This is how he introduces himself. I have never heard such an introduction from anyone before.
He doesn’t stop there. “I am a politician. I am the secretary of the local Indian National Congress chapter. I will become a MLA or at least a MLC in the next 3 or 4 years”, he says confidently.
I will call him “M” Bhai (“Bhai” is brother in Hindhi) here. Bhai was our travel agent who had helped set up accommodation and organise our travel to Amarnath and Srinagar.
“I am a prominent social activist and am deeply interested in welfare of people in Pahalgam valley and the valley’s ecosystem”, he says. I excitedly start rattling about my concern about the plastic waste on the hill sides of Amarnath he offers his notepad to take a “statement” from me. Later when he speaks about the reverence he has for Rahul Gandhi (he apparently took Mr. Gandhi on a secret visit to the Amarnath cave) and expresses his distrust with the current government, I doubt if his statements are merely political.
I needn’t worry. For, Bhai is genuine. He wants to make a difference. He is ambitious. From his humble beginnings, he has accomplished to build a lodge and a successful travel business. He strives to give a worthy experience to customers, with the shrewd understanding that building a business needs repeat customers. Every time we asked for tea, the response would be “Kyun nahin” (why not) accompanied a thermos full of piping hot chai. A sharp contrast to his very own brother who remains a cab driver and bargained with us for every spot we wanted to visit and every payment we had to make.
People add character to a place and Kashmir is not an exception.
The other person who stands out in my memory was quite at the other end of the spectrum – the horse guide who took me up from Panchtarni to the Amarnath cave. He may not be rich, but he really enjoyed what he was doing. He was manuevering two horses, single handedly, up, the narrow slushy track which opened up to a deep gorge on one side sporting just basic footwear. Chit chatting with a smile, he would cajole the horses, Raju and Rani, through the hard spots. His innocent smile, friendly banter and his delight when I addressed the horse by its name, Rani – this was a happy man proud to take people up his mountains. Alas, on my way back down, the rest of his team were quick to sense that this was not a financially beneficial situation and replaced him with a different person.
And there are more. The Muslim lady who flew with me from Amritsar to Srinagar, for her annual visit to he Mom’s, fondly looking forward to apples and acroot (walnuts) of her home; the doli guide who walked up the shrine with my Mom as she was alone; the 83 year old man who was on a final mission to visit Amarnath; the religion lines that become a blur when the locals refer to Amarnath with reverence.
It is in such people that Kashmir has hope.