A young woman's journey amidst the turmoil to reconnect with her past as she struggles to straddle the complexities of the present.
“namastae Sharadae Devi kaashmeera puravaasini
tvaamaham praarthayae nityam vidyaadaanam cha daehi mae…”
Dr. Aditi Chauhan, Author of “Saffron: the colour of Kashmir” recited these evocative lines at her unique book release function today, held befittingly in the vicinity of Sharda Peeth, amongst a select august audience of Kashmiri Pandits, who trekked along with her to this sacred spot, to raise awareness amongst youth, of the surviving cultural heritage of this region. While paying tribute to the Goddess of Knowledge, Sharada Devi, who has blessed the land to be the seat of learning for centuries, Dr. Chauhan spoke of the traditional university it once was, frequented by Hindus for aeons from all over the sub-continent in search of rare texts or a long lost commentary of an obscure work. After a short reading of a passage from her book, she concluded her talk by a clever wordplay on the title of her newly published work, saying that kesar was not alien to Kashmir, it had been in use for making kumkum, in preparing Ayurvedic medicines, in embellishing cuisines, as well as in being a much sought after export commodity, for a long time now, so this outcry against saffronisation of Kaashmeera Pradesha was a bid by the erstwhile power grabbers to relegate Kashmir’s economy back to dependency and loans. The average Kashmiri was so much more aware now, s/he could no longer be taken for a ride by a few families acting on their behalf to their detriment, as in the past.
Aditi was not someone who would normally cause riots, yet she had. And this is how:
The riots in the town of Mattan have continued unabated for the past three days, two police constables have sustained injuries in subsequent stone-pelting, and a civilian has been taken to the nearest military hospital in critical condition. The situation is tense but under control. Clashes erupted between two communities a few days ago when an idol was found in the ruins of Martand, an ancient Hindu site from 479 B.C.E., later renovated by the famous King Lalitaditya Muktapida of the Karkota dynasty in the 8th cent. C.E. This used to be a Hindu Temple dedicated to the Sun God. Mattan saw a heavy influx of pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the country last month wanting to participate in this miracle. The idol was found installed overnight, garlanded with fresh flowers. Incense and other pooja items were also found in the vicinity. After a video by a visitor went viral on Youtube, devotees kept vigil to guard their deity from miscreants. Threats to destroy it started making rounds on Social Media soon after. Business was booming in the tiny town of Mattan, recently in news for its unique grape cultivation methods, after years of lull in the economy, until the bomb-blast last Tuesday, which reduced the idol to smithereens. No separatist group has claimed this heinous act yet. Local youth, and students from Anantnag, the larger town 5 kms away, are protesting in large numbers to prevent pilgrims from visiting the holy site as they fear retaliation and escalation in violence. They are demanding that the area they refer to as Shaitan ki Gufa be cordoned off and ……..
Aditi stood in front of the crystal clear blue-green waters mesmerized. The skies teared up too, to keep her company. She was lost in the beauty of the place, so taken in that she hardly noticed the broken heads of the various murtis dotting the octagonal niches, nor the shivlinga awaiting her acknowledgement. Small fish jumped up to the surface of the nag to play with her teardrops. The chinars that formed the backdrop of the open-air temple sighed at her fate. It was hopeless they told her, making whooshing sounds. The gurgling waters that carried the solitary maple leaves to their soul-mates understood her pain…would she want a ride too, they seemed to ask. Two men in drab coloured phirens walked by in the outer enclosure. No, she was not threatened or scared by their presence, they seemed gentle enough, old-world almost. Except for the Quit Kashmir, India Go Back scribbles on some of the walls, she felt the most at peace here in Verinag. Not so in Srinagar where she was merely another ‘Indian’ to be fleeced. Here, she could think. This is where goddess Vitasta wanted to emerge from, and Aditi could well appreciate why, she too would want to be born of this spring, transparent, ever bubbling, overflowing with joy. This home of the Neela naga comforted her in a strange mysterious way. Back from her reverie, she knew why. This is where her parents had stood a quarter of a century ago, in black and white, their happiness enveloped in an embryo. She could be silent here, she could be with herself, converse with that which was lying dormant. Her subconscious which was dreading this confrontation tried to look away, it looked at the arches of the arcade around her, at the small school kids in shalwars and hijabs collecting autumn leaves, at her cell phone for that much-awaited SMS, at the sun-rays taking a peek through the yellow-gold of the trees, calling her to take the right decision.
Aditi tried hard not to, but it had to take place one day. Better here where the sacred waters are your witness than in a crowded soulless city of Delhi where she was visiting from, nor in a town whose soul had been smeared with raliv galiv tchaliv; Srinagar. Did she really want this land to be her sasuraal? Land, yes. People, no. The little that she had seen, the little that she had experienced, it pained her deeply. While her love transcended all barriers, and she was holding onto only this magnificent fact, what she was getting in exchange was a complete overhaul of her identity, her being. Was it even worth it? Here she was, willing to overlook history, overlook her classmate’s lived experience, her parents’ memories, her own observations, to give love a chance to bloom in an unknown landscape, to give peaceful coexistence a home to flower in, in what would be her marital haven, yet what she was sensing from the other end was that despite her practising kshama and shanti, despite her going out of her way to be accepting of all differences and celebrating the diversity between them, there was distrust, there was dislike, and most importantly there was institutionalised derision.
How I wish I could flow along with no agenda….with no wanting or desiring…how I wish you were with me right now sharing this majestic scene, how I wish you could be magnanimous enough to brush away temporal distinctions. Shrugging off her foolish hopes, Aditi hit her heart a few times to make the terrible ache in her chest go away. She had trusted him despite all warnings, all advice, all proofs to the contrary. She had been vigilant, kept her wits about her, just in case. Having read so many cases of love jihad victims, she was not willing to be woolly eyed like most girls her age, there was an agenda for sure and it was not a conspiracy theory, there were enough numbers, there was enough proof out there to ignore such horrific happenings. But here was a man who had made it to the top of the ranks of the bureaucracy, through the UPSC, through the whole system which must have surely vetted him, yet…yet they had missed the fact that he had been married before? How? None of his batchmates seemed to know of her existence, this wife of his. They had definitely not mentioned this fact in Aditi’s presence.
Her heart heavy, her throat stuck with inexpressible feelings, she felt a slight hope that maybe she had misunderstood, perhaps he was not really married, it must be so. No. She had seen the album, the photos, and she had talked to his school friend who was excited that Mustafa was marrying again. Again. It had taken a lot of resolve and strength on her part to be reticent and not go probing after the wife. His wife. Saying that aloud in her head made her dizzy. Why had he lied to her? Why not be honest? In this day and age! There had been no children, so why this secrecy? Worse, he had always acted as though she was his one and only. And she had believed him. So Stupid.
All the tables are taken, not an empty spot to be found, her hands full of books, Aditi smiled wanly at the spiffily dressed man nearest to her, “Do you mind?”, and laid them next to his empty cup, dropping a few on the floor inadvertently. She had heard that Cafe Turtle was very popular, although it seemed to her that Delhi was suffering from a dearth of good book stores and hang out joints, everyone and anyone seemed to be here, in this tiny cramped space. He picked up the books from the floor with his left hand, she noted this with a hint of disapproval, and dusted them, and placed them neatly on the table after wiping it fastidiously with his right hand, “Please..” he said getting up, “do sit down, I was leaving anyway”. Aditi sized him up, affluent, educated, worldly-wise, and more importantly, he had continued in perfect accented English, “that is one of my favourite books too, Camus, am never sure if I pronounce it right ..one can never tell with the French can you….such a wonderful writer…..wish I could write like him..have you read…” That is how it had started. “Aditi” she said extending her hand, “soft ‘d’ and soft ‘t’ haan, not like how some Delhiites pronounce my name..as though they have never heard it before…it is not that uncommon na..although I like my name coz it is not too common..I mean..” she blushed and stopped when she saw him look at her quizzically, amused, caught midway between leaving the space and offering her the chair. His eyes spoke to her, and she felt good in her being. Delhi’s pollution did not seem to bother her today, not at this magical moment.
Their common interest in books, reading, and writing, had brought them together. Or so she thought. Perhaps it was part of a plan. Her mother’s warnings rang in her head as a faint echo. The poor among them kidnap directly, the middle-class among them fool you with false identities, but the rich among them just blind you with their cosmopolitan veneer. A made-up ersatz veneer. Beneath that dashing debonair form is a heart that actually believes that a kaffir will go to hell and that idolatry is the worst sin.
A man who reads Camus, drinks champagne and wine, dresses perfectly for every occasion, a man who makes you tremble, makes you look good among your friends, who speaks with a self-assuredness, a subtle suaveness that can make any woman feel safe, a fellow countryman in training to be a diplomat, when he says that his name is Mustafa, you let it slide. You believe in him and what he tells you, “DeeTee, this is the 21st century, what counts is class, not religion or caste or whatever..see how easily we struck a chord..background matters, education matters ..family will come around eventually….”. Much as she wanted to believe in him, in what he was saying, and in how he was convincing her, she knew that this was a relationship that her family would never ever accept. Not after how her father had died. Yet, her heart reasoned, not everyone is the same, plus she trusted herself, and her love for him, that would surely transform him, make him appreciate how much was at stake, he had to notice how hard it was for her to be with him, and how hard she was trying to fit in, into this circle of his. Surely he would take a few steps towards her, towards her beliefs and customs too, wouldn’t he?
Her mother, of course, called every week to check on her, and the fact that she had not confided in her about Mustafa should have been a red herring, “…...haaaaaaan…am eating, sleeping studying on time, not going out alone, not going out at night at all….daada daadi ko pyaar….muaaah!” Ma was the ideal bahu, despite losing her husband twenty years ago, Ma continued to serve his parents, with love and care of a newly married bride, a bride whose husband loved her dearly, but was far away….somewhere…never to return. Her mother had wanted to leave the town where her husband had been murdered, but her in-laws would not leave the land that their ancestor Ajaypal Chauhan had founded, nor their family haveli, or their kuldevi Chamunda, so that was that, it would be Ajayameru then, where her last rites would be performed.
It was not clear if Aditi’s father was dead or alive, he was last seen saving a young girl from molesters, as per a newspaper report, after which some say he was spotted walking into the Ajmer Sharif Dargah angrily, some say a few men beat him up and carried him away…the plot was never unravelled, and hung like a mystery novel half complete in their house. Growing up, Aditi had always felt that oppressive guilt and pain of losing her father in such terrible circumstances, if only she had not insisted that they visit the Taragarh fort on that fateful day, apparently she had been jumping around mouthing “fort fort fort”, and her father bemused by his precocious child had complied by driving her there on his motorbike along with his wife. The base of the fort is where the famed dargah is, and that is when her father had spotted a girl being assaulted in broad daylight, right near it.
None of this would have happened but for his fatherly love, she was only five, what did she know of Anwar Chisty, Farooq Chisty, Nafis Chisty and others who were simply too powerful to confront, what did she know of her bold father who did not let such trivial matters deter him, he had fought battles on the border after all! So like a brave Rajput, he went ahead, bash on regardless, and disappeared into oblivion. She was proud that her father had been the first to raise his voice against such an atrocity, even so, he was not here with her now, to guide her, to be her protector when she needed him. She was all alone, left to fend for herself. It did ache acutely at times.
Aditi did not know of the terrible past of Ajmer growing up until much later, a past to which she had lost her father to, a much-decorated military man, a Chauhan who would not merely watch a young girl being coerced in front of him, he had to intervene. Ajmer became a town of ill-repute soon after, for the infamous blackmail scandal that rocked the city out of slumber, hundreds of Hindu women caught in a rape racket by the politically influential members of the khadem khaandaan. Her father had stepped in to safeguard a woman’s honour, one of their victims, and that was his death warrant. From newspaper clippings that her mother hid from her, from frantic online searches, from talking to seniors in Sophia College and plain and simple dogged research, Aditi had pieced together information of what might have transpired on that day. She blamed herself again and again, and also her kuldevi for failing them, for leaving her mother and grandmother in such a sorry state, such devout women too, who despite everything held on to their traditional ways and held their head high, even while passing through the khadem mohalla. Sometimes her grandmother would wander into that area looking for her long lost son, and some kind neighbour would bring her back home, the whole town knew their family of course, knew of the terrible tragedy that had befallen them too, but no one dared say anything out aloud in support.
Aditi’s only solace while growing up fatherless was to look at the albums that her mother had painstakingly put together, of every precious memory of their happy togetherness, when they were like any other normal family. The last time they were caught carefree and together on camera was in Kashmir. Aditya had insisted that his wife join him in Srinagar for a few months, despite the fact that it was a field posting for him then. And what a time they had had! Ma would regale her with stories of their various impromptu motorcycle drives to Dachigam, picnics by the Lidder, and treks to the various Nags, there was a black and white photo of Verinag with her parents in the foreground smiling gaily, looking sweet and much in love, in which her father had scribbled at the back, ‘We are going to be parents!’, Aditi would read that sentence again and again for some clue ..some message that he might have left for her…his only daughter, his only child. I was conceived in Srinagar, Kashmir. Soon after, Ma moved back to Ajmer with her in-laws, as her father was literally at the border most of the time-fighting insurgents.
Not wanting the past to affect her daughter, Mrs Chauhan, w/o late Lt.Col.Aditya Chauhan, forced Aditi to leave Ajmer for Delhi, to make a future for herself. Aditi had been preparing for Civils even during her college days at Sophia, and that was part of the attraction, the success of the one who spoke Kashmiri and who was a Muslim, the attraction of the unknown and the forbidden. That he had completed his probationary training at the Foreign Service Institute and was now working the desk at the MEA was just as well. He was soon to be gone serving some Indian Mission abroad, a reflection of her dream too.
It became an unsaid rendezvous, the rooftop at Cafe Turtle. Aditi would wait anxiously pacing up and down the stairs, to catch a glimpse of him, was he coming this Saturday or did he have other diplomat-y stuff to do. From the bookshelves to the street, and then back up to the cafe to drink a quick ginger tea to quench her excitement, to quell her eager anticipation. A visit to the loo to adjust hair, clothes, look. And then again at the table for two, their table. Until she would see his silhouette glide past her, when her heart stopped, her breath caught in her throat, and she would exhale with deliberation, a sigh of relief known only to those who have given of themselves completely. And just as quickly she would transform from a delicate flower pining for a bee to catch her heavenly fragrance, to a no-holds-barred-political junkie.
“What is your problem with Amarnath? Why can’t the J&K government give more land to build facilities for pilgrims?” Mustafa, always taken aback at her innocent direct questioning, answered with equal straightforwardness, “…they trash the pristine mountains, the type of the pilgrims who visit the cave are very different from …I don’t know. ..umm….in other temple towns… it is a different class of devotees….all kinds of people come here you know, and it just disturbs the peace and quiet of the place…I have trekked there, it is indeed a very powerful space….” He never brought in any religious angle, and she was always on high alert to catch that when it came.
Soon her defences dropped and she got used to his eccentric and unique way of looking at things. Aditi grew to love this man, wanting a future with him. They matched in their goals, they complimented each other in their interests, even her friends who were initially reluctant to even hear about him said so after meeting Mustafa. “If you can convince your mother and grandparents… he seems to be really smart and nice…lucky you…” It was definitely cool and kind of rebellious although that had not been her intention at all. She could also sense the curious glances and the stamp of approval from his crowd at their inter-religious pairing. They seemed to be a showcase of sorts for secularism. She cherished the fact that they both would be serving their country, the government, to the best of their abilities.
The Army has been called out in the towns of Anantnag and Mattan, as the agitations have turned violent with many youngsters participating in daily stone-pelting against the police officials, causing the death of five policemen and also a few children caught unfortunately in the crossfire. Their demand is that the ASI protected monument of Martand be shut off for public use since it is disturbing the peace in the valley. Their official press release said that this incident has caused more harm than good, that idol worship is against their local culture. They do not mind the occasional film shooting which helps the economy of the land and brings in tourism, but they do not want the pristine site to be revived as a Hindu temple. This is haraam, said one of the protesters not wishing to be identified. For the past one month skirmishes in the obscure town of Mattan brought it to international limelight as Martand saw one after another numerous murties of Surya Dev appearing miraculously in the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) of this long-abandoned quarter. Just as the idols are being destroyed or broken, a new idol is taking its place with bigger fanfare.
From the start, their relationship had been devoid of any pretence, Aditi would come to Khan Market via her weekly visit to the Kali Bari near her PG digs, and offer him prashaad, and Mustafa would gladly accept saying, “For an atheist it does not matter where his ladoos are coming from as long as they keep coming….next week get me some of those..you know the dry rasgullas….right …just gollas..those….” There had not been any facade between them, no mind games, no catch-me-if-you-can, blow hot blow cold vibes that her friends always worried about. She felt so fortunate and so elated. She had missed having a father in her life, a male figure to lean on and look up to, and this Kashmiri man, god sent, filled up her emptiness. Aditi you come from the line of Prithviraj Chauhan, is this the best you could do! Just because you lost your dad when you were barely five. Who could warn her though? Her own internal warning system had been disabled because she had let her heart run away, neglecting all history, and all precedence, worse, she knew of every danger that lay on this path, she was well aware of the landmines ahead, and yet.
Mustafa noticed with irritation nearly 10 -15 missed calls from Aditi. She must have come back from Srinagar. If he did not pick up this time she would hound him all the way to South Block, better to get it over with. To his shock and utter surprise, Nisar had called him yesterday, eager to congratulate, revealing Aditi’s whereabouts and much else, all with good intentions. “So, did you get to see anything at all apart from police check posts and men in uniform?” he questioned her mockingly, not to be outdone, Aditi kept her anger and sorrow in check and let out a sarcastic, “Given that Geelani and Masarat Alam between them have called for a bandh almost everyday, no”. She continued her know-it-all tone to hide her disappointment, “By the way saw your wedding pictures at Nisar’s house, did not realize Kashmiri Muslim Weddings have so much music and dancing….is that common…?”. Not to be outdone Mustafa gave it back to her, “I wouldn’t know, have been married just once, not four times as you might assume”. Exhausted with the forced volley, the charade went silent. Each of them breathing into their phones, waiting. As usual, Aditi gave in but not without a fight, “Are there others too waiting in the wings that I should know of?” He matched up with a dismissive, “Variety is always exciting DeeTee, try it yourself sometime, stop being such a prude”. And that was that. No sorry, no apology, no assurances or any information about this ‘wife’ of his. All she knew is what Nisar bhaiyya had told her, which was very little.
Two days ago, before coming to Verinag, Aditi had requested to visit the Shankaracharya Temple. Nisar, now thinking of Aditi as a potential bhaabhi had agreed to drive her around to a few places. She was surprised at the number of police personnel at the temple entrance. Assuming that Nisar would also be joining her she looked around for him after the security check, but he waved to her from afar where he had parked his car. Odd, she thought and started to climb the steps. There was no one on the way up, except for a stray dog, and some crows flying high. The view from the very top was spectacular, and she tried to spot her houseboat on the Dal from here. The temple priest told her to go to the cave where Adi Shankara had meditated and there Aditi saw a few people who looked like tourists seated on the floor, eyes transfixed on the image before them, she was far too excited to sit still, and ran down the stairs prashaad in hand for Nisar, her palm all sticky from the mishri. “na na.. baabi....aap kao” Refusing her politely, he started the car and continued casually to cover up any awkwardness between them, “no sugar ”.
Where Aditi came from, you did not question what prashaad was made of, you simply accepted whatever was given with reverence. She smiled sweetly at him to make him comfortable, “No, no, I am sorry I should have known, I did not think…I don’t think before I do something…” Nisar accepted her apology immediately as though it was his right! She was taken aback, she had expected him to protest, and to ask for the prashaad, to prove that all was okay between them, and that such religious differences did not matter, but obviously they did, as she was now slowly discovering.
Aditi sank back into her passenger seat looking out at Srinagar passing her by, the car entered what seemed to be an older locality. Ahead of them was a roadblock with more uniformed men perhaps the CRPF, although the press routinely used the word ‘army’ as though the Indian Army had nothing better to do than to maintain civilian peace, their car was stopped, “Delhi se, ….abee Shankaracharya dikaayaa..” The uniformed men peered into the car, seeing Aditi with a tika they nodded to her and asked, “Madam kyaa kaam hai yahaan, akele ho?” they were polite yet firm, Aditi answered extra sweetly, “bhaiyya Srinagar dekhna hai …..”. The men looked at one another, looked at her again and said, “safe nahin hai madam, ghar jao jaldi”, and with that stern warning they let the car pass. Now she could see only narrow alleys and rickety wooden balconies with zoon dubs, Nisar made a few turns, and although she tried to memorize her way from her houseboat, it got too complicated, so she simply surrendered and sat waiting, they passed by a few young boys playing cricket. She could not spot one woman on the road or outside the residences. An eerie quiet paraded these near-empty spaces.
“dekiye baabi Khanqah-e-Moula, very spiritual, sufi place..in memory of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani from Iran”, this was not a part of the itinerary and she had not heard of this place, but if it helped her to know more about the man she was hoping to spend her life with, then of course she must-visit. Nisar said that Mustafa’s family was closely connected to this place, so all the more reason to explore. He tapped her hand and made a gesture with his palm on his forehead, he was asking her to wipe off her tika from the temple! How rude..how could he…but she complied when he said, “..safety ke liye..”. But why should it be so? The car came to a halt outside Shah-e- Hamadan Masjid and Khanqah. This time Nisar accompanied her inside and told her the way to the women’s section which was behind the main hallway. It was a grand wooden structure with iconic khatamband architecture, pyramidical in a typical Kashmiri style. The board at the entrance said, “Only Muslims Allowed”. This completely shocked her. No wonder her bindi was a hindrance. Aditi had never come across any public space in all her limited travels between Ajmer and Delhi which forbade entry based on religion. Nisar did not seem to care, he was not embarrassed by the signage, nor did he feel the need to explain it away. Strange. She peeked into the main hall where only men were allowed, it was carpeted from wall to wall, chandeliers hung high on the ceilings, it was completely bare yet spoke of opulence. Outside was a box for donations and a man sat monitoring the coming and going of people. She heard Nisar say, “Ajmer….IAS….Mustafa…”. She would have corrected him, IAS nahin IFS, but she was too upset with what was slowly unfolding before her, to do so.
Aditi had covered her head as it was September and cold, plus it seemed to avert prying eyes, this had helped her entry. In Ajmer, it was normal for girls to go about on their scooties with their heads covered and hands in long gloves to prevent the scorching heat from burning their skin. She went towards the back in an anti-clockwise direction which seemed all wrong to her, and found the women’s section, and entered. There was no one inside. The back of the building was overlooking the river Jhelum. She felt the thrill of discovering something unknown, the adventure of it filled her with trepidation, at the same time she was miffed at this whole episode of having to wipe off her bindi and that terrible sign keeping Hindus like her out. Why should it be so? Is not God for everyone? Why, in Pushkar anyone and everyone can go into Brahma ji’s temple to have darshan, to the Brahmakund, to the Shaktipeeth, and pay respects to Chamunda, to the devi maata temples on the hillock, she herself had seen many Muslims having picnic lunches on Sundays on the hills, near the temple.
Aditi was not very religious, unlike her mother and grandmother, but she did know a few battle cries evoking shakti which she was fond of and chanted them whenever she felt the need to be brave, so she started in a low voice, ambae hey ambae bhavaani maa…hu ha hu….self conscious, she looked around to check if she had company, seeing that there was no one to witness her discomfort, she sat for a few more minutes fidgeting before she gingerly stepped out into the courtyard. At the back was the river flowing oblivious to human confusions, in no hurry to meet with the ocean, languorously moving about, calling attention to its serpentine beauty as it slid like a snake cutting the city into halves. Aditi viewed two old bridges on either side of where she was standing and was transported to another world, another time. She continued anticlockwise until she found Nisar who was chatting with the young man at the entrance…she wore her shoes quickly…and walked out with a heavy heart. Some things started to make sense. One, when her mother warned her that she must be wary of ‘others’, that there was an unseen ‘us versus them’ divide which Aditi was always trying to bridge, her mother, as usual, had been right. Another, it seemed to her that mere sweet words and love talk would not, could not join that which had been torn asunder by design, and kept separate by deliberation.
“But I want to visit Kashmir ya, Ma has told me sooo much about Srinagar…why can’t we go together? You said your family knows….” Aditi’s Saturday was spoilt when Mustafa failed to show up at their table at Cafe Turtle, this meant she would be eating lunch alone for the third Saturday in a row. He had been out of town on some kind of field training, and now that he was back, he said he needed to finish up some pending work. It seemed to Aditi that he was avoiding her, rethinking if there was to be a them. “DeeTee, this is not going to work. Our worlds are very different, I am an atheist anyway, but you are so strong in your beliefs, this is not going to work I am telling you…” He would not budge from his hard-headed stand, despite her pleadings.
So she had decided to fly herself to Srinagar and learn first hand what these insurmountable obstacles were, what were these man-made factors that could not be overridden, let me look them in the eye, she told herself! She did not inform her flatmates, nor her mother, definitely not Mustafa. Aditi simply walked into the airport and looked for the next flight to Srinagar and bought herself a ticket. She had not planned any of this, her backpack which was always ready for a quick trip to Ajmer, contained two sets of clothes and toiletries, that was all she took with her. When the woman at the counter asked her if she wanted a return ticket booked, she stared at her blankly for a few seconds, and then said, ‘no’.
To Be Continued..