A Long Walk to Home

A thousand-mile journey always starts with the first step, but don’t walk aimlessly
Representational Image
Representational Image Flickr/ Chris Hearn [Creative Commons]

The searing Friday sun in the second week of July had disappeared into darkness when I reached Sadiqabad (old name of Hazratbal) market, where the vegetable vendor offered three choices - cucumber, cabbage, or cauliflower. I settled on the second choice.

Barely half an hour later, I was busy preparing dinner and washing my laundry when a friend phoned. I decided to hit the hay earlier that night.

Since my phone was on silent mode, I missed his calls. He had texted that our exams might be postponed. His speculation proved prophetic.

At the crack of the dawn, I was squirming with pain because my stomach was upset. Nausea added discomfort and vomiting unnerved me. I could not ask for help (in incommunicado times) since there was no other tenant in our rented accommodation. Epistaxis (nose-bleeding) added insult to the injury.

After meeting nomadic treatment at Primary Health Centre (PHC), block Hazratbal, I could not find anything to eat for the next 24 hours due to downed shutters. With clinical confidence, I decided to conceive the daunting idea of traveling to Baramulla on foot.

146 fortnights ago, the marathon began in the wee hours of July 10 from Zain-ul-Abidin Badshah Gate of the University of Kashmir. As I moved past the deserted campus, a pack of canines, busy howling and perhaps searching for the carcass on the heap of garbage outside the famous school at Lal-Bazar, was the first bottleneck in this joyless journey.

The foul smell kept pedestrians away from walkways. Surprisingly, the dog menace is bleeding residents on Srinagar streets even in 2022. The city has literally gone to the dogs and SMC does not bat an eyelash. It is waiting for Godot’s magic wand in the not-so-smart city.

In the meantime, I reached Molvi stop. Only a few joggers were visible on the roads. A private vehicle stopped and waved to get in. Without asking for his credentials, I boarded the car and alighted at Noorbagh.

God bless the kind soul. Extending a helping hand to the unknown unconditionally generates a sense of satisfaction. That blissful feeling.

With a heavy backpack, I was dog-tired but I walked my own race albeit at a snail’s pace. Walking alone is difficult but it makes one stronger. It is true that a thousand-mile journey always starts with the first step but we should never walk aimlessly in life.

We must set our goals and walk to achieve them. We learn to defeat the odds en route only when we come out of our comfort zone. Generally, children born with a silver spoon in their mouth, don’t know how to create their own niche or walk the uncharted territory.

So, what happened on the other side of the (under-construction for a decade) world-famous Noorbagh bridge? At Qamarwari, auto drivers tried to fleece me. They resort to exorbitant fares sans accountability from the concerned department.

They overcharge simpleton villagers, particularly first-timers in Srinagar. Why would a student (or anyone) pay 500 hard-earned bucks to reach Bemina Byepass? I was not surprised since I have seen prices of commodities skyrocket in the blessed month of Ramzan in Muslim-dominated Kashmir.

Ten minutes later, I was a pillion rider on a scooter of another Ajnabi. I reached Shalteng and cluelessly ran zigzagging my way across narrow alleys and link roads. After treading treacherous tracks, I faked confidence and continued the march to Varmul.

I walked a long distance only to reach Narbal. A lorry full of wooden logs came to a screeching halt. The driver asked to sit on the top of it. I swallowed the inconvenience till it reached Mirgund.

A few hundred meters ahead, a posse of a joint patrol party quizzed. I got blank for a moment but I managed to walk the talk. I unzipped my bag and pulled out my saviour- student ID proof issued by the Department of Students Welfare of my varsity. O.P.D ticket, issued by the above-mentioned PHC a day before, was an extra protective layer I wore. I was scanned from top to toe and then asked to go.

Bathed in sweat, I battled to find my way via alien terrains. A visibly panic-stricken lady craned her neck through the window and directed a relatively safer passage. I quickened my pace but my heart was hammering. The marathon speed forced me to take a hummingbird’s 300 breaths per minute.

The ‘endangered’ horse-cart (Tanga) had hit the streets after a long lull. From Hanjiwera to Pattan, this Tanga ride was a little relief but it could not take the sole ‘passenger’ beyond its destination- the main market Pattan.

Trekking the arduous trek, crisscrossing between side streets, I faked bravado. The local Muezzin pitched to call for Midday (Zuhr) prayers. I was relieved and relaxed after half an hour of staying inside the Masjid. The heavenly feeling calmed my nerves.

Soon after, I decided to knock on the door of my distant relative so that I could recharge my belly since rats were jumping in my stomach.

When I narrated the ordeal of “terrible travelogue”, they offered me a hearty meal. Muscle spasms annoyed. I was left with Hobson’s choice but to walk home in bad times. Later at Asr, exhaustion evaporated as I was offered my favorite Nunchai.

I was on the road again but not up in arms. On this risky journey, luckily, a biker stopped in a filmy style. A loud creak and a cloud of dust billowed in the air. After skirting empty roads, dotted with potholes, I was halfway home.

Near Hamrey, I joined a couple from frontier district Kupwara. Done with half-hearted introductions, we were walking like three ‘zombies’ since we could never be musketeers. Inching home, a twist soured the already gloomy mood.

Rowdy stone throwers, waving sticks, interrupted and “ordered” not to proceed ahead till further directions. The ugly stares and awkward glances of these school boys made the trio extremely uncomfortable.

Two of them passed lewd remarks when they asked the lady not to listen to a Hindi film song on her phone. It enraged her husband. A minor scuffle generated a noisy debate on moral policing and mannerism on the dusty road. When the government’s long arm fails to maintain law and order, fringe elements take the centre stage.

I was upset but God answers your prayers when you expect it the least. On the last leg of my journey, the driver of the Sonalika tractor, another benevolent soul, hurriedly asked where I was heading. I came up with what you call “elevator pitch” in journalism.

Street blues continued. Finally, I was dancing on the tractor trolly, nearer my village. With the help of hitch-hiking from complete strangers, the day marked by tears & tension came to an end.

The almost impassable route, in the unforgiving times, was a walk (not) to remember. Since I document stories, how could I forget to ink the important itinerary?

I knocked at the main door of my home at 10:00 pm. Turned toward the starless sky, and thanked the creator for the boundless blessings & helping me survive the unthinkable.

I gulped a tumbler full of lukewarm water and retired to bed, begging sleep to come but insomnia overpowered me. Recalling the horror of the day gone by, I tossed and turned & tried to give a decent burial to the memory of July 10.

Finally, my eyelids embraced each other only to depart the next morning in a sleepy hamlet far from the sanctum sanctorum (Dargah) Hazratbal.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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