With Love to My Kashmir

While the 500 year old Chinar tree beamed with avuncular warmth, the thirteen year old sister and her twin brother almost came to fisticuffs.

“Go get the ball; it has gone over there. ”He said almost dragging her towards the stretch of water fronting the shudh vaishnavi dhaba, where we sat enjoying a mouth-watering cuisine of vegetarian Kashmiri dishes lovingly served by the owner surrounded by a multi lingual Babel of voices.

The faces of Hilal and Sajjad, who had accompanied us were wreathed in happy smiles as they listened to the boisterous chatter of the shopkeeper and soaked in the happy and peaceful ambience around them.

”Last year there were more than one lakh devotees on jyeshta ashtmi, it was so wonderful, this year there are going to be more, I am sure. “The beaming shopkeeper chirped.

“It falls on 17th June this year. Will you be there for the mela?” The pleasant faced shopkeeper’s even more pleasant faced assistant was babbling excitedly.

“My brother is involved in the arrangements of the mela.I will be there with my friends.”Hilal said with a happy smile.

”Are you going to get the ball?” The twin brother was not interested in the mela or its arrangements; he sorely missed the lost ball.

“No, I am not”. The sister said defiantly.

‘YOUWON’T!!”The belligerence in the boy’s eyes threatened to spill on the grounds ofKheer Bhavani,at Tull mulla village,the shrine of the goddess Raginiyey bhagwati, 26 .kms away from Srinagar, in Ganderbal district where we were in the process of eating way too much of the sumptuous fare being ladled out with such warm hospitality. Such palpable love.

Nestled in the benevolent shade of ancient Chinar trees, this shrine held fond childhood memories for me, where we had spent many a happy, carefree day gambolling around, gorging on halwa and lucchi, and repeatedly diving in the water, while parental reprimands followed us.

“I disown the brother who can’t even look after his cricketing paraphernalia!”She solidly stood her ground-a ground carpeted with a profusion of Chinar leaves.

”You disown me!!Then give me back my jacket!’He yelled.

“You give me back my shades, “she said almost pulling the protective gear from his eyes.

 I watched with a bemused twinkle as this tug of war unleashed before my eyes. Before this sibling rivalry/revellery could morph into a full fledged war, their mother intervened, soothing ruffled feathers.

An imminent full fledged war had been averted with a little healing touch, a few soothing words.

As we headed towards Sonamarg, 84 kms from Srinagar and more than 60 kms from Ganderbal, we found the mouth watering smell wafting across to us from the wayside bakeries simply irresistible! At Kangan, we simply had to give in to the temptation!

”Kashmir has the best bakeries in the world”, I remarked biting off a huge piece from the cake which Hilal, had volunteered to get from the wayside shop.

‘You are biting off more than you can chew’, my husband quipped, but I ignored this supposed wisecrack with a poker face.

I had more important things on my mind.

A board stuck to a tree proclaimed’Jannat sirf khushi se hai,aman sirf muhabbat se hai”.Yes indeed ,love begets peace, I said, to myself, wiping the clinging cake particles from my face .

I was delighted to see a huge sea of humanity creating waves in Sonamarg [Meadow of gold] which was situated at an altitude of 2730 m above sea level!

Under a cerulean blue sky, differently attired folks in saris,jeans,dhotis ,salwar suits, but clothed in an all pervasive atmosphere of peace ,speaking different languages, were cheerily bent on  creating a euphonious cacophony ,a harmonious melody-Gujaratis,Maharashtrians,Rajasthanis,Bengalis-all voicing just one feeling-a feeling of love ,warmth and peace!

‘This ponyvala is asking a ridiculously high price’, I heard someone complain.

“oh no look at the traffic jam these ponies and ponyvalas are creating”.

”what a ruckus’!

“I cannot possibly sit on this sledge; this sledgewala is pestering me to hire a sledge.”An obese woman screeched at the top of her voice.

“Maggie,coffee,chai ,kahva”the shopkeepers shouted as the ponies with their human burdens skidded and slipped forward , heading  towards the glacier.

Suddenly I shuddered.

 It was my daughter’s anguished wail coming from the direction of a group of ponies. Had she had a fall? My maternal instincts came to the fore.

Before I could race in her direction, her reprimand fell into my ears “what are you doing to my paradise? Littering things around? Do you not know that garbage bins have been created just for that?’’ The proprietorial air in my seventeen year old’s voice  pulled at my heart strings, while the young boy who had been at the receiving end of her tongue lashing ,started pulling at his mother’s invisible apron strings dragging her towards a safer zone.

“They can not do this to MY Kashmir-it is after all my home!!!”Now she was standing next to me, frothing at the mouth, nostrils flared, and eyes flashing in anger.

MY feisty seventeen year old was now a fire cry from the little seven year old who had visited Kashmir ten years back, having absolutely no idea what Kashmir was to her. Now, with that one stinging reprimand, her identification with Kashmir seemed to be complete. If I was thrilled I did not show it.

”Yes, they can not!! One cannot suffer such indignity to one’s home!!”My stout defence of her indignant outburst brought a happy spark to her eyes.

While the cold Thajiwaas glacier looked  on warmly, the children slipped  and fell, stumbled and tumbled, only to rise again with a new optimism, a new hope, a new perspective -and moved on!

"Are you having a good time?" The highly excited girl passing by in the shikara shouted at the top of her voice, while I sat in the colourfully decorated porch of the beautiful houseboat, THE AMBASSADOR feeling on top of the world!

The famous DAL LAKE of Kashmir was far from dull!

Darkness had fallen, and it was as though a hidden magician had waved his magic wand, converting the serene waters into a spectacularly shimmering surface of rippling hues -a wistful tranquility, as though an incognito painter had splashed it with vibrant colours of pure joy! The invisible magician and the invisible painter had me in their grip inspiring awe in me.

Many an unanswered question swirled in my mind. This quiet turbulence was not unlike the state of my heart, emotions threatened to burst out of me and mingle with the waters of the Lake.

I was feeling so secure, so fuzzy and warm inside, the glow in my heart had suffused my entire persona-a home coming does that, may be. I almost felt like a glow worm and had a strong urge to pack bag and baggage and come back to my home state. Was it possible? Could it happen?

The trees rustled an answer I could decipher only partly, the oars splashed a hope, I managed to clutch at with shaking hands, and muted music from another passing shikara filled me with something which definitely was not a naive optimism.

”If music be the food of love, play on”, Shakespeare whispered and the shikaravala heard and obeyed.

Soon more people rowing by in colourful shikaras chipped in with happy chirps,”Where are you from?", "Great, isn’t it?"

Well, it indeed was great, and I was definitely having a good time, with wonderful people in the happy ambience. I wanted to shout at the top of my voice ‘I am from Kashmir! Kashmir is my home! I am not a tourist here!”

The persuasive eloquence of the mobile shopkeepers, showing off their wares in their shikaras, the myriad houseboats glimmering like fireflies, the boisterous babbling of the tourists- everything appeared out of this world. But this out- of -the -world world was my world! Never before had such a feeling gripped me as it gripped me then!

I tried to read between the lines of the heavily wrinkled face of Kabeer chacha who was rowing people to and fro from the shore to the houseboats. The lines spoke of the fulfillment of a dream long awaited, of tranquility long craved for. The song of life seemed to be pulsing through his fragile body. His happy toothless smile said it all-it spoke of a lost paradise regained.

After almost a fortnight of untrammeled joy, it was time to leave. In a world torn asunder by hatred, venom, ill-will, we had received nothing but love in Kashmir-my home!!

I had left behind my heart in Kashmir, and the home, they say, is where the heart is, so I definitely plan to reclaim it .Soon. Very soon.

As the car raced forth on the Yamuna Expressway, the kaleidoscope of memories jiggled creating new patterns, new designs and newer perspectives. Jostling each other, vying for attention, they created a happy bedlam.

Places left behind superimposed themselves over passing towns-Ramban over Rarrah,Manasbal over Mathura,Ganderbal over Girraj,creating  a mind boggling confusion. In my mind I was still in Kashmir, but the passing towns proclaimed otherwise.

Mohammad Rafi’s mellifluous voice filled the car,”mohabbat ka ye jadoo sar chadd key bolega  harr ikk aandhi,har ikk toofan ko daaman mey ley lega.Mohabbat ne kissi bhi kaam ko mushkil nahi samjha”[the magic of love will one day become a potent force, overcoming all typhoons and storms. For love, no task is difficult.]I found myself humming along with the legend. So what, if I was off key!!

Love is indeed a potent force, I said to the clouds, whispered to the breeze, chirped to the birds, told the raindrops, shouted to the bellicose looking boy as he zoomed past on his mobike, sporting a tattoo on his neck, red ear phones in his ears.

The nimbus and the cumulus clouds joined their cloudy hands together and broke into a jig, the wipers of the car beating a slow metronome on the windshield as the rain pitter -pattered.

It was surrealistic. Riveting! The feisty sun peeped through the cloudy veil, looking exactly like a winking Smiley.

I tried to click photographs with my mobile, but it said MEMORY FULL.DELETE ITEMS? My memory was also full, but I had no intention of deleting items. I snuggled closer to the memories. 

A storm was in the offing, but I had the weapon of love with me, and love, I was convinced, would conquer all.

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