The Pilgrimage

Chapter 1

There are certain journeys which are drawn up for you and certain you plan intricately. I call this a pilgrimage. The only act I had to do was having faith and buying my ticket to Delhi. I have no memory of what happened after that.  I was lead from there on; the places and people were chosen. These strangers that I had known in past lives were there to meet me again.

Delhi has always been a blur; the early morning smog and the Aram Jawan Jyothi at India Gate always leave me solemn. The love hate relationship I share with this city draws me to its lanes and lonely monuments which I unearth ever slowly.

The people of this city have always intrigued me, their instinct for survival is one that of awe. The constant jugad, bickering at every turn and constant fights with the rickshawals, they love it all. Through this tamasha of every day rut people of Delhi not only survive but thrive to be artists and naturalists, politicians and simple human beings.

I happened to meet some of these divine souls who have not only made Delhi their homes but also embellished it with their songs and prayers. Delhi was wrapped in a different tapestry of colors and voices, the ones I have learned to touch and listen.

The day to leave for Kashmir has arrived. But there is someone I need to meet before I leave for the airport. The phone rang last evening when I was discussing the documentary with Ankit (a filmmaker). I had met Ankit the first time as well. The phone call was a pleasant surprise and so I excused myself and smiling at the screen answered the call. Janet Chawala ; the director of Matrika was talking to me. I recognized her in spite of never ever meeting her before. We spoke and instantly wanted to meet.

It’s the morning of 27th and I am hailing an auto for Sunder nagar. After going around in circles and being led to a couple of unknown lanes I reach Janet’s home. As I step inside I see an altar filled with dolls and artifacts from all around the world. There is also the Shiv Ling at the extreme right hand corner of the altar. Janet comes in a hugs me, we have known each other in some past life. We settle into her living area and start discussing this and that. There is just so much to talk about, we speak the same language and belong to the same traditions. Our eyes sparkle each time we share our journeys. There is so much to take in and hold. Time is racing against our stories. Janet asks her driver to drop me to the place I am staying at and hugs me. We part with the promise that we will meet again this time for longer.

My flight to Srinagar is announced. I board the plane. My soul is elated from the morning and at peace. I receive a text from a friend. There has been a death, one of our friends lost her father, cause of death not yet determined. The elation changes into a deep reverence for life. I say a silent prayer for the parting soul of my friend’s father.

The airplane speakers fill my ears with some announcements shattering my prayers and I turn off my cell phone. The beginning of a new journey is dotted with death. I reach Srinagar where my phone refuses to work. My friend and also my guide in Kashmir picks me from the airport. We head towards Ekta a theatre group where I would be staying. It is in the part of the city I had never seen before. I walk towards the doors with anxiety. The people inside are new to me as I am to them. But we are to walk together for these few days. I take a deep breath and step inside. There is a big poster of LAL DED as I enter the office. The two men in the office are trying to greet me and make small talk. They offer me some drinks which I subconsciously decline. All this while my eyes are fixated on the image of this girl who is an embodiment of Lal Ded, her hair over her face dressed in old rags wanting to fall off her bare shoulders. I knew I was in the right place. The sing had been revealed in yet another form. I humbly accepted the juice offered to me and started exploring my home for the next 10 days.

It was a simple room with little light. There was bed with a thick blanket and a pillow, it was someone else’s room, there appeared a cupboard out of nowhere and was also placed into this little room. The bathroom was huge with a boiler for hot water and the loo was Indian style. I had seen the sign and despite of knowing that I was used to more comforts accepted to stay with these simple Kashmiri artists.

They made some lovely warm food for me in the evening. It was humbling to sit and eat with these souls. I slept not so well that night. The morning Azan woke me up after which the dogs nonstop howling kept me awake. I woke up a bit disoriented and worried about the morning runs to the bathroom and the cold when it will be my turn to use the shower. As everything else up until now this also falls in place.

I get dressed and after a modest breakfast sit to discuss the logistics of the trip with Arif. He seems to bit preoccupied with some thoughts that I fail to decipher. I tell him about the story I am thinking of and my requirement of a girl/ woman to help me with the camera and translation. We both agree to it. I get an idea that we could approach some mass communication students for help with the camera. The stars align and we meet Khaitul the following day.

Khaitul is a shy 20 year old studying at Art College. Her HOD happens to be a friend of Arif’s and apparently also claims to know me. He introduces me to Khaitul. As I look at her I have my doubts. But a few words and she loosens up. She tells me she has used a video camera in her cousins wedding and is good with a still camera as well. I talk to her about the nature of the project and hand her a bunch of papers containing the gist and the story line.

The following morning we leave for a shoot. We head to a small village with the name Chardora. One of the actors at the Ekta academy belongs to this village. He had overheard my conversation on Dais and had volunteered to take us to his village and introduce us to the Dai who helped give him birth. It is a beautiful morning, me and Khaitul are discussing camera angles when we come to a stop. In front of the jeep screen is an old battered house, the little courtyard is holding some almonds that are being sun dried.