When the aircraft started to descend from the clouded leviathonous skies into Srinagar, the first thing that came to my mouth was “Janaat”. I wasn’t lying. After Jahangir spoke his words marking Kashmir as paradise, the impression stuck. It deserved to. As the aircraft was about to land, another reality struck my head. The green roofed make shift huts and buildings. It doesn’t take too long for an army child to figure out that the defences were a very much a part of Kashmir’s reality. The green meant the military. It was everywhere. After the plane landed and we disembarked, the aircraft was surrounded by stern looking defence personnel with sophisticated plastic butted weapons. For a stranger, this is strange. For me, the stranger, it wasn’t. Maybe, being brought up in the army for as long as I remember, seeing weapons gave me a thrill – a rush. Iqbal came to receive me. Obviousely he is known in Srinagar. A lot of the airport staff were hovering around him trying to catch his eye. He runs one of the biggest travel agencies in Srinagar. His father is politically connected and have been one of the old families in Srinagar. Although all the importance was being given to him, it was a pleasure to stand next to him and receive the residual ego massage. After he instructed the airport official to get my luggage before it actually arrived, we left for home a drive through the city that took about 40 minutes. I was quiet with my eye balls scanning through what it could. The security was intense all over with weapons being pointed carelessly at all passing cars. It was all part of the drill. Iqbal showed me beautiful bungalows soon after we left the airport and claimed that they belonged to barbers, maids and the laundry man. 2 storey bungalows being owned by not very economically sound people. One cannot forget the riches of the Kashmiri pandits being left to the masses when most of them left Kashmir almost a decade and a half back. Honestly the beauty of the houses, the landscapes kept making me forget the enforced military reality time and time again. Even though the military was placed every 50 meters.
I fell in love with Iqbal’s house. Once you have turned into the Bakshi Manzil – a complex with many bungalows all belonging to the Bakshi family and its extensions, his house is the one tat catches your eye. The Chinar trees, only found in Kashmir, with its leaves resembling a mix of the maple and marijuana caught my attention. The trees are huge and old. Every spring, Kashmir tunes orange. The leaves start shedding with its leaves turning into the colour of the sun at dusk and the paradise is given a new face all ready for winter. I believe it is another world all together. Iqbals house, when we arrived, was flooded. There was a make shift sand bag blockage to guard against the water that was looking at a countless ways to enter the house. Kashmir this year has had incessant rains that would almost always lead to flooding houses. Once we concluded the voyage of hopping on bricks to reach the main entrance and jumping aross the sand bag bridge, his mother was there with the most pleasant and graceful smile and lunch. Although I wasn’t really hungry, the thought of having Kashmiri food in Kashmir was too tempting. Goshtababas – meat balls cooked in a white sauce along with Haak – a special kashmiri spinach preparation. What else can a person ask for? I have been very fond of Iqbals’ mother since the first day I met her. The grace with which she talks is something that is rare in today’s world. She is 60 plus but has flawless skin reminding me of my maternal grandmother who had the same complexion till a few years back. She is gorgeous and the sweetness in her voice makes my knees quiver. After food, the brains stop working for me. This is not new. Everytime I have a feast in front of me, my gustatory senses work overtime. And post the meal, siesta strikes. But I forgot I was with Iqbal. I have known this guy fro ever a decade and realised in the past few years that he loves attention and hates being ignored. After we relaxed, not slept, for a while, we moved out to the Dal. The Dal Lake offered the best view of the cloud covered mountains. It is the very beauty of the lake that has captured people’s imagination and creativity for centuries. In my mind when I was younger, srinagar was the Dal with shikharas with colourful upholstery. It was true. We went for a shikhara ride to a small island called Char Chinari in the middle of the lake. Char Chinari has four Chinar trees hence the name. There is a house boat run by J & K tourism where we sat and had toast and butter with Kashmiri Kahwa and regular tea. Yes, this is janaat. So real, so accessible, so ignored!! A road called the Boulevard runs along the lake with vendors selling bhutta and tuji – barbequed mutton pieces on skewers. Awesome!! We ate again. And once the corn and mutton were mixed well in the stomachs, we headed home. To eat again!
Iqbals’ father usually comes back from work and bride around 9 pm and that is when dinner is laid. I am always very weary of fathers in general because I know my own father very well. We have always thought that our parents are fools but contrary to popular belief, it is otherwise. His father has a very pleasant personality but the fathers will be fathers. I guess this fear goes back to when we were in college. At our naughtiest and rascaliest best. But there was nothing much to worry about now. We were grown ups, kind off, and were working, hardly, and had learnt to speak without fear, sometimes. The dinner was another orgy of meat. His father was tired so he went up soon after dinner. Iqbal and I retired to his room. My bed was laid there and honestly, I wasn’t wanting to sleep anywhere else. I always knew about certain presence in Iqbals’ house. His mom had mentioned that they saw an old lady in the attic the night before. In the four days that I was in Kashmir, I never went to the second floor. This was strange for me because I like to put my fingers in all this jazz. But something more exciting happened while I was in Srinagar. There are a few photos that were clicked with a digital camera and there are circles of light that have appeared in the photos. Most of the orbs have appeared over Iqbal, Omar and my pictures. Aamir has been left out of all this excitement. I think it has something to do with him being a chartered accountant.