Life and lies

Arshid Malik

I am a keen traveller although life has provided me little time and scope to travel. All the same, I still enjoy travelling and keep the dream of travelling the world somewhere in time while I am still alive.

Travelling, I believe refines your personality and broadens your understanding of the world. Besides when you meet people from different cultural, regional and linguistic backgrounds, it widens your line of vision and improves your scope of making sense of this whole scheme of existence.

I have had typical travelling detours whenever I left home. My travels have taught me a lot and have strengthened my basic resolve to understand human existence and behaviour traits.

 I recall the first time I went to Delhi all on my own, although I had visited this metropolis several times accompanied by adults. It was a challenge of sorts for me but I took it. I was roughly twenty years old. I took a bus from Srinagar to Jammu and then another from Jammu to Delhi. I had some money on me and a heavy backpack that carried my belongings. I had a single point of contact in Delhi, a friend of mine who was studying there.

I had sent him a telegram announcing my visit and a telephonic conversation mediated by his mother strengthened my position. I was sure that when I would reach Delhi my friend would come to pick me up from the bus stand and take me to his rented apartment.

With this convincing thought on my mind I waved goodbye to my worries and started having some fun. On the bus from Jammu to Delhi I had a co-passenger, a boy of almost my age, who was from south Kashmir and was studying in Delhi. We got talking and soon became friendly. We shared our bit of stories and I came to learn that this guy was actually a convert. He told me that his parents were very poor and could not even feed him. Then some Christian missionaries approached his parents and eventually got consent to adopt him as a convert. They took him to Delhi and sent him to a Christian school and took care of all his needs.

We reached Delhi in the morning and while my newly acquired friend was with me I called up my friend and told him that I had reached and whether he would come to collect me or I should reach his apartment on my own. He was hesitant and that very moment I understood that he did not want me to come to his place. He told me that he was staying at his friend’s house and that I should go to his apartment and collect the keys from the landlord and stay there till the day after.

I would have to do my own meals and stuff. I embarked on the journey and said goodbye to my convert friend. But he would not let me go alone. He said that he would accompany me till I reached the apartment and was safely inside. I thought that was too much to ask but he would not listen to me. Anyways, we started off and reached the place in an hour’s time. It took us some three odd hours to find the apartment and when we finally did, nobody would answer the door. We tried all we could afford but not even a single soul moved inside. Almost one hour had passed and someone opened the main door to the building and slipped in.

We were having tea on a nearby dhaba and ran towards the person entering the house. We caught up with him and I asked him about my friend’s whereabouts. He said that my friend would hardly stay there. He was out all the time. I told this person who happened to be the landlord’s son that I would need the keys to the apartment. He totally refused to give me the keys. I tried calling my friend from a local STD booth but he would not receive my call. I was distraught and did not know what to do.

My convert friend told me that he would take me in for a night and the next day we would look for my friend. I had no choices. We boarded a rickshaw and reached his one room flat. They were five room-mates and the room by all standards was small. But they were good people. They were multiple colours, his friends, and from different states of India. It was great to share food and thought with them. They shopped for me and got me a toothbrush and toothpaste besides a towel and bathroom slippers. They cooked for me and we had a lovely dinner. The next day my convert friend took me to his school as he was supposed to attend and he wanted me to be there. I met up with his class mates and the principal.

The next day we started hunting for my friend but he was totally “missing”. He would not answer the phone. We checked at his apartment but the story was the same. A few more days went by while I was living with my convert friend and his room-mates.

One day we went to the market and on our way back on a bus with no tickets. The bus stopped all of a sudden and some people got on to check passengers for tickets. We had none, so my friend told me to get off otherwise we would have to bear a penalty of Rs. 500. I jumped and the bus took off with my friend still on it. I started walking around in circles. I was at square one. Then someone called out my name. I turned back and met the amazing sight of a very dear friend who had been out of the state for a few years now.

We hugged and sat down for a cup of coffee while I narrated the whole fiasco to him. He took me to his flat and I stayed there for a week or two and believe me, those were some of the best days of my entire life. In the meantime I took my friend to visit the convert friend. He said I had had him worried sick to the stomach after disappearing from the bus. We had a lovely chat and had dinner together. I finished my business in Delhi and boarded a bus back to Kashmir full of life and lies.

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