It was still dark when they started – the plan was to catch the first rays of the morning sun as they headed east and upwards into the mountains. Som was riding at the back and he was the first one to catch the ochre shape as it emerged from its hiding. He cried in excitement – Dad look the Sun is coming up! Parth turned his head and took off his wayfarers to have a casual look. It was nothing new for him as he had been riding in these Mountains and valleys for many years now. But yes this time it was different. He could feel the warmth as his 12 year old son hugged him from behind. He had never felt it before. Not even in the glow of the fireplace at his Ram Nagar home. Som went to school in Somerset, where he lived with his mother. He’d come over for vacations to be with his father, whom he’d known only through photographs and Skype calls.Shivani always felt that he was too young to be by himself and that Parth was too careless to take care of their son. She had relented to Som’s constant badgering this time.
Parth had gone to pick up Som from New Delhi and Som had been visibly thrilled through out their 8 hour car journey. As soon as Som arrived at Parth’ their home in Ram Nagar near Naini Tal he was fascinated by the beautiful Kawasaki Ninja parked in the yard. Som asked Parth “ This was the bike you sent in the picture.Wow ! It certainly didn’t look this amazing. The hunter green looks so awesome. You are a rockstar Dad”
Parth wasn’t flattered – “I also liked it a lot so I bought it. It was way over my budget though”
Som said “ You are talking like mom now.Even she said something about you having no sense of money when she saw the picture. But who cares? Look at this beauty.Dad can we go like on a long ride on this?”
Parth was busy preparing the fish he had caught on the Kali river just the previous day. While he cared little about the source of other meats, when it came to fish, he cooked only what he caught himself.. He believed that having this simple rule allowed him to go to the river, spend some time by himself and feel how cavemen would have felt before becoming civilized. He believed that fishing was meditative and it gave him peace. A glint of excitement lit up Parth’s eyes – “Ya sure we can go but not too far.” Som had other plans. He said “Dad I have heard about this amazing bike ride through the Spiti Valley. I have seen Youtube videos and it looks like you are on some another planet. I know you have been there. I saw your pictures and I think you were somewhere near Kaza when you had Skyped me. Can we please go to Spiti valley? Parth grinned and mumbled – Like father like son.
“Did you say something Dad”Som had heard him.
“Nothing.Your Mom is gonna kill me if she finds out”.
“Come on Dad how will she know if we don’t tell her about it”
“So you want me to cheat her?”
“As if you never have !”
Both of them went silent. Had Shivani told Som about his affair with Linda, Parth thought. He suddenly felt his energy sap out of him and the muscles in his stomach tighten.He did not know how to respond. The whole sordid episode became alive in his memory. Shivani was a strong and educated woman focused to build a career in banking and finance. Her work was important to her and she never cared about putting in those extra hours. Linda, like so many other girls in the past had made their interest in Parth clear. It would have remained a clandestine affair had Parth not got involved emotionally involved. Looking back Parth blamed Shivani for not being his anchor but more than that he blamed himself for drifting away. Parth felt a sharp tinge through his heart. He wanted to hug Som that very moment. He remembered the time when he and Shivani had got Som from the hospital. He was so tiny he could barely open his eyes and whenever he did Parth used to say – look he is smiling at me. Som was just 2 years old then. Parth still didn’t know what got over him. He knew Linda for many years before they decided to go in for a partnership. Being in export business he needed someone who could look at the US side of operations and Linda had proved to be the perfect fit. It’s true that he and Shivani were not getting along but hating someone could never be the reason for falling in love with another. His feelings for Linda were not born out of love he has thought many times but out of rejection and hate from Shivani. In his hear he knew that Shivani would never forgive him but if she ever did he would gladly walk back into her secure arms. He lived by himself in this secluded mountain and he wondered sometimes if it was more of a punishment than a lifestyle choice as his friends labeled it.
After a while he got up from his seat and as he walked down the hall towards the kitchen he stopped for a while in front of Som.
Ruffling his hair he said – “That was not funny Pal”
Som looked up. His eyes met Parth’s and he did not know where to look next.
“I am Sorry Dad. I didn’t mean to hurt you”
“It’s OK. Neither did I.” Both of them smiled.
Finally, they had decided to be honourable men and had called Shivani for her permission. It’s difficult to imagine what went through Shivani’s mind. Usually she was very possessive of Som but perhaps she thought that it would be good for Som to bond with his father. She knew the pain he had gone through seeing all his friends with their fathers. She knew what Som had missed out – playing chess, football games, school functions, Diwali & Christmas ; sometimes just a bicycle ride together after Sunday breakfast.
They had been riding for almost six hours now. Having started from Shimla early in the morning, Reckong Peo was their first stop en route to Kaza. The ride to Reckong was 8.5 hours and they were progressing well. At this pace they would have reached their destination easily before Sunset. It was October and the chill in the air gave a cue of the harsh Himalayan winters ahead. So far it had been quite a scenic ride accentuated by wisps of crisp and fresh mountain air. As sunlight filtered through the Cedar and Silver Oaks, one could see blue snow capped peaks at a distance. The 1500 cc-300 BHP Ninja engine thundered beneath them. Som imagined they were Samurai’s riding a dragon. Parth thought they were the great Himalayan scenery. In the great Universal design the observer and the object had become one. Parth had often told his friends about his life on the road – it is this feeling of freedom about a bike ride – you can never get that feeling in a closed enclosure of a car. Adventure and comfort are different thing and more often than not they don’t go together. Parth took a deep breath and felt grateful. To whom he didn’t know, nor did he care. This was his ‘happy to be alive’ moment. The Beas river was a constant companion for most part of their Journey and it twisted and turned every time with the road. Both Parth and Som were silent. First, the rumble of Kawasaki engine coupled with the wind would have made them inaudible but more importantly they were too immersed in the beauty all around and within them.
Parth turned around and checked with Som “How is it going buddy?
”So far so good dad, so far so good.” Som repeated to make sure his dad heard him.
Parth carried on “I guess the bike may need some rest. We have been driving for more than six hours now.”
Som continued the conversation “more than the bike I need food and may be a leak somewhere. They say you can piss anywhere in India but it looks too nice and clean here for me to spoil it”
Parth got a bit irritated “ Ha Ha Modiji’s Swach Bharat Abhiyan!.He is such a drama queen. We will pee where we want to and ask him to go take a flying fuck! Ooops, sorry for the F word. I am so sorry.”
Som was laughing now “Dad you seriously think I don’t know that word. Those blokes in my school use it all the time just to show how cool they are. What numpty phonies eh”
Parth was slowing down now. He was looking for some roadside Tea Stall or a small restaurant to stop. After some 10-15 minutes they found a small place. It looked neat and cozy and the owner was a lean man with decaying teeth, unkempt hair, crumpled skin,deep set eyes and a innocent smile. He was wearing a light Blue shirt and Khaki trousers and had a muffler around his neck. The shack was named as The Army Hotel and had a soldiers picture on the sign board offering salute. Adjacent to the road was the front of the establishment which had a few Plastic chairs and a table next to which was the cooking and billing counter. Going by the number of seats it was obvious that the place was sparsely visited and would not be having more than 10 customers a day, mostly travellers who stopped on their way like Parth and Som. Once they got fresh Parth ordered some tea for both of them. Their hunger was building up so he picked Parle G cookies from the counter.
Parth offered the biscuit packet to Som after taking a few for himself. He dipped a biscuit in his tea and as he was going to put it in his mouth he saw Som looking at him. He was smiling.
“You know Dad, I am rebuked all the time by Mom for doing that. I don’t understand what’s the big deal? They are going to mix up in the stomach anyways so why not dip and have some fun.” Parth had a loving look in his eyes.
“Now you know what happened between me and your Mom. I think it was mostly my fault but then I also believe that we were two very different people nice and not so nice in our own way.” Parth was beginning to get nostalgic, thoughtful. He pulled out a hip flask from his back pocket and took a sip.
Som asked him “Is that Beer ?”
Parth chuckled “my friend you never drink beer from a hip flask. It’s rum – dark Indian rum.”
Som wanted to know more “Oh I know. Isn’t it the one that’s totally Yuck. Which one are you having ?”
“Oh it’s Buddha Padri.” Parth answered knowing well that his angrez son won’t have a clue. He added “Its Old Monk. Buddha Padri is the translation in Hindi. Just something from my University days.It used to be a code word then.” He took 4-5 quick sips as Som finished both cups of tea on the table.
Parth stood up and enquired “ Kya Khila rahe ho dost? What is your name my friend?”
The stall owner still smiling looked a bit confused now “Sahib idhar khaane ka nahin hai, bas Chai milega.”
Parth enquired “ English samajhte ho ? hamare chote Sahab ko Hindi nahin aati” The stall owner nodded and said “I was with Colonel Saab for many years as his orderly. My Sahib was very strict. He spoke only in English – Colonel Srinivasan. He was the one who taught me English. He said it’s only with English Indian’s can become decent gentlemen”
“Saala Madrasi snob!” Parth mumbled so only Som could hear it. He was immediately corrected “That’s racism Dad.” Parth was feeling the warmth in his body now. He gestured raising his hand “ Aye Aye Captain.”
Parth walked up to the counter.
“Bahadur, do you have something to cook, some masala wasala ? I can cook a wonderful chicken curry for the three of us.” “Hai Na Sahib. I have a pressure cooker, Mustard Oil, Garlic, Onion, Masala everything. What else do you want? My name is Jung Bahadur.”
“I could see that – Army Hotel of Jung Bahadur. You know we should all go to war and just kill and eat each other” Parth jeered. Having lost his father in the 1971 conflict, He hated war and its glorification.
Poor Bahadur was beginning to imagine himself inside the pressure cooker when Som Joined “Dad you can’t be serious. Are you going to cook here?”
“Yes why not. There is time to every purpose but to a purpose there is no time. “
“Wow! Dad cooking chicken on a roadside dhaba in the Himalayas. It would make some story. I will take pictures and put them on instagram. How cool will be that?” Som was excited at this sudden adventure.
Parth had lit up a cigarette and both he and Bahadur were deciding on the dish of the day. The choices were limited so they zeroed down on rice and egg curry. Within minutes all three of them had taken up their roles – Som was doing the dishes, Parth was washing the rice and Bahadur was chopping Onions.
On the Deodar tree next to the stall a Mynah sang loudly. She wanted to let Shivani know how happy she was.