The other day my friend Alo called up from Secunderabad and exclaimed that she and her husband were going on a trip to Kashmir. She comes from the land of the great Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate and has the artist in her. Food for her artistic brain and fingers I thought and before long like Alice in wonderland I was sucked into the bottomless pit of memories…
My Dad serving in the Indian Army was transferred there much to my grandma’s horror! (Kashmir has always been a strife ridden province of the Indian union).My Dad was excited and soon enough he asked us to come and share the Eden on Earth with him. For this we are so thankful to him. Despite some misgivings from relatives and friends he thought it was imperative that his family be with him. My mother a staunch devout of my father with the dictum ‘…not to question why, but to do …’packed us all up also a family servant (helper) for the big journey. It was indeed the most interesting and entertaining journey from Poona to Kashmir by train which was to be our home for a couple of days, with elaborate meals and games. A couple with a baby shared the compartment with us. Our high spirits spilled over into the compartment. We had our boisterous talks and laughs busy maneuvering the train. Yes! We shamed the guard by conscientiously putting out a red sweater of ours to stop the train when it did and waved out Mum’s scarf to start the train when we heard the whistle blow! If the train stopped in the wilderness we would stick out our heads to catch the up/down of the signal. At dusk Mum put a couple of trunks between the two lower berths and spread out the bedding (hold all) and turned it into a king sized bed, however my brother and I chose to sleep on the top berth. He insisted on sleeping at the edge. In the dead of night I woke up to a sound of thud. My kid brother had fallen off and had missed the sleeping child by a foot and yet the hysterical mother of his created such a fuss. Oblivious to all the commotion my brother slept on. Mum tried to appease the lady and when she did not, Mum gave her a logical piece of her mind. She is a great one for sound arguments. Most of the time she is of a pleasant disposition with a smile on her lips and song in her heart, however when she is ruffled the Scotland yard guys cannot outdo her reasoning. She appeased the upset mother while she cradled my sleeping brother in her arms who settled in her warmth with his indigenous pacifier (thumb) in his mouth. He did not wake up .Can you believe it! From my perch I watched on wide eyed.
When he awoke the following morning I narrated the great thud of his which nearly squashed the infant by a foot! He was tickled to an uncontrollable laughter, but refused to believe me as he had no bruises etc. The day progressed with the monkeying around climbing berths, swinging from them, continuing the guard’s duty with undiminished passion and our bid to get our infant sister’s attention. Rosy cheeked like a cute little doll she kept us enthralled with her movements…her smile, her cry, her baby prattle, her gurgle, her forever exercising little hands and feet…
My problem began when we entered the hilly terrain- for it was here that the tunnels came in. Day time the lights were switched off in the compartment. To my Mum’s embarrassment and my brother’s amusement I’d let out a blood curling scream when the train entered any tunnel, bringing in pitch darkness in our midst. Hurriedly Mum fished out a torch (flashlight) from the elaborate luggage she had brought along, much to my relief! After that the tunnels suddenly became the cherry on the icing as I looked forward to them and enjoyed their internal structure in the circle of the torchlight! Dusk set in and the lights came up on their own accord in our compartment. Outside the whole thing seemed a never ending black tunnel. It was a moonless night. Soon we saw shimmering lights of the Pathankot. Mum informed us that Dad would be there to receive us. We were elated at the thought that we’d meet him.
Pathankot station came into view, it was cold and we did not wave out the red sweater of mine as I was wearing it. We had to disembark here. We were impatient to get out of the train, a feeling to jump out on to the station like the adults did, from a slowly moving train! My mother’s command kept us captive in her view and kept us from walking to the door. As the train chugged in there was no sign of my Dad. There were coolies running along the slowing train to fish passengers and assist them with their luggage for a fee. The kuli(railway-station luggage carrier) we hired was happy to see our compartment loaded with luggage. He brought in a huge hand cart and started piling it up the numerous trunks, it was then that my father strode up and all he said (exclaimed) was as I clearly remember was ‘Good Lord!’ There was an ensuing argument with Mum about the phrase travel light! …However he could not remain angry for long as we were all over him like puppies. He took us to the Officer’s mess where we had a feast and a comfortable night’s rest. Morning after a king’s breakfast we boarded the officer’s bus for Srinagar the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The road journey unfolded into a most picturesque journey. Somewhere we went through the longest tunnel the well -lit Jawahar Tunnel. It seemed it was a golden tunnel snaking on for miles it seemed then.
The curtain opened to our discovering the places through weekend picnics meticulously planned by Dad .He captured our happiness with his Leica the German make camera. The Nishatbagh, Shalimarbagh , the Chashma shahi, the Char Chinar, the Dal lake, the House boats, the Jhelum river, the Poplar Avenue, the Shankrachraya Hill,the Hazratbal, the apple orchards, mountain springs, monuments …well we were all over the place! The outpouring of joy apparent in each photograph!
In the childlike wonder and amazement I didn't quite realize that I was actually experiencing a once in a life time experience. Truly it didn't seem a big deal. It was just plain enjoyment with that feeling that life goes on forever and there’d be more good things to come!
To be cont…
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