Gulab Guide

Gulab Guide

Gulab was our guide for our day trip to Baisaran, in Pehalgam, Kashmir.

Does the song ‘Phulon Ke Shehar me hai ghar apna’ ring any bell? The super hit song was shot for the Kumar Gaurav starrer ‘Love Story’ in this beautiful meadow covered by dense pine trees. Though the movie and its hero have long been forgotten the song continues to play on our I-pods and radio. And Baisaran is even prettier today than it was 25 years back, or so I am told.

Gulab came to pick us up in our hotel for the trek. He was thin, athletic with slight stub. Yet, the dark stub could not really camouflage the rose-pink skin underneath, ‘must be the apples’ I said in my mind and smiled. And he had jet black curled hair. I was surprised to know that he was 58 and a grandfather. He did his salaam and immediately asked me to wear some sunscreen, ‘your skin may burn otherwise sahib’, he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Before long we were on our trek up the breathtakingly picturesque but a difficult terrain that became somewhat easier under his fascinating rendition of the ‘Jannat’ tales, even more lyrical when told in his rich Urdu lehza. He spoke of walnuts and how to know when they were good enough to be plucked, about genuine saffron and the many swindlers passing the spurious products to ignorant tourists (he cursed them saying that a handful of rogues were taking away from the rest what they have always been known for, ‘hospitality) and then just for a few moments his face fell as he said, “before this whole jihadi narak brought us to this ruin”.

We did not know how to respond and kept walking quietly. Before long, Gulab was back on his stories and the cheer seeped back in his voice. He took us to a flattish land after about an hour’s climb and said “lo ji…aa gaya Baisaran”. This time it was our faces that fell and how! We had heard so much about the beauty of the sprawling meadow and what lay in front of us seemed a very poor cousin in comparison. Just then Gulab gave a hearty laugh. “This is what I show to the tourists who haggle with me over price or the ones who do not even touch my hand thinking that it will soil their pure lineage. But you memsahib, are nice. We have one more hour of walk ahead and we will be in the jannat that you are so eagerly waiting for, I promise. But before that have some water and these two apples I got from my neighbour’s farm”. Gulab opened his bag pack, retrieved two shiny apples, washed them with the sealed water bottle that he had been carrying, wiped them with the paper napkins before offering them to us. I was impressed at his finesse that rose out of so much simplicity. As we took our apples, our dear guide began clearing a small patch under a tall pine tree. He then spread his handkerchief and gestured for us to sit down to enjoy the small treat. I sat down basking in the famed Kahmiri hospitality (even in middle of a jungle!) as my husband wandered away for a small stroll.

“Did you not ever think of joining the jihadis Gulab?” Something in his manner had given me the courage to ask him that.

“Sahib, you love stories and I have one more to tell you.” He said with a chuckle. I bit into the tangy apple and waited for the sweet and sour story of my mysterious Kashmiri guide.

“This happened about four years ago. My village Manzimpora has a population of 3000, including the senior, women and children. HM (Hizbul Mujahideen) people came to our village with their grenades and guns and asked us to contribute our bit to the freedom movement. ‘Three youths….that is all that we ask from you brothers’, they roared as they slapped their guns and cheered each other. They spoke fervently about how the time for oppression and exploitation was over and that they were now driven to be the engineers for their own futures. They kept repeating the words, brothers and jihad over and over again.

“None of us matched their eagerness and gave subdued half-baked nods to their passionate speeches. We are family people sahib, what do we want with power and politics. We work hard in the day and are happy with our shared meals at night. But them. They had dreams and their dreams were scary.

“Seeing our lukewarm response they got miffed and the first word to disappear from their impassioned speeches was ‘brother’. As they began boarding their jeeps, they looked at us contemptuously and threw their orders. “Give us three of your youth and your village will come under our direct protection or else…”, they growled, clearly not seeing us as victims or brothers anymore.

“We requested them for a few days time to mull over their proposal. They went back saying that they would return the following Thursday and we’d better have the three youth ready by then ‘having said the goodbyes’. All through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night the entire village sat in discussion. Most houses did not have a peaceful sleep…even the ones who did not have youth to really be concerned.”

Seeing my puzzled expression he explained, “sahib, our village is not like your city, where you don’t even know your next door neighbour. For us the entire village is our family, my son is their son and vice versa”, he said proudly. I could have taken offence but how do you get angry with what you know to be a truth in your heart, however searing or bluntly it is stated? Besides I knew that this upright, wise and otherwise modest man did not know or care for the games that we play in our literate rarified society.

“So what happened on Thursday?” I asked.

“The night before that Thursday the entire village was up, including the kids. In some houses we prepared the children’s favourite dishes, some wrote letters to their loved ones in different cities and countries, some just sat hugging their beloved and in many homes we sang, danced and prayed.

“They came by early afternoon. All of us, 3023 in all, stood in a line. The fittest males first, the ladies then, followed by the seniors and in the end the kids. We told them, “if we give you our youth the army will not let us live in peace, if we do not give you our youth, you will not let us live in peace. We have been thinking over this death trap since the day you left. We see no way out. We have decided to die together…since we cannot live together.”

I sat fascinated without blinking my eyes.

“They left sahib. They left without taking a single person.”

He retrieved a small paper bag from his bag pack and asked me to deposit what was left of the apple. By then my husband too had returned and we resumed our trek up. I could not bring myself to make conversation, all I could see was 3023 of them, standing in one unbreakable chain from the fittest to the youngest. And I saw Gulab guide to be in the first few amongst the men.

We reached Baisaran, and indeed it was jannat as I had been promised.

On the way back, my leg fell in a ditch. Mud and dirt changed the colour of my pink Reebok to dirty brown. In an instant Gulab plucked a few leaves and without a moment’s hesitation cleaned as much of the mud as he could.

“If my wife saw me do that sahib, she would tell the whole village and they would not stop laughing every time they saw me. And that would be tougher than handling the HM.” He said.

I could only smile.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 7:51 am and is filed under Handling Challenges. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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