Friday, December 31, 2010

DAY 89 – Palampur to Jammu

Despite a wake up alarm I overslept and the departure from Palampur was delayed by nearly an hour. When I passed through Himachal Pradesh on my trip from Dehra Dun to Chandigarh I was concerned about the state of roads in the State, particularly since tourism is its mainstay. My subsequent experience in Himachal corrected this concern; what I experienced then was an aberration. The roads in Himachal are well maintained and even the village roads are surfaced well. The Palampur to Jammu leg can be done in 4 hours behind the wheel. I stopped for a cup of tea at Pathankot and was lost for some time in a reverie, on how my paternal grandfather would have reacted to the ‘modern’ Pathankot. He was posted to the Army station after WWII during peace time, when it was not a family station.
At the Lakhanpur CP, the entry to J&K, I was asked to produce the documents of the car and the DL.  I could not remember where I had placed the documents and had to search for nearly 10 minutes before I located them. By this time suspicions were aroused and I was summoned by the team leader to the car where he was seated. I showed him the papers and he wanted to know what the KL registered car was doing in J&K. When he heard of my journey he offered me tea and a seat in the back of his car. While waiting for the tea as well over it Mr Singh shared with me his concerns about the present generation, especially the lack of respect for elders, the promiscuity among youth and the so-called liberated womenfolk; he confessed that he was accused of being stuck in the past by his relatives, when he shared such views with them. He was also worried about the influence of Madhopur (the adjacent village in Punjab) on the culture of Lakhanpur – he narrated a story of how he came across a mother from the Punjabi village offering the ‘services’ of her daughter in the J&K territory. His posting to the highly corrupt check post, he claimed, has completely transformed it. We parted company on the understanding that I would meet him on my return from Srinagar, on my way to Amritsar.
After settling down in the ORH near the Jammu Tawi railway station, I went to the station to forage for something to eat. I had skipped breakfast and was suitably hungry. I settled for ‘chawal, rajma’ at one of the stalls on the platform. For Rs.20 I had more than square meal which changed the shape of my belly from a round to an ellipse! The simple, hot meal was tasty and nourishing. From the book stall at the station I bought as newspaper and walked to the taxi park, from where I had taken a shared Sumo some years back to Srinagar. The only discernible change at the taxi stand was a TV was fixed in the drivers’ rest shed. I stood around for some time and watched VVS Laxman doing his rescue act. In the meanwhile, I spoke to Khajooria Uncle, who had been DG J&K and was my father’s batch mate. He was on his way back from Delhi and I promised to get in touch with him later in the day. However, in a short while his daughter Seema, who is an advocate in Jammu, got in touch with me and said that she and her husband are on their way to the railway station to pick me up. When they picked me up by 4 pm, abandoning the work left over in their Chambers, I realized what I had done. When Uncle asked me where I am I told him that I am at the railway station, which is where I was at the time of speaking to him. He took it that I was ‘stranded’ and instructed his daughter and husband to pick me up immediately from the station. I felt deeply embarrassed for upsetting the routine of this wonderful couple.
At home with Chandra Shekher, Seema, their lovely daughter and tech savvy son I had a most enjoyable time till Uncle joined us by 10.30 pm. Not for a minute did I feel that I was anyone other than close family. We also discovered some interesting subjects of mutual interest that kept us in constant communication for nearly 6 hours over Pinni, Sundh Panjare, Samosas, roasted cashews and many cups of tea and coffee. I shared with them the concept that ‘group of souls’ travel together in a continuous journey from what I had read in ‘Many Masters, Many Lives’ and my belief that my journey is probably a God sent to discover my ‘group of souls’. I was then shown an episode of a weekly program on NDTV Imagine (Raaz – Pichle Janam Ka), which regresses a volunteer through hypnotic means to delve into their past lives and unravel the reasons for the phobias and fears of their present life. The theme is similar to the sessions described in the book. Shekher narrated his own experiences with the ‘unbelievable’ such as the art of ‘Aag bandh karna’ (tying up the fire, so to say), calling leopards at will and ‘exorcising’ the pain of a scorpion bite. It was fascinating, revealing and thought provoking. The ‘wealth’ of the past and the knowledge of our forbears that we are yet to rediscover saddens the heart and at the same time makes one proud of the rich heritage.
Uncle arrived after an exhausting 15 hour journey by road from Delhi. The respect and love that the Khajooria family has for one another is what is missing in ‘modern’ society. The bonding of the family members is to be seen to be believed. This is the greatest wealth of a family – it is not the material processions. I got an opportunity to know some more about J&K politics and society from Uncle, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I understood the situation obtaining in J&K better after an in depth ‘brain storming session’ with Uncle. Later, while discussing the cold weather, Khajooria Uncle recalled this story concerning Achachan. One cold evening in Mount Abu, where they were probationers together in the Police Academy, Uncle was summoned to his room post haste by Achachan, where he saw a flustered Joseph and his angry orderlie. The latter told Uncle that he had never been asked to do such lowly stuff by any probationer before this. Uncle was confused, knowing that Achachan was not the one to scout for trouble. Achachan told him that he had asked the orderlie to fetch him a few wooden logs to light up in the fireplace and keep the intense cold away, when the orderlie got livid with him and stomped around noisily. The orderlie, on enquiry by Uncle, told him that the ‘Sahib’ had asked him to get him some ‘choti, choti ladkis’ to keep him warm in the room! Uncle sorted out the misunderstanding between the two and Achachan understood the difference between ‘choti, choti ladkis’ and ‘choti, choti lakdis’ from that evening on. With such exceptional knowledge of the language, all his batch mates were sure that Achachan would flunk his Hindi test. He surprised all by getting 30 marks. Some of the flabbergasted colleagues enquired of the Hindi Pundit if “Joseph had got 30 marks out of 50”. The Pundit, rather matter of factly, told them that “Joseph got 30 marks out of pity”!
All good things have to come to an end. Clichéd? Not quite, when you are part of the exhilaration. Chandra Shekher was kind enough to drop me back at the ORH after we called it a day at 1 am.

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