Day 0, Pune
It is late in the evening when I reach Pune. Ahh! “I need a vacation!” As I thought my phone rings. Arun, my hubby, is calling. Best person to vent out the frustrations of a tiring official trip and demand for a vacation! After listening to my exaggerated version of the unfairly boring trip, Arun offers me to join him in Jammu. The idea is fascinating as that would be a good break for me. I book my ticket immediately. It is going to be a good long break and a surprise for Bajee (Arun’s father) on his birthday. After the excitement subsides, I realise I just have half a day to apply for leaves from work, inform my maid, settle all the bills, pack my bag, buy the stuffs I would require, leave for Mumbai… Phew! Seems like my to-do list is endless! “If I sleep, everything will be all good by morning.” I decide.
In the morning, I panic! I have more things on my agenda than what can finish in 24 hours. Quickly I start calling people and shoot mails to everyone – making it a point to let them know that I will not be available for the next 15 days. The thought itself makes me smile. Now it is time to move on. Packing… check! Maid… check! Mails… check! Bills… check! Parlour… oh my god! I totally forgot! Well in Mumbai I will have time.
It is time to leave! Adieu Pune. I will be back soon…..
Day 1, Jammu to Kashmir
When I reach Jammu, Bajee, as lovingly we all call my father-in-law, is pleasantly surprised to see me. Arun has some official travel scheduled in Kashmir. Bajee happily plans a road trip to Kashmir. We start early in the morning as we have to reach Sopore before sunset.
The first stop is at Chandrakot. This is the place where the family had settled after the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave Kashmir. All excited, Arun shows me the way to his school, the playground where he used to play, the hills he used to climb to reach his school. As we walk around, Bajee shows me the places where slowly they had started putting the pieces of their shattered lives back to a normal path, not very long ago. Like Bajee, those who had government jobs were financially in a better position. Rest had to start etching their niches back from the scratch.
Moving on, we are stuck in traffic for over an hour in Ramban where I catch the first glimpse of Chenab. Fierce and merciless, the Chenab is flowing in its own pace not caring about anything coming its way and carves an image in my mind for the rest of my life. It only adds to my excitement and imagination of how it is going to be in Kashmir!
As we enter the Jawaharlal Tunnel connecting̱ Jammu and Kashmir, the mind starts racing̱ impatiently wishing it to end so we can get a view of outside! As we cross the tunnel and enter Kashmir, we roll our windows down to feel the breeze. Bajee stops the car at a point known as Titanic Point from which offers the first sight of the valley!
We start moving again and stop at Bijbehara where Rajni Bhabhi stays. She is a teacher and stays in the quarters given by the government for Kashmiri Hindu teachers. This is where I felt the first pinch of salt. The government is providing̱ accommodation for Kashmiri Hindu teachers in Kashmir even though they belong to that very place! They keep shuttling̱ between Jammu and Kashmir as if Kashmir is not theirs!