I met Arshid for the first time at the parking lot of Jammu Tawi railway station. It was early morning and thin fog embraced the horizon. I watched him lead us down the rubble-strewn alley of the station yard to his maroon Xylo car. In the cool shade of dawn flickering through the leaves of trees, I saw him help himself to the roof of the car, as he loaded our luggage on the carrier.
Arshid seem to have just the right built of a mountain resident. Strong, lanky Kashmiri with carved features etched deep into his fair skin. Hair parted from the centre and thinly cut nose that rose between his eyes like a steep hill. Unruly beard, speckled with twigs of grey, tapered down like a cone till his neck. There was a smile in his eyes and like most Kashmiris, it had creases bleeding from the corner. The way roaring streams erupted from the chest of mountains. Arshid’s eyes burst into rivulets, every time I joined him in a talk about the gorgeous terrains of Kashmir.
Riding with Arshid was riding the mountain air. We leaned with our praying hearts into every blind curve, as he sped past the green valleys. We held our breath with every rise and fall of the mountain slope. It was scary. But it was only some time before we got accustomed to the ways of the man, who loved his life, just that way. At the edge. And we let our fears drown in Arshid’s acquaintance with the mountains. In his long, skilled years behind the wheel, cutting through precarious roads.
Exhausted from the overnight train ride, everyone had already hit the snooze button. Sitting right at the front beside Arshid, I tried hard to keep my eyes ajar. But such dreamy was the chain of mountains and the calming touch of winds, that I couldn’t help drift to sleep. When I opened my eyes, we were racing into a mountain. Arshid was hard on the accelerator and the car was flying into the rocky walls with a fountain cascading down it. I clenched my teeth in terror. Everyone looked traumatized in the mirror. I turned to Arshid, hoping he hadn’t lost his head and before I could manage a word slip through my feared state, I saw the landscape slow down. The car slid to a halt inches away from the mountain. And the gushing fountain bolted down hard on the bonnet with a shudder. Cold water flew in through the window and lapped against my cheek. I was quick to slide the window up. Arshid went out into the rain of fountain and opened the hood. The fountain thus poured into the engine room and thick smoke erupted out of it. That was when I in my numb, feared state, came to know about Arhsid’s way of cooling the car’s engine.
He came back drenched. His white cotton shirt stuck to his back as got behind the wheels.
“Ye hui nah baarish…” He smiled at me, as the creases deepened around his eyes and ignited the car. I was stunned and awestruck at the calmness he perceived at the edge of his life and in the thrill of losing it in the next second. Arshid was someone, who lived and died for the mountains.
He took us past adobe of pines that danced in the wind, high up on the frozen slopes. Across streams tumbling over rocks. Over bridges that vibrated with the breath of mountains. I rested back, watching the landscape zoom past on my window and played music from the 90’s. That was where I felt we bonded the best. I watched his wrinkled eyes lit up as a love song hit the speakers. Those were my songs, reeling out of my playlist. They say, a person’s choice of songs, speak a lot about them. With Arshid lending his heart into my songs, as we meandered between quiet valleys, it was perhaps our own sad memories associated with those songs that held us together.
Close to evening, while we stopped at a Dhaba for some tea, watching the sun lower in the valley from my seat, Arshid came and sat beside me. He played one of the many songs in his phone that I had transferred to him. We did not exchange any words. There amid the sea of quietness brooding around us, the twilight reflecting from the snow, we let the song guide our love-struck heart across the mountains to that one person in our lives, who mean everything to us.
Story shared by Sobhan Pramanik – a tourist to Kashmir.