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Girls College Bus, In my bios-cope


Girl College Bus.



It was a windy and cold December morning. Just one or two days after, schools, colleges and Kashmir University- then the only university would be closed for a long winter break- seventy days. Staying Seventy days, i.e. 1680 hours at home away from college buddies and schoolmates, was as hurtful as removing an infant from her mother’s chest.

 For having missed the opportunity of making it to the Government Medical College, I was downcast. Despite the despair, I had earned the bravado of fighting a battle for justice by gate-crashing into the highest echelons of power. My striving one day brought me face to face with a person in a nice greyish-blue suit, ironed to finesse, donning a black astrakhan cap and darkest glasses- I was told he was Chief Minister, Sadiq. I had never seen him before; perhaps as  Chief Minister, he was never seen publicly- downtown Srinagar was virtually out of bounds for him.   I don’t if he frowned or smiled on seeing a gate-crasher in front of him at the stairs leading to his evening office, called private office. A black-complexioned, wooden-faced, very tall man standing behind him like his shadow had helped me to reach to him with my grievance. He was Mr Hafiz, then perhaps an inspector in charge of his security. Later on, as I got a job, I knew him a bit in detail. He was a highly professional, disciplined security officer who never lost his poise even in challenging times- and believed in no non-sense. I tiny orphan just on the threshold of my twenties, that I was, made my presentation with all boldness and articulation, not realizing that behind the façade of liberalization, there was a man with rhinoceros hide and Stalinists mindset. The meeting bought me an immediate bonus; I shed my shyness and timidity, but it did not get me justice. He died in a harness. Despite spin-doctors selling all lies about his change of heart on his death bed,  his death brought no tears to my eyes. His death did not end my melancholy.

 My melancholy had more to do with some friends with bare forty per cent marks under the shelter of a court order having been admitted for graduating as doctors. It is a different story; one of them spent ten years instead of five years to complete the course. The rebel in me often refused to bow before the failures and disappointments- nevertheless, whenever these overwhelmed me, I found the biggest hideout in one or another spiritual place. The December morning I started with was one such occasion.

 In a mood of desolation, like a wanderer unmindful about his station, I took a bus at the Batmaloo terminus. I arrived at the mausoleum of Baba Payam-u- Din Reshi. The Ziarat nestled in thick forests with billows of mist, adding a surreal aura to the surroundings, has been a place of solace and satisfaction for me since I first visited it with my father on a pony. That was also my first long-distance pony ride. In childhood, I often enjoyed short pony rides in my Mohalla after clay-sellers from village Wunpur in  Budgam arrived in our locality with sacks full of grey clay ( huri maitch)  on horseback, particularly on festive occasions. Days before two  Eid-Milad, our mothers daubed the kitchen and other rooms with grey clay with green tincture. Some of these horsemen were familiar faces; my mother often invited them for a hot cup of salt tea. But, going up to Ziarat on the pony’s back seven thousand feet above the sea was a unique experience. Then the Baba Reshi,  as the hamlet wrapped in tall pines is called after the famed disciples of Sheikh Noor-u-Din Reshi, was yet to be connected with Tangmarg by a metalled road and was yet to be electrified. Enjoying meals- rice and roasted rooster under huge earthenware lamps, with cotton wicks dipped in mustard oil had a medieval age romance about everything around. Then, no road had been built; scores of men and women who could not afford to hire a pony trekked the uphill journey with great devotion. But, it was the first time in my life when I had visited the Ziarat towards the fag end of December for an inner solace. The dark clouds as dark as Sadiq’s lenses were threatening, and I had no plans to stay for the night.

Here I took a shortcut to Gulmarg, and on reaching to the famed meadow, massive snowflakes greeted me. Coming down like fluffy cotton ropes, the snow created a terrifying situation for me, and it turned into a nightmare when I was informed that the last bus for the City has left and there may be no bus tomorrow. I didn’t lose faith in getting a ride to Srinagar. In this depressing scenario, I spotted a bus, continuously honking, like a man lost in a desert chasing a mirage; I rushed towards it with the hope of getting back home. The sixty-five seater bus was packed with girl students from the Women’s College, M. A. Road Srinagar, and it was waiting for some girls who were yet to arrive. In the babbling crowd insides the bus, I spotted many a girl who knew me by face, and some knew me by name. A couple of them were from our locality, and two of them, for my love of books, hired novels for me from the Book Corner.   I thought the girls I knew would vouch for my credentials, but they chose to pretend to be strangers. A peon of the college, a matchmaker on the bus, also knew me.

Boys of our locality often catcalled him for his peculiar gait- and I had never booed or jeered him. In this hour of crisis, I thought my gentleness would come to my help. Instead, he looked at me with suspicious eyes. It cannot be denied, the long bus of Girls College, interestingly named as the Women’s College that passed through our street for six days of the week at 9 A.M. was an object of attraction for boys. The most flamboyant among us, who, for their hairstyles, compared themselves with matinee idols Dilip Kumar, Rajinder Kumar and Dev Anand eagerly waited for the bus at the two roundabouts of our locality. One day, in the attic of our house, I found an old issue in a monthly magazine of Azan; in one of the issues, there was a poem titled ‘Girls College Bus’ by  Mahirul Qadri. I don’t know if it had been lifted from “Faaraan” or some of the earlier magazines he edited. It was a satirical poem, critical of the girls copycatting the Western fashions- it was so powerful that one could parrot it one reading. Even after many decades, I remember some of the lines. But, in the distressful situation I was caught at Gulmarg, these lines had also evaporated from my mind.

Swathed with snow from top to toe, like a snowman, I approached the driver to give me a lift down the hill; he gently told me, sorry, I cannot take a boy in a girl’s bus. Then, at the door of the bus, I saw standing three teachers of the college.  I knew them by face, and of course, by name and subjects they were teaching, but none of them knew me.  Till then, none of them had been a teacher at Islamia College, my alma mater.  

‘Of the three, I knew Gassudin   Sahib, a physics teacher from my Zal’goor days, when with passion my mates and I raced on traffic-less streets with swallows continuously hitting with sticks on our Zal’goor – the rubber wheel. Later on, his son Mumtaz was my contemporary in college. Those days, we looked at him and two more teachers of chemistry Mir Sahib and Jaffer Sahib, with admiration when they passed through the street of our Mohalla on bicycles on their way to S.P. College. The other two teachers that accompanied the girls’ college students were Shama-u-Din  Sahib (chemistry) and Bazaz Sahib (Physics) – I don’t know if he was related to Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz. Some of my friends knew him for his suaveness as superintendents of the examination centre at the Central jail. Those days’ many students detained under Preventive Detention Act (PDA) sat for examinations in the examination centres set up in prisons.

Somehow, I had a strong belief that they would permit me to travel by bus up to Tangmarg. And shivering with cold, the heart inside my frozen body was pounding to collapse. Once I implored them for a ride, they looked at me from top to toe and allowed me to travel on the bus.

The story of travelling in girls every time brought a teenage blush on my face.

To be continued. 

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