You could see the fear in their eyes. But at this point, I still didn’t ask them anything. I trusted their judgement and we waited for the next train to Udaimpur. This is the station between Katra and Jammu. A train comes, we get into the compartment and make ourselves comfortable. In retrospect, I understood that we were running for our lives. But at that moment, it felt like we were on this grand adventure. In the train, we start talking about our lives. Showkat boiya ( brother in Kashmiri) has a kid. His name is Faisal. He lives to the North of Sri Nagar and his area of specialisation is Economics. I start telling him about life in Kerala, my Russian trips and also show him some artworks from the Kochi Muzhiris Biennale. He looks confusingly at the artworks inside Aspinwall house in Kochi. We create rapport. Then he goes down to charge his phone and Firdous Boiya comes up. He is “the character” of the group. With the charisma of SRK and the humour of a very toned down Bill Burr, he was the fun guy of the group. We start talking about him. He studies Urdu studies and he teaches me how to write my name in Urdu. Later in IITM, I make my friend who knows Arabic read it and he can read that. Urudu is basically Hindi written in Arabic script (Please do tell me if I am mistaken). We try writing a lot of things in Urdu. He taught me a new word – Khudha. It means God. I don’t know why we were saying that, but that was a lesson which I won’t ever forget.
Subway surfer in real life
Again more chatter on the phone in Kashmiri. I look at them hoping they will tell me what is going on. No voluntary acts of easing the clueless “Kerala”. That is my name right now between them.
We reach Udaimpur and its a run for the exit. Hurry up “Kerala.” I try to keep up. The freezing Jammu night air makes my palms swell. We reach the front of the station and look around. There is absolutely nothing. Like literally it is the middle of nowhere with no vehicles what so ever. I ask them what are we looking for. I get no reply. Now we start running in the direction of the station. And the armed guard at the front stops us. We have to put our luggage through the scanner. It’s like there is a countdown and we are against the clock and that sense of urgency makes me frenzied. But I have absolutely no clue what we are running after or from. We run towards the last platform. Like I told you, it’s the middle of nowhere and there is absolutely nothing there. They jump onto the track and start running. From the perspective of the railway police officer with an assault rifle, we looked like cross-border insurgents staging an attack in the dark, with huge bags filled with god knows what. I was praying to myself that at no point anyone should mistake us for any tangoes. Cause after the Pulwama attacks, every security personnel in Kashmir is on edge. Anything they perceive as a threat can be apprehended. Figuratively and literally, they would have the safety Off on their guns. I was scared for my life as we ran across that track through the pitch dark February night. We reach a marsh. I see two buses waiting at a plateau towards what I perceived was West of the station. We make our way through the marsh. The sense of urgency makes Showkat and another boiya climb up the bus and we throw our luggage at them. I was slightly concerned if it will get wet if there be any precipitation on the way.
The elephant in the bus
I have grown up with this feeling of not belonging anywhere. It’s especially true of the department I study right now. So it is not a new feeling for me. Family functions, parties, classes from school, even a dinner table with the wrong people. I believe a lot of people feel that, but not to the pathological extent I do. Maybe I am wrong, but I have this funny feeling that I feel that more than most people.
The only place where I universally feel welcome, where I feel I am a part of something and where I can unapologetically be myself is at a football stadium. May it be in the 81,000 seater Luzhniki stadium which hosted a FIFA world cup final or the no seater Sangam ground where Alaknanda was going to play the game of our lives against Jamuna. Football stadia is where I truly belong. That’s why I do all this. To feel loved by people. People like me. That’s it.
There are places where you are so sure you don’t belong. You stand out like……I don’t know. I don’t have any clever play with words to describe it, so I will describe it as it is.
I board the bus, it’s dimly lit by this almost psychedelic blue light. I expect it to be full of people and it was. They all look at me in unison. Imagine being the object of gaze of 50 people, all focused at you. I smile awkwardly. They keep looking at me in curious bewilderment. I nod and try to get a sign of approval from any of them. They are still looking on. I start laughing on the inside now. I tell myself – Yadu, of all the awkward situations you have been in, this has to be at the top. I develop this grin and it turns into a bewildered smile of my own. I think that diffused the tension. They look at each other and think to themselves. Who is he?
TO BE CONTINUED…..