owner was little mellowed by then, yet reserved) & popped the question. What I heard was really sad.

The place was abandoned not by choice but by the wrath of Mother Nature in the form of devastation through hurricane Irene; it was really sad. However, I could not understand how the water from the low lying river/creek could cause such a huge flood. Then he said that the water came from the mountain as if a tide had washed if off. It’s beyond my understanding capacity how a tropical wave starting somewhere in Africa could have such a monstrous effect thousands of miles away. It is a mystery showcasing the power of nature, in front of whom we are nothing but a nano-dot or perhaps even invisible. The truth hit me hard that in the hands of Mother Nature’s fury, we are just puppets. He said that the water level in his shop was three feet high, submerging everything. Most of the residents had left the place as the houses had become inhabitable & the state is now searching for ways to prevent such happenings in the future before rebuilding.

Even though at first I thought that the behavior of the Orthodox Jewish community was unusual, then I realized we had lessons to learn from them. Against all the odds & the backdrop of all the calamities, this group has stayed tall- proving the phrase United we Stand, Divided we Fall. I thought of the olden days when even in India people lived in groups {like balyamane (big house) of our own community, Taravads of Kerala, etc.,) & joint families. But with the so called new age, families are becoming nuclear & divided. Divorces have become the order of the day, which often leaves the children in lurch/doldrums, depriving them of so many good things in life such as sharing, loving, respecting, etc. Not very long ago, irrespective of the caste, creed & religion people in villages lived in harmony, I have witnessed it myself growing up. Sadly many a times till trouble knocks on our door or stands at our threshold we don’t bother because it’s not our problem… let the neighbor face first then we will think about it. Unfortunately people are Dividing, Sub-dividing & slowly Fragmenting.

World is really shrinking but sadly with fragmented thought streams. Hope the days are not far away when we will learn to live united…

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