After trekking up to the Nun Kun glacier, Denzil Nunes, Santos Silveira and I were walking through the compounds of a few houses to get to the main road. Two small boys came running to meet us and tried to strike a conversation in English. They were soon followed by their father. We got talking about who we were and what we were doing near the glacier.
One of the reasons I travel is to experience people, their food and their cultures from close quarters. So one thing led to another and I asked the man if we could have lunch at his place. At first he was a little surprised at the request. But I explained to him that we were sick and tired of eating Maggi noodles for the past few days and were longing for some home food.
He asked us to wait with his boys while he rushed home to confer with his wife. Shortly thereafter he returned and asked us to follow him to his stone house. The ground floor was half height and it was quite clear that his cattle and firewood resided there. We climbed up to the first floor and were led into a large empty room. He pointed to a corner of the room and asked us to sit down and wait.
After a while the man came in an rolled out a small carpet in front of us. Then he poured what seemed to be a salted tea in three small cups. He kept refilling the cups throughout the meal. Main course was a thick roti made from something I had never had before and we had it with a bowl of curd. It was truly a different experience and much better than the boring Maggi noodles which we would have been forced to eat at the nearby dhaba.
We spoke in Hindi. The man’s wife didn’t speak to us directly. Rather she posed her questions to her husband who asked them on her behalf. At one point during the conversation he started lamenting on the lack of facilities in his area. Then he said something that peaked my attention, “Saheb, we are considered as Pakistanis. Nobody cares about us.”
I touched his shoulder and said, “Please don’t think like that. If we considered your family as Pakistani, would be have walked into your home to have a meal with you?” I tried explaining to him that poverty was all across India and he shouldn’t think that the alienation he feels was somehow related to his home being close to the LOC. But I’m not sure he got my point. Of course, it was easy for me to preach when I didn’t have to practice what he and his family were going through in the hard terrain and weather. To change the topic I asked Santos to show the boys a few of his magic tricks. The atmosphere in the room lightned up and there were smiles everywhere once again.
After enjoying the meal, we handed the man some money which he refused to take at first. We insisted and he eventually relented.
By now news had spread in the neighborhood that three weird men were having lunch at one of the homes. Kids from different houses came to see what the fuss was all about. They followed us as we walked towards the main road with Santos still doing his magic tricks along the way. Santos had become the Pied Piper of Kashmir.
As we reached the main road, we waved our good byes and went our separate ways. While walking back to the car, I asked Denzil and Santos, “What would you do if three stangers strolled into your compound and asked to have a meal with your family?” They looked at me thinking. I continued, “I know what I would do. I would set my dog after the buggers and call the police.”
Those who have less tend to give more. Those who have more tend to give less.