04 : Gateway to Heaven

03.Kings, Queens and the greenery.

The pack of apprehensions with which I began started piling up.

Which route to take? Is there a safe option?
Would I return In a single piece?
Would I be shot down?
If caught by the terrorists, would they feed me valley specials?
would they hire me? If so,what would they put me into?
Precision shooting? Recruiting? Human resource planning? Research? Or cooking?
Or would they leave me back where they found me saying “we’ll get back to you”  and never come around like it usually happens?

“I’ve come unprepared anyway, I will own it and accept what may happen” spoke my conscience.

The loud music, the annoying driver mishandling highway
as if he was high on grass,
racing as if he just got the news that his wife is in in bed with her lover.
I couldn’t recollect sins I’ve committed to deserve such atrocities. On top of that, hunger and sleep drove me to the verge of insanity.

The sort of music that I hate the most is now flowing in my ear canals. Unbearably loud.
I’ve made my truce with my ears to bear for a while.. For as long as this journey has to go. Indefinitely.

Greeted by abandoned streets of Ananthnag, Qazigund with shutters sprayed of black objectionable revolutionary slogans all over.
“Go back India”
“We love U Burham”
“Free Kashmir”
“Kashmir not for SALE”

Women passing by with face half swollen red. Terrified at first and sympathized of their situation in utter dismay. Wondering what put them in this situation.

Have I walked out into a War to find peace?
What sort of a person visits during someone’s distress ??
While the beautifully curvy valley has nullified my breakfast, the guilt filled my stomach for the afternoon.

Its heaven. But the heavier kind of..
Heaven filled with iron.
Iron: Carefully crafted barrels, triggers and the bullets.
More men in metal to hurt and metal to guard themselves, than the people around.

May be nothing happens if I can doze off for a while during the drive.
But the fear took over hunger and sleep. 2 birds at one shot.

Possibility of pellet gun making its way right into the eye,
possibility of stones hurled, the vehicle performing somersaults on roads.
Endless possibilities, an undying hope and a blind self-confidence that I can make it out safe is all.

Hope, just a pinch hope is all I had in my empty hands.

Just as the sun set out wishing happy journey, the apprehensions took a back seat and later shifted to dickie.. into the backpack.

Meanwhile, co-passengers in the backseat in a heated debate.
Conversations in the backseat trail off into head-shaking and agreeing to disagree at times about the engulfing love story the other is involved in,
the usual clash of egos and hesitation on who to say out first, on whether its love or not.

Fresh brewing love story.
Wish I turn back and say in a low descending voice “don’t get into it brother!!”
Instead sat quietly for he has to learn on his own and spoke of the situation in Kashmir.

Travelling in bits and pieces, by walk, by hired vehicles who could stop anywhere to save their vehicles being broken away from damages, begging for lift.
Inspections, questions and a lot of discouraging words, “why now, situation is worse here?” for which I was calmly dejected and hanging my head low, I chose not to respond when it sounded unconcernedly.

“Bypass bus-stand” screamed the driver, Thought I  didn’t hear properly. Upon confirmation, it was once a bus station. Now occupied by CRPF, barbed wires and fence of security.

Children approached the auto*, spoke  threatened the driver in kashmiri and he gave away a 100rs note smilingly, pleading something.

I guess threatening and pleading doesn’t need a language.

I am in plainsight of so many guns that I eventually lost count, I am in cross-hairs of some long range guns.snipers may be.

Never been so terrified in my life as I have been at this moment. Never been so watched, scrutinized.

I was scared to even raise my thumb for lift, fear fear and fear is all it was.
After several passing by vehicles, came a JKTDC bus at rather unusual time at unusual place.

I wasn’t asked my destination, neither did I ask them their’s. A safe place, a getaway from the surveillance was the need of the moment.

Dropped off at the last destination. Dalgate. People were moving around, vegetable vendors were out. My hot ears have calmed down.

As I scouted for a safe stay walking along boulevard road, Gulzar bhai met me and saved the evening for me. Like he was sent to find me.

An end to 2days of continuos journey of zero motives, just for the cheap thrill of being on move, to live, to see the place heard of in childhood.

Gates to heaven are never simple neither impossible..
However in this impractical world,
even with distorted ethical activites, this alternative heaven commonly known as kashmir and its quaint people had ticket to everyone with warm regards.

To the same question framed and shot in different ways with lots of concern:
“Why now ? its not safe now.”

I shot back a crisp reply peacefully : “Sahi ya galat, Jannat toh jannat hota hai.” ( however it might be, heaven is heaven).

05 : The Mehmaan→

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