While returning from Shalimar garden, we stopped near a woolens’ shop where the Kashmiri Chacha had opened up his treasure trove of fluffy socks and sweaters in all hues possible. That was when our first conversation ensued. Imran was a talker, he had to be, considering the extra role of a tourist guide that all drivers seemed to play. I asked him things about himself and he patiently told me all about his language, how it was imperative for him to have rice and ‘saag’ (spinach) at least once in a day, how Kashmiris loved to drink ‘Nun Chai’, which is just tea minus sugar plus salt. He told me how it felt to cycle on the frozen Dal lake, how in winter, the streets were flush with deep red apples straight from the orchards, how they wore the thick ‘Faraan’ to protect themselves from incessant snowfalls, how every wooden house had a hearth around which the family sat, how he would be trapped for hours in the Jawahar tunnel till the weather was safe for driving again. I listened in rapt attention, unsure to whom the attention belonged more- the place or the person. It made my heart skip five beats whenever he smiled at my wrong pronunciation and I ended up pronouncing even normal things improperly. He dropped us off and I returned to bed feeling terribly weak that night and my heart throbbing like hell!
The next day when we set out for Sonmarg, he had chucked off the jacket and wore only a short blue checked shirt with jeans. Was it an unusually awesome day or does blue suit just everyone around? It was unexpectedly sunny and between bouts of laughter and good conversation, I found myself trying to tear my eyes off the mirror. Some magician eyes those were! At Sonmarg, we thankfully decided not to take the horses because that would have eaten up an extra two hours and I was more than eager to get back to the maroon Tavera. A thing about Kashmir is the way it is a photographer’s and a selfie-lover’s paradise at the same time. Every click, no matter which nook or cranny you choose, would emerge as beautiful and breath-taking as none else. And so it would have, had God not decided to make me trip again. I cautiously crept up in my sandals to stand on the ice with a constant prayer of “Please don’t make me fall, please don’t make fall” in my head. Just when the shutter was about to click, my sandals gave way and I fell down with a thud on the ice. Stupid two feet ice. There were more amused eyes on me than I would have wanted as I trudged back to the car, my wet jeans a canvas for the white snow and the brown soil. As I sat all red in the face, the pair of eyes in the mirror smiled mischievously and turned the steering wheel back in the direction of home.
We swerved round Boulevard Road, watching the fountain in the middle of the lake dancing in the afternoon sun rays. The Chinar-trio in the little lake-island, lovingly called ‘Chinar Point’ looked like happy, jolly bodyguards of nature. There is something about love that makes the whole world erupt out in new bright colors and brush onto your face to say, “Hey! It’s your day. Live the moment like there is no tomorrow.” And so I did. I watched lovely little bylanes spangled with shops selling all kinds of clothes, wooden craft and merchandise. Shopkeepers rowed shikaras, crying, “Bhumro!Bhumro!” and hawkers bargained constantly. Luscious red poppy flowers floated capriciously in floating parks. While Mom and Dad were busy shopping souvenir and my sister found heaven in a packet of ‘jhalmuri’, I looked at Imran sitting by the Dal lake, a picture of beauty and tranquility and all the good things in life. Now, I just couldn’t wait for the next day’s drive.
Swasti is a Guest Author for LSD. This story is part of a love-story-series that she penned down when she was in Kashmir some years ago. It portrays both, her love in Kashmir and her love for Kashmir.
Find the first part of the story here.