The plane begins to debark over Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, and as you look outside, a most beautiful mural appears and something suddenly shifts in you. Everything comes rushing back. Mustard in full bloom, little hutments happily piping up old smoke, beige hillocks. A million meadows in amber and jade look like nature naked in the dell, teasing you to un-strap. Raindrops began to cling to the window pane. As the airplane touches down the air-stewardess announces that the temperature outside was 8 degrees. You could almost smell the mustard, the rain on your nose, the patter of roofs. You know you are home.
The airplane’s doors were flung open to a glacial breeze. It was pouring like from a bucket. Every time I come home, it is raining.
I don’t mind at all. Frosty troopers wearing hooded military jackets -- guarding the airport -- looked on with cold eyes. The airport has been recently re-done and everything looks big and clean. Only people remain the same. They say it is an international airstrip now though only one flight operates to Dubai -- once in a fortnight. Suhail, my buddy, had come to collect me. As we drove on it was still raining boats and casks.
We headed for a coffee to ‘Sheesha’. It is an exotic coffee hut. Yes a hut, not a café’. It is all done up in broken shards of mirror including the couches and walls and it looks like a prismatic, avant garde watering hole. You get coconut cookies [coconut biscuits of the school] and for a while you want to drop all frigging pretences and wolf it down. Diet cokes and Atkins can go to hell when you are sequestered in such a cozy ambience, far from the maddening crowds while it rains outside. I felt like a shack boy drinking a shack juice.
I decided to drive home. It was damp and chilly but familiar. Perhaps the best thing about coming home is that everything – people speaking in the language of your childhood, the old man selling the hot alov-mung [potato wedges], the signposts, the smells, the ducklings marching behind the female duck, pistachio-colored eyes – have an intimate connection with you. Even the chill is usual. Your marrow knows it. Though I was only wearing a pair of jeans with a tee [the puma ultra light jacket made me look like a scouser from Liverpool] I think my glen bones, like most Kashmiris, are programmed to withstand the cold. We just can’t take heat.
It is the onset of spring in Kashmir. There were sprouts – thousands of them -- in orchards along the way. The flowers looked forlorn on the twigs while raindrops shook them in a naughty way. It kept getting darker and colder. People were rushing back to their homes in mini-buses [called matadors] and cars. Suddenly it dawned to me that Kashmir ceases to work by six -- around this time of the year.
I accelerated and was home in no time.
John Howard Payne was one of the most gifted American poets. He was born in New York and died in Tunis, Tunisia, where he lies buried. Payne – and I love his poetry – wrote 186 years ago:
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam/Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
John, I agree.
More Kashmir posts to follow.