Maj. Sunil looked into Shilpa’s beautiful eyes, held her hand firmly, and said softly with a heavy heart, “Take care”, and then turned towards the train, Jhelum express entering the Delhi Railway station, to hide his emotions.
She nodded and could barely whisper, “You too”, while removing a tear from her eyes. He had many times asked her not to come to the railway station to see him off to avoid this depressing moment, but she insisted, and he had to agree to her wish, because he also wanted to spend every moment of life with her. After all, they would now be seeing each other almost, if all goes well, after 3-4 months.
Maj Sunil after spending his balance of annual leave was returning to his unit in Uri sector. This is how they had spent the last 2 years; waiting for the next leave. His young 5 years old daughter Arti was as usual playful. Kids do not have much hassles.
“When will you come back dad?” she asked innocently.
“After three months” replied Sunil.
“Okay,” she said in a singing tone and happily got busy munching her chocolate which Sunil had bought for her.
Sunil kept the luggage in the AC second class compartment and came out of the gate to bid adieu to his wife.
They kept waving till he could see the small hands of her daughter waving at him. He felt a lump in his throat, it took hardly a minute for the train to leave behind his loving daughter and his wife on the platform, but what about the memories? They remain imprinted in your mind.
He had to now spend the next four months of icy cold wintery weather in his bunker on the Line of Control at almost 10,000 ft fighting the terrorists, with these precious memories.
Usually, one would invariably find an army officer travelling in Jhelum exp. Last time he had met Maj. Sharma and so he could overcome that despondency soon, as they could share common experiences, there are so many things to share and talk about but with a civilian it’s difficult.
He looked keenly at the person sitting on the adjacent berth, hoping that he was a fauji, but he looked like a civilian.
Sunil disappointed, spread out the bed sheet and set down on his berth stretching his legs, opened the India Today magazine that he had bought at the railway station and started flipping through the pages.
It was difficult to concentrate as his mind was still at home. He looked at his watch, it was 21:30 hours and on a cold wintery night of December, they would be going back to Noida. It would take them at least an hour.
Hope they reach safely, he mulled, still concerned about his wife and his small pretty daughter.
The gentleman on the adjacent berth was busy arranging his luggage. Sunil, from the corner of his eyes noticed that he was a middle aged, clean shaven man and from his features appeared to be hailing from the Valley.
After, spending almost fifteen minutes in sorting his luggage the gentleman finally settled down on his berth and set down crossed legs, facing Sunil. He had also boarded the train from Delhi.
After some time, the gentleman on the adjacent berth hesitatingly asked “Sahab, aap army men hain?” (Sahab are you in army?)
Sunil, smiled and said inquisitively “Yes, but, how do you know?”
“Sahab, hum to bachpan se army walon ko dekh rahe hain, dekhte hi pehchaan jaate hain” (Sahab, we have been watching army since our childhood, hence we can easily identify them) he said laughing in a typically Kashmiri accent, that confirmed his origin.
Sunil got the underlying message. He smiled and preferred to keep quiet and continued glancing at the India Today. He knew what complains this gentleman would have and it will be a futile discussion because the gentleman will never understand his perception of the problem.
“Sahab ek baat kahun, army me bhi corruption hai” (sahab, may I tell you something, there is corruption in army also) the gentleman said with slight hesitation.
This enraged Sunil, but before he could react, the gentleman continued, “Lekin ek baat hai sahab kaam zaroor pura hota hai aur quality me koi compromise nahin” (However, they get the work done and do not compromise with quality)
“Lekin sahab Sarkar me kaam kabhi pura nahin hota aur agar khuda na khaasta ho gaya to quality ki puchiye hi nahin” (whereas, the Government does no work and if at all it does then the quality is atrocious.)
Once again Sunil smiled, looking at the gentleman and continued flipping the pages of his magazine.
This gentleman seems to have an interesting personality, it would be wrong on my part to insult him, he thought.
So, smiling at the gentleman, he introduced himself, “I am Major Sunil” and extended his hand.
The gentleman also extended his hand, “Mohd Bashir Ghilani” he said politely.
“Related to Syed Ali Shah Ghilani?” Sunil asked smiling.
“Are nahin sahab, agar hote to train me nahin jaate” (Oh! No sir, had I been related to him I wouldn’t have been travelling in this train) he laughed loudly.
Interesting person, thought Sunil.
“Aap infantry me hain?” (Are you in infantry?) enquired Mr Bashir.
“Ji” (Yes) replied Sunil curtly to discourage him from seeking additional information.
But Bashir probably did not get the message and asked “Aap ki unit kahan hai?” (Where is your unit?).
“If you don’t mind. Because nothing is hidden from us, we know each Brigade HQ location”, he asked, boasting his knowledge of armed forces.
“I know, Bashir sahab, you must be, but I am sorry, I can not disclose this information,” Sunil replied curtly.
“Oh! It’s very fine”, Mr Bashir said.
But Mr Bashir was not the one to have stopped at this “Aap pahile bhi rahen hain Kashmir mein?” (Have you ever been posted to Kashmir on earlier occasion also) he asked.
Sunil now getting irritated replied in a sarcastic tone “Nahin pahili baar jaa raha hun” (No, I am going for the first time).
“How can it be? You are an infantry officer”, Bashir sahab asked, getting astonished.
“Earlier in 1984, I was in Poonch. But, now, I am going to the valley for the first time”. Sunil told him harshly, without looking up at him.
“Okay, OKkay”. Bashir sahab said sheepishly.
This guy is hell of a character, despite bloody giving him a hint that I am not interested in talking to him he is unnecessarily continuing the conversation. I need to shut him up for the rest of the night or else he will get on to my nerves, Sunil thought.
The following is an excerpt taken from Army Tales- a collection of short stories by Lt. Col Neerav Bhatnagar. You can buy his book on Amazon. Continue Reading—
So, he again turned towards him, and asked him, sounding inquisitive. “Bashir sahab Kashmir mein kya kya famous hai?” (What all is famous in Kashmir?).
Bashir sahab, as Sunil had anticipated, just took off, as if he was waiting for this question. His face lit up and eyes twinkled as if a young student had been handed over a question paper whose answers are known to him.
“Sahab, Kashmir toh jannat hai!” (Kashmir is heaven on earth) he said excitedly, with a tinge of arrogance in his tone.
“Aap ko to maalum hoga Jehangir ne Kashmir ke baare me kya bola tha, Agar Firdaws ba roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast’ meaning, ‘If there is Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this,’” he even translated the statement for him in his enthusiasm. (Sahab, if there is heaven on earth, then it is here, it is here!).
Sunil looking at Bashir sahab, nodded approvingly, goading him silently to go on and smiled at him for having fallen at his bait.
Bashir continued unconcerned, “Sahab, Kashmir ka seb agar aap khaoge aur daant se jab kaatoge to muhn ke donon taraf se ras tapke gaa” (The apples of Kashmir are so juicy that when you take a bite the juice would start flowing from the sides of your mouth).
Bashir continued, now unstoppable and unconcerned, boasting about Kashmir.
“Sardiyon me sahab, agar aap chantaak bhar Kashmir ka kesar apni zabaan pe rakhenge rozana to aapka chera seb ki tarah laal ho jaayega” (sahab, during winters if you take a small twig of Kesar on your tongue, your face will become as red as an apple).
Sunil now was thinking to give a befitting reply to this gentleman. He had in last two years heard that the educated class of Kashmiris particularly from Srinagar, have this sense of superiority; about their culture, about their land and beauty, but he had never experienced this kind of gross arrogance before.
However, Bashir sahab, regardless that he was going overboard continued boasting about Kashmir.
“Huzur, wahan ki aurten itni khubsurat hain ki aisa lagta hai ki saari janat ki huren Kashmir mein aa gayi hain” (Huzur, the women of Kashmir are so beautiful that they look like the fairies of heaven).
“Jharne ka paani itna shudh hai ki aap ki khuraak double ho jaati hai, huzur” (the water that flows in the streams is so pure that your diet becomes double). After a while, Bashir sahab stopped and looked at Sunil curiously waiting for him to express awe and appreciation.
“Must be a splendid place!” Sunil applauded loudly and shook his hands warmly, “What a wonderful description Bashir sahab”, Sunil praised him.
“I am sure the people also of such a wonderful land must be peace loving, honest and angels,” he said sarcastically, looking at him.
After a long pause, in a very inconspicuous tone he enquired, “Bashir sahab aap Kerala gaye hain kabhi?” (Have you ever been to Kerala?)
“Nahin hujur,” (No Huzur) said Bashir Sahab looking at him, innocently.
“Oh, sad! Anyway! Yeh, India ke south me hai, samudar tat par, isko God’s own land, bhi kaha jaata hai. Sahab yahan par kabhi jaayen to wahan ki laung khayeeye gaa, woh jo hum sab sabzi me daalte hain, aap log bhi daalte honge, woh Kerala me hi hoti hai,” Sunil said emphatically in his typical guttural voice, “aur itni tez hoti hai sahab ki aap agar zara si laung apni zaban par rakh lenge to sahab pure badan se pasina aane lage ga” (Oh! Sad, any way, its in south on the Sea coast. It is also known as God’s own land. If you ever go there, please consume the clove which we use as a spice in our vegetables, I am sure you all must also be using it. Kerala is the major producer of clove. If you place even a single clove on your tongue it is so hot that you will sweat from all over).
Bashir sahab nodded in wonder, not knowing what was in store for him.
Bashir sahab, he asked again, “Aap kabhi Dehradun gaye hain?” (Have you ever been to Dehradun) looking straight into his eyes, but in a polite tone so as not to hurt his sentiments.
“Nahin sahab” (No, Sahab) Mr Bashir said. This time he sounded slightly stressed.
“Oh! kabhi mauka lage to jaayen sahab, wahan June-July men barsaat shuru hone par, ek fruit aata hai litchi. Woh itna rasila aur meetha hota hai ki moohn me ghul jaata hai aur ras muhn ke donon taraf se tapakta hai” (Oh! Never mind, if ever you get a chance you must visit, that place, During monsoons. You get a fruit there called litchi, which is so sweet and juicy that it melts in your mouth and juice drips from the either side of mouth).
“Sahab aap kabhi Chandigarh gaye hain?” (have you ever been to Chandigarh?) he once again asked, but softly, ensuring that Mr. Bashir does not get upset.
“Nahin sahab” (No sahab) now sounding embarrassed, said Bashir sahab.
“Sahab kabhi jayiyega, wahan ki ladies bahut khubsurat hain. Agar aap market me khade ho jaayen sham ko to khubsurat ladies ko dekhne me aapka Seer left-right ghumta rahega” (Sahab must visit this place, the women there are very pretty, if you happen to visit a market there your head would keep turning left- right to watch the beauty) Sunil said laughing.
“Aap kabhi West Bengal gayen hain Bashir sahab?”, Sunil continued to drive home his point.
Now Bashir sahab could not take anymore and embarrassingly said, “Sahab, aap meri tang kheench rahe hain” (Sahab, you are pulling my leg).
“Nahin sahab, mai taang kheench nahin raha hun” said Sunil, humbly, “Main koshish kara hun yeh bataane ki, ki, apna culture, apni zameen par sabko garv hota hai aur sab pyaar karte hain, lekin apna Bharat desh bahut bada hai aur har jagah ki kuch naa kuch khasiyat hai. Ho sakta hai Jehangir kabhi Kerala naa gaya ho, Himachal nahin gaya ho, yaa Lichi hi nahin khayi ho. Aur khaaskar India me jahan itni vividhata hai aur jahan upar waale ne sundar parvat, jharne, nadiyon, khanij padharton se nawaaza ho, woh jagah to khubsoorat hogi hi. kahin Kashmir aur Himachal ki sundar vaadiyan hain to kahin Samudr Kerala aur Tamil Nadu me kadam choomta hai. Nagaland, Manipur ke sundar gaon hain”
(No Bashir sahab, he said politely, I am not pulling your leg, I am trying to explain it you very humbly that everyone loves his native place and its culture but should never undermine others. Because, India is too big a country with diverse culture. It’s a nation where you have beautiful valleys of Himachal and Kashmir, beautiful scenic beaches and forests and waterfalls of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, beautiful villages of Nagaland and Manipur. Probably, Jehangir might have never gone to Kerala or Himachal or never eaten Lichi of Dehradun.)
Bashir sahab could not take it anymore. He quietly slipped into his blanket, covered his face and did not come out till next morning, even when the train had stopped at Jammu which was the terminating station. He was probably waiting for Sunil to get down first.
Sunil gently tapped him and wished “Khuda Hafiz Gilani sahab” and got down chuckling “Aaj Jehangir ki acchi li” (I had Jehangir today nice and proper).
The following is an excerpt taken from Army Tales- a collection of short stories by Lt. Col Neerav Bhatnagar. You can buy his book on Amazon.