It all started with lunch in Ludhiana. With the husband being firmly set on conflict politics, Kashmir was his obvious choice of bread and butter. The good part of this was that he came home with several interesting tales to tell, not least of which was the one where the militants blew off one wing of the hotel in which he and his crew were staying, while they pulled the blankets further up over their heads, thinking this just another bomb blast in the vicinity.
But I am digressing here. Let’s begin at Ludhiana. In the mid-1990s, when Kashmir was enjoying a lull in the proceedings, I got this little idea—we would holiday in style in the Valley. The husband looked at his budget and nodded happily. Kashmir was dirt cheap then. If you were the enterprising sort, you could get a houseboat for as little as Rs 250 per day, with the food thrown in!
We opted to do the trip on our Enfield Bullet. One set of parents spent a minor fortune on STD bills, begging and pleading with us to not do it. The other maintained a tight-lipped silence, which was just as eloquent nevertheless.
D-day was in mid-June, and we set off. The papers that day warned of the monsoon arriving early that year, but we laughed it off. After Ambala, the clouds had stepped out of the newsprint, they were right over our heads and quite business-like, too. By Jalandhar, we were soaked. But we kept on till Ludhiana, warmed by our argument on whether we should go ahead or just return. Over hot aloo parathas and masala chai, we thrashed it out.
I was for carrying on. I mean, how many times has a newspaper got its weather forecast right? And Ludhiana is mid-way between Delhi and Jammu. As much forward as backward, and we’d be nearly there.
The husband begged to differ. Mature, some call it, especially the Ma-in-Law. I called it chicken, but who was listening to me anyway? Night found us in our bed in Noida, with little to show for the day but our sore backsides and the gurgling (in our tummies) of the lunch in Ludhiana.
We set forth in the Merc the next day. As soon as they heard of it, even the tight-lipped set of parents found their voices: “That car will never make it up there!”
But make it, it did. Despite all the rain that I am convinced the heavens sent just so the husband could tell me every ten minutes by the watch, “Aren’t you glad we didn’t bring the bike?”
The next day, trudging up to Srinagar, it poured in sheets every inch of the way, and kilometres per hour were reduced to centimetres per hour. By 4 pm, panic was setting in. We had to reach the Jawahar Tunnel if we even hoped to make it to a dry bed that night.
When the tunnel came into sight, the husband heaved a sigh of relief. “Now we’ll get the army guys at the other end. Just keep quiet, and let me handle it,” he warned, with all the air of a veteran. I closed my mouth mutinously.
On the other side, just as he had described, were two soaked, dilapidated creatures the Indian Army would have been ashamed to own up to. The weather had made them all the more determined to do their duty. All the veteran journalist’s explanations failed to bring forth a wave of the hand.
Finally, the husband succumbed to parochial bait. “Are you from Kerala?” he asked, lighting a soggy cigarette. “My wife is a Malayali, too.”
The usual questions followed, but to me, in rain-sodden Malayalam. Then came the clincher. “Are you really married to this guy?” the soldier asked. I nodded vigorously. “You are a journalist too?” More vigorous nodding. “Your parents agreed?” I stuck in desperately, “We have a son too.”
The soldier shook his head sadly and told the husband, “Okay, you can go.” But he retained his hold on my half-open window glass. As the husband revved up the car, he half shouted at me, “Chechi (didi), were all the men in our state dead? What did you see in this guy?”
The husband eyed me curiously as I doubled up with laughter. Not for all the world would I have told him how he’d gained entry into the Valley Beautiful!
First published in The Financial Express.