The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 1, 2001

The valley and the shadow
K.K. Khullar

THOSE were the pre-gondola days in Gulmarg and the bus from Srinagar could go only upto Tangmarg. From thereon, one could walk to Gulmarg or hire a pony. My mother and Iwere on a short visit to the Meadows of Flowers (Gulmarg means that) made shorter by such heavy rains as I had never seen before. I taught in a college at Gurdaspur and during vacation asked my mother to come over from Jalandhar and accompany me to the valley of Gods. It was the summer of early 50s and things were different from what they are at present.

For mother it was a pilgrimage. I hired a pony for her and gave her a packet of food of Shaljim, very popular in Kashmir. For myself I decided to traverse the journey by foot. For some time the porter who carried my luggage and the pony that carried my mother walked together, but soon they departed and no one noticed it. Suddenly, I realised that someone other than the pony-man was following. First ignored it, but later it became an obsession with me. Why should anyone pursue me and for what purpose? The woods were green and lovely but my mind was concentrating on the guy who followed me. I looked back for confirmation. His gaze was fixed on me. I saw him, he saw me. I gave him a stare. He withdrew his stare.

The manner of his withdrawing his stare was quite suspicious. But the poetry of the woods flowed uninterrupted. ‘Why did I take the porter’s route’? I asked myself. I should have gone on the route taken by my mother, which was a shorter route to Gulmarg. The blue pine, the silvery fir were sometimes exotic. How many centuries must have taken for a single flower to perfect itself? I looked back. The devil was there. Going merrily ahead of me on the hill situated on a frozen lake.


May be he had a weapon on him. I immediately became aware of Rs 1000 which I had saved for the trip. I was paralysed. My whole mind was focused on the pocket containing the money. Flowers disappeared from my mind like mermaids. I looked at my wrist-watch, its golden chain, my costly Oxford pen, my snake-leather shoes. Just at this juncture, I saw a porter rattling down the hill with an axe slung across his shoulder.

Coming from the opposite direction, he was humming a dulcet tune. He suddenly halted and talked to the man who was chasing me, I was mortified. May be the two were in league with each other and they had met as per plan. Perhaps, it was an illusion that I had. My chaser passed on but the man with the axe was coming down on a break-neck speed like a glacier. He stopped in front of me with his axe pointing to me. I knew there was no escape. My last moment had come. I closed my eyes like a proverbial pigeon and counted upto 101. The tragedy was that I had died much before death could be technically pronounced.

"What is the time by your watch bahoo?" asked the hill voice. Coming back to life I looked at that spirit of nature, child of timelessness. I looked at his torn jacket, his blue eyes and his orange complexion. I felt ashamed at myself and my MA in history. Why should I have suspected such a man.

But the other man was still there. In order to let me pass, he plucked a wild flower. I did that to let him pass. I broke into a run. He did the same. The hill paths were intriguing, the mountains wily, till it became difficult to decide as to who was following whom, till we became breathless and stopped at the sight of a milestone up on the main road at the outskirts of the gay Gulmarg, so full of colourful and life.

And we were standing face to face with each of us, simultaneously, wondering whether we were not unnecessarily afraid of each other. Before I could ask him, he grinned at me. Igrinned back at him. He laughed at me. I laughed at him. We both laughed at each other. We had a hearty cup of tea together. While we were still talking, my mother arrived. The next day we went to see Khilan Marg, Alpather Lake and a day later to Sona Marg, Meadows of the Gold. It rained so terribly that day that we returned to Srinagar for fresh woods and pastures new.

Home Top