Musings: Fond Memories of My Father
I must have been just a toddler when my family took a small vacation in Kashmir. We rented a cottage at the Highland Park Hotel. It must have been autumn, because the serrated edges of red Chinar trees still tickle the toes of my memory. We went on excursions to Gulmarg and Khilanmarg where the beautiful green sloping meadows and valleys were teeming with wildflowers. Himalayan indigo, purple lupines, hyacinths, and zinnias overflowed in the gardens.
[Left] The author’s parents at Lakshman Jhoola in Rishikesh, India.
We spent a day on Dal Lake in Gulbahar, a green houseboat made of Deodar (Indian Cedar). I ran in circles with playful goldfinches, just like long-lost friends. It was a perfectly private moment in time. Invisible but blissful. Peaceful. A buoyant heart of a floating lotus. A sound of the flute in the mountains. A paradise on earth.
My father arranged for a trek via Rishikesh to Govindghat. I walked with him, holding his finger, but often sat down to pick periwinkles and daisies rambling underfoot. Ultimately, he had to lift me up and carry me high close to his heart. We stopped at a mountain shrine to pay our homage to the goddess of the mountains. Dad lifted me on his shoulders so that I could ring the temple bell made of five metals. I was delighted. The silvery peel of the bell echoed for miles in the valley. I still hear it in my heart reminding me of that simple, gentle time.
Today, I squinch my eyes and try to clear the haze of passing time. The loved ones who took me to Kashmir are gone but the nostalgic impression of a mountain picnic is crocheted into my mind’s eye. We literally ran down the hills to the banks of a fast-moving river Jhelum in the Nanda Devi National Park. Jhelum is one of the five rivers of the northern Indian subcontinent. It originates from Verinag in the hills and rushes down the slopes. We decided to have our picnic on the bank of this rapidly flowing river.
An orderly from the hotel carried a wicker basket with delectable, buttery cucumber sandwiches, samosas, and sheermal. There were small pots of apple jam and local wildflower honey. My mother retrieved a steel tiffin box from her purse and passed it around. We bit into the most delicious and nutty besan ki tukri, the chickpea fudge, that she had made. The adults spread a red and white gingham tablecloth on a grassy knoll and scattered a few embroidered velvet cushions to sit on or to recline. Mom poured out Kahwa, the Kashmiri tea, from the thermos in copper mugs. As my father took it from her hands and took a sip, his face was wreathed in an appreciative smile.
Upstream from us, a few other families were also picnicking. Reading, playing cards, and singing. Adults played charades. Newlywed Kashmiri couples in embroidered phirans and festive caps walked hand in hand. I joined in a game of frisbee with other children. Dad recited exquisite poetry from his journal. My yet-to-be-born sister probably eavesdropped on our conversations that were sprinkled with laughter. She was primed by the saffron tea my mother had just imbibed. It was wonderful to simply be in the ample lap of Mother Earth and breathe in the fragrant, fresh mountain air.
After the exertion and a sumptuous picnic, my aunt Tripta and Mom dozed a little. My father read. I nibbled at my samosa. We were very close to the river. Soon, I noticed some people lowering their plates into the river. The monkey that I was, I stepped into the river to lower my dish into the flowing water too. In a split second, my father grabbed me securely. Had he not noticed and acted fast, I could have been swept away with the currents while still clutching my rosepatterned plate.
Even now, I can feel the forceful tug of Jhelum on my right arm. From that day, my father held on to my hand. Together we scaled mountains, sailed stormy seas, and navigated barren deserts of life. When he did not hold my hand, he had my back. Every day, I gather a bouquet of wildflowers plucked from the garden of my life and offer them to him. He smiles.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni who has published many poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart.
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