INTO UNCHARTERED TERRITORY
I doze off on the leg of Shuhail. I wake up at one point and we were going through a tunnel. It was really long, like the bus was inside for 5 minutes and the tunnel still goes on. I move back into the other side of consciousness.
In my mind, I reminisce about this scene from a movie which meant a lot to me. “Perks of being a wallflower” (2012). There is this one scene where the 3 kids go through a tunnel and Charlie says this monologue after kissing Emma Watson (every high school dude’s crush).
He stands on the back of a pickup truck, lets his arms out and gets intoxicated by the wind. Then he says,
“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song on that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear…We are infinite.”
You have to watch that scene. It is such a beautiful scene.
I like to think that I came out of that tunnel a little bit different than how I went in.
They put on some Quranic verses on the speaker system of the bus. One person would read it in Arabic and then another person would tell its meaning in Hindi. I could garner something from that. After the FIFA world cup, I have been fascinated by Arabic. It is like a language that connects countries which have nothing to do with each other football-wise. When Tunisia was playing England – Saudi fans, Egypt fans, Morocco fans and small pockets of fans from even Indonesia were supporting them. It was absolutely insane. Arabic and Islam have created a bridge between their cultures. (If anyone is down to teach me basic Arabic, let me know. I learn fast.)
The bus comes to an abrupt stop. But I am sure we haven’t reached Sri yet. It’s too soon. I ask my mates where we were. I get Ramban as the reply. He said that the bus won’t go any further and we would have to find a way to move further. Inshallah.
We move out and start unloading our stuff. Now a lot of curious people come and start saying hi. (I mean Asalaam Walaikum). I feel the love, so much. They say that I am safe now and they will get me to Srinagar. Somehow.
It puts a little spring in your step when you hear people you just met making it their mission to get this football-crazy idiot to Kashmir during a lockdown. This is where I start to notice that the Kashmiri hospitality and kindness was not a statistical lottery I won where I met some really nice people. Up here, being kind and helpful is the norm, not the exception. I will reiterate this point as we go on, but for now, let me plant that seed in your head.
This is when my crush comes up to me. I had been glancing at this person on the bus, and I guess he caught my gaze. He comes up to me and says Asalaam Walaikum.
You know that feeling where there is a rush of adrenaline to your diaphragm and lower chest when you make eye contact long enough with a cute girl. That exact same feeling, but this was a guy. The most handsome male specimen this pair of eyes ever had the pleasure to glance at. How do I describe him? He had the most amazing beard I have seen. Black, lush, strong, with an air of confidence and gravitas which radiates to the rest of his visage. The most symmetric face I have ever seen with a beard. His cheekbones structured like it was there to defend a fort. His eyebrows were dark and thick, but each hair follicle was placed with the stringent discipline and symmetry of what you would expect from a platoon doing marching drills. And then the money shot. His yellow iris which was trying to find the right aperture in the dimly lit night. He had Kajal drawn on his eyelids. Something traditionally reserved for the fairer sex in most parts of the country. But in his culture, it doesn’t undermine his masculinity. It celebrates it.
I have never seen a more handsome male. And this was him after spending days on a train. Sometimes, no matter what orientation your sexuality is, beauty like this just makes you look and appreciate how amazing creation is.
Stupid me couldn’t get his name though. I was just chatting about football, Kerala and other stuff, that I forgot to get his name. Idiot.
My friends were calling me to go get something to eat. So I told Suhail and my man crush that I would be right back and we will talk in a bit. But as fate would have it, that would be our goodbye. I would never see my handsome bearded Kashmiri friend again.
On the way, we try talking to many SUV drivers who had set up camp in the Ramban bus stand. We wanted to get to Sri asap and we were bargaining and negotiating with everyone. But I believe it was a seller’s market and with exuberant fares and very few willing drivers, we realised moving forward tonight would not be an option.
The time was very late and the temperature was dipping with every passing hour. Standing out in the open was not an option. That is when one of my mates (Don’t exactly remember who) said we should sleep in the mosque for the night and then get on the first ride out of here in the morning.
That was the moment I realised that this trip would be a story worth sharing. Cause I never expected anything to go in the trajectory it was going in. I made plans and the travel gods chewed it up and swallowed it whole. And they gave me this course where when things looked like it’s going south, the most amazingly unexpected turn of events put me in situations like these.
TO BE CONTINUED……..