"My knowledge about the arm was limited to what we see on the television as I had an idea that they only guarded our borders and fought the insurgents."
It was another evening in my Delhi office when I was trying to wind up with the day’s work and leave for home. I was tired handling numerous issues during the day and preparing my reports. I got up from my chair came to the window and lit a cigarette. I stood there silently looking down at the congested Delhi traffic. Street lights had started glowing and people were leaving for their residence after the days hard work. I inhaled a deep puff from my cigarette to get energized and complete the pending work of the day before leaving for home. Suddenly my mobile phone kept on the table started ringing. It could see Yusuf’s name on the mobile screen and a smile came on my face to see my friend of university days calling.
My memory flashed back to 25 yrs when I had joined my college in Delhi University as a fresher. Being an outsider at Delhi, I desperately needed a room in the hostel to pursue my studies but my efforts did not bear fruits. I had to look for a rented room and stay as PG close to my college. With meager economic help from my home front, I had to look for a partner who could share the room as well as rent with me to reduce my financial burden. When I was on the lookout for a probable room partner, a common friend introduced me to Yusuf who also came as a fresher like me in the college at Delhi University. I was pursuing my graduation in commerce where as Yusuf was an arts student.
We had a brief introduction and then agreed to be room partners as per need of the hour which suited our individual interest. I belonged to a North Indian traditional Brahmin family where as Yusuf had his roots in a Muslim Clergy’s family in Kashmir. Although our worldly lineage were like opposite magnetic pole, but the circumstances had put us together and made us mates. We had a mutual agreement that he won’t eat non-veg in the room and I gave an assurance that I won’t make him a passive smoker in our common habitat. As the days passed by; we opened up more and more with each other and kept sharing our closely guarded secrets with each other. There was never any issue between us and we gelled together very well.
Gradually when he opened up with me, I came to learn how the beautiful valley had been engulfed in the dark shadows of unrest and uncertainly. Bright young college students were eyed by the puppet conman of miscreants. How they carried out brain washing of innocent young minds, preached radicalism and finally lured them to pickup guns. Old parents were helplessly seeing their children drift away on a dark avenue that would eventually lead to doom. Schools and colleges were regularly shut down for protracted periods following calls for shut down as a symbol of protest. A young student’s life in the valley at that time was like entering a closed tunnel with a wall at the end.
It was difficult to conduct exams on scheduled dates and children’s academic career was suffering. Yusuf’s parents decided to send him off to Delhi for pursuing his further studies after he cleared higher secondary exams. He had lost out one precious academic year amidst the social and political turmoil in his home state. Although he would be away from the sight but at least he would be safely doing his studies in Delhi; that was the greatest solace his parents had. They were assured that their innocent son would not fall prey to puppet conservative radicals who were preaching the lessons of hatred & divide to young minds at the behest of masters sitting across the border.
Having obtained our graduation degrees, we were busy searching for a suitable job for ourselves. While I decided to settle in Delhi as an executive in a MNC; Yusuf chose to go for State Administrative Services in his home state. We remained in touch and kept exchanging pleasantries with letters and later on with telephone calls. It was 18 years since I had bid him farewell at the airport for his flight to Srinagar; I saw his beautiful daughter. The young girl was 15 years old and was a true princess of his father. She had come to visit Delhi and Jaipur with her school friends on a tour that was being sponsored by the Army. It was a bit surprising for me, since I was not aware of such wonderful gestures undertaken by the Army. My knowledge about the Army was limited to what we see on the television as I had an idea that they only guarded our borders and fought the insurgents.
On interaction with Sofia, Yusuf’s chirruping bird and her friends, I come to know that not only this tour was sponsored by army; it was also providing scholarship to meritorious students from economically weak background. It further facilitated their higher studies in some of the premier institutes of the country. Sofia was a bright student of a school whose infrastructure was made and was run by men in olives.
I had never thought that an organization which as per my little knowledge was only a fighting force; had such a caring heart.
I then met the officer who was in charge of the tour and was really touched to see how he cared for these touring students. This young man nicely fitted in the frame of romantic hero of a novel as a caring true gentleman who is fully devoted to his duty and holds humanity in the highest spirit. Me and my wife with our young one accompanied these angels during their tour in Delhi. It was a beautiful experience to see the expression of surprise on their innocent faces when they connected to the national history during the tour and saw the social & technological advancement. Bringing out these children from the valley opened their mental horizons and made them accustomed to the developments taking in the world outside.
All these thoughts flashed in my mind like rewinding reel of a movie projector. I picked up the phone from my table to hear words of my beloved friend on the other end. I was quite excited to hear Yusuf’s voice after a long time. He was inviting me to his newly constructed Log House for the House Warming Party. It was like an untold wish being fulfilled for me . I desperately needed a break from the daily maddening rush of metro life. I was looking for going to a quiet place in the lap of mother nature and spend some days peacefully. I immediately grabbed the opportunity and confirmed my presence for his house warming party. I started counting hours for my flight to Srinagar to have a much needed break.
Finally the eagerly awaited day arrived when I boarded the flight for Srinagar. My friend picked me up from the airport and drove me to his village in a beautiful valley located in the folds of Pir Panjal. Broad and smooth roads spoke of the infrastructure development in the country side which had opened avenues for tourists to visit the place. We drove through the pine woods and could hear the whistling of wind blowing through conical pine trees. In between, we come across a beautiful large green meadow that was spotted with white coated sheep and their lambs. Some of the shepherds could be heard singing their traditional folk songs which was no less then William Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. Clean water flowing in the streams stole the scene and looked like caring touch of nature in the beautiful canvas. Wooden huts with tin sheet roof looked like angel’s resort in the iconic beauty of Kashmir. A few orchards here and there could be seen with branches bowing down due to loads of red apples. It was really an unforgettable experience to travel in this beautiful country side.
We were approaching a base of a hillock which had a cluster of Log Huts; they were constructed in symmetry and had beautiful roses and other ethnic flower all around. One huge Chinar tree stood as a witness to these cluster of huts at a distance. The meadow on the other side of huts and hillock in the background with pine growth presented a breath-taking scene and it was really a “Heaven on the Earth” in true sense. When I got down from the vehicle, Yusuf’s old parents gave me a warm hug and I could see wetness in their eyes. I had traditional kahwa as a welcome drink and then I was cordially guided to a beautifully decorated cozy room in the Log Hut.
In the evening when we sat together to celebrate the House Warming Party; I came to know that a part of the house would be opened to the tourists and similar arrangement existed in the other Log Huts too. The staff was thoroughly professional in their approach and had been well trained for the job. While having our chit chat in the evening sitting by the bonfire, I came to know that normalcy had returned to that area due to presence of Army and tourists had started visiting the place. Army conducted career counseling to bring out natural talent of youth to enable them choose a career of their liking. Equal importance was given to hospitality sector, IT sector, traditional handicraft, tourism, sports, music, horticulture etc. that could generate job opportunities locally for the youth of that area. It resulted in revival of country side tourism after three decades and brought a ray of hope to the locals to earn livelihood with self-respect and dignity.
I spent three days in that picturesque countryside and the experience was totally out of the world. I enjoyed my friend’s warm hospitality which I will never forget. On the fourth day when Yusuf was going to drop me back at the air- port, I saw that he silently kept a beautiful bouquet of freshly plucked roses on the rear seat. He stopped the car near an Army Unit which had a memorial of martyred soldiers on the outskirts. He told me that I was the first guest of his cottage. He asked me to accompany him while he offered the flowers at the memorial as token of love and respect to the unknown soldiers whose blood and sweat had brought back long-awaited peace in the area. He knelt at the memorial and put the bouquet of flowers while I stood silently with my head bowed down. I thanked the olive angels who not only guarded our nation but also educated the children and provided a means to earn their bread with dignity in troubled areas.
A leaf broke from the chinar branch over head and fell on the bouquet of red roses offered on the memorial. We moved on to the airport with gratitude for the unknown soldier in our heart.