Skalzang had come for summer holidays and she was preparing to meet her friends. She also wanted to meet her roommate. They had promised to meet at Leh since they could not meet at Delhi due to several factors. It was a matter of pride to show off your fair skin unadulterated by the scorching and darkening sun that made everyone appear darker than their Ladakhi skin tone. Science must be having its logic, but for Skalzang and her friends, it was all about ‘they’ versus ‘us’. They left their hair open with transparent aviators on their eyes emitting the ‘feel’ of the latest fashion in the Korean drama series. This distinguished them from the sunscreen dipped faces of girls there at home reminding one of the Geishas in Japan.
But, to her disappointment, Skalzang did not have aristocratic connections who will vroooom their car with blaring music next to her rented home and pick her up. Instead, she had to meet Kesang at the Old Bus Stand Maney Tselding at 11:00 am going purely through the available means of transport. Kesang will come from Skalzangling and since getting taxies from there was still an easy option, Kesang would reach on time. On the other hand, Skalzang’s house was located at a place where they had to walk at least two kilometers to get to the taxi getting point. These taxi drivers went and halted there at their own whims. If there were enough passengers to fill one Omni Van, they would just move on. If not, then the driver would like to have some tea, maybe also have a quick shave since they had enough time on their hands and reasonable price for shaving.
Skalzang woke up late at 9 am, which meant that by the time she eats breakfast and gets ready, the clock will undoubtedly tick to 10. That logic proved true and she started at 10:15 am from home. 10 am! That means no running taxis and the ghosts of private buses which used to once run frequently as a public transport haunted the roads. The running taxes were implicitly meant for the students, and newly appointed office goers with no personal Alto of their own yet. The supply and demand of running taxis were beautifully in sync with the early drivers catching their worms. This was because some of these drivers actually had their respective government or subaltern offices to take care after 10 am until 2 pm to infinite timing differences based on the presence of the Heads in their offices. While other drivers did not see much profit in taking a new turn towards the far south.
Skalzang reached the taxi point at 10:30 since she had to take care of the sun protection of her fresh Delhi skin, water bottle, and most importantly the novel which was not fitting in the bag that was smaller than the ruler of the novel’s pages. And, history repeated itself that day with the no taxis at the taxi point after a half-baked walking experience on the dusty and traces of asphalted road. Skalzang tried to avoid the sight of freshly puked food remnants on her way with thoughts of beautiful things like the colour composition of Tsongkhapa and his two disciples, Gyaltsab Je and Khedrub Je drawn on the wall of the Maney Tselding, the Tinggggg…. of which she just rang while circumambulating it two minutes back. She said to herself that she was breathing a comparatively fresher air than the rancid smell of smog at Delhi.
Finally, after 15 minutes, a van full of passengers from Leh came in and took a U-turn meaning to go to Leh. She was elated and asked the driver if he was going. The driver looked at her and around her and said that until there were enough passengers which meant 6-8 people, there was no point in going to Leh. At this juncture, she looked around and realized that there were only three of them, two being the cleanly shaven, sprinkled with Z-Talcum powder, track-suited guys which were most probably coming from the military unit next to the taxi point.
Skalzang was feeling the surge of anger rising from her bosom due to this nonchalant behavior by the driver. Adding to the fury, the driver got down from the Van and entered an ice-cream cum coffee Parlor situated there among rows of unusual shops. She attempted looking for an alternative and then, “Hello! Are you there? Hello! Are you there? Ahem ahem…..” rang the mobile phone with caller’s name saved as “Kesang-Dearest”. She panicked for few seconds and silenced the mobile phone ring. She saw another Van with “Bewafa Sanam Dol-Lay” written on its front glass with the words written in slant in White ink keeping the background Black. As she passed by, Skalzang reached the Ice-cream parlor and noticed the driver made himself comfortable while licking its best on the Softy cone. Skalzang cursed the driver, blaming him for making her get late. Outside the parlor, a Tibetan guy who had kept his horses on the opposite side of the road tethered to the electrical pole was smoking a Beedi. She asked him if he knew the driver of the “Sanam Bewafa” taxi and he said that the driver had gone for his ‘dibty’ until 2 pm. He emphasized how ‘Apo’ had come today from Dilli and he will take time to come out today. ‘Apo’, my dear readers was none other than the Commanding Officer of the military unit.
Zrrrrrr…zrrrrrr ….her phone started ringing in vibration again. “Kesang-Jammu<3” was calling her and she could not resist betraying Kesang since it was 11:00 am already. Skalzang decided to confront and picked the call stealthily like a mouse stealing the thin concave sheet of Lifebuoy soap lying on the floor thrown after a regular use. Boarding the taxi finally, she explained how she was late and cursed the driver for living in a different dimension of reality unperturbed by people’s agony. She said all of it in English so that at least the driver would not throw her out midway. Skalzang was seated on the window side. She realized that she was facing a middle-aged woman in Sulma, carrying a tray of eggs in one hand and a rosary in the other. The movement of rosary beads and her chapped lips were taking place at regular intervals as if she was chanting something mindlessly. Her side-cut and its bald nature were directly visible to the woman’s left eye. Skalzang looked outside at the passing apparitions of the quirky buildings built beside the road and sometimes their shadows even extended to her hands that were kept tightly on the novel. She chose to look down at her hands, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles was faintly visible between her now relaxed fingers.
Skalzang tried surveilling her surroundings around and got enlightened about the scrutinizing, sly gaze of the woman while her rosary was in motion. That gaze was peppered with Z-Talcum powder’s fragrance continuously flowing through her nostrils. She was enjoying the musky fragrance lingering in the atmosphere fueled by the conversation of how the Chopper last night went defunct after the night patrol. Added to this conversation was the background music playing on the car stereo at a low volume as if somebody had put the speaker under a pile of quilts. “Yaadon mein din kaat ti thi, par na guzarti thi raatein….” played in the background. Beside her was seated a Nepali young-looking girl, who was breastfeeding her child by covering the breasts with her Dupatta. She was constantly tapping on the keys of her Samsung Guru E1200 phone as if she was looking for a call detail.
They arrived half the journey and the Nepali lady de-boarded the taxi. In her place, came a guy whose shoes were stinking. Skalzang looked at him and assumed that perhaps he is a Kashmiri labourer referred to as ‘Dodapas’ colloquially. She was feeling an uncomfortable warmth from him and budged herself towards the window. And then, the polythene bag in that man’s hand fell and made a noise. Skalzang checked on her mobile screen for any calls but it was the same with no new notifications. She felt a hand touching her breasts over her Denim jacket. For a moment, she froze there. Her heart started beating faster, dots of sweat emerged on her broad forehead, broad enough to accommodate an ocean of sweat. But, the mysterious hand kept progressing with a simultaneous effort of silent capturing of the mount of flesh sagging from her right chest. By the time, she gathered enough courage to say something to the guy beside her, the van halted at Old Bus Stand. Skalzang paid the fare and quickly got down. She drew a long breath while noticing the mass of cloud hanging like a twisted duck.
Skalzang knew that Kesang would be furious and be facing away from her. She started looking around. Somebody covered Skalzang’s eyes from the back and the hand smelled of a sweet cologne. The next moment, they quickly had a passionate and proceeded with their internalized love affair until they realized it will be their cause of doom.
To be continued…..