Bimal Chadha looks back at a 45 year old friendship to recount a hilarious ‘escapade’ of Kaku high in the tough terrain of the Pir Panjal Mountains.
I was posted in Jammu in the mid 70’s. It was an old town and a gateway to Kashmir, a temple town, a railhead, an Army Cantonment, a staging area and close to Pakistan border.
The territory assigned to me was the tough hilly region of Pir Panjal mountains. Back in 70’s the roads were bad unpaved and unreliable. But road was the only link and we were hence dependent on buses, jeeps and hired taxis.
The stations we covered were Akhnoor, Nowshera, Sunderbani, Rajouri, Bhimber Galli, Krishna Ghati, Surankot, Poonch, Doda, Pul Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, etc.
This was the Old Mughal route to Kashmir and longer in use, except the Army. Some of the highest passes were heavily Army-controlled. We traversed the heights of 6-8000 feet above the sea level.
Why I name these areas is because you are familiar with some of them, hearing about them on the News. More so now as these have become heavily terrorist infested and our forces have an active, heavy presence there. You can only fathom but most of you would have no idea of these areas and tough terrain.
Kaku is the nick name of a friend of mine posted in Jammu. We were both in Pharma but in different companies. Most of us had similar beats and travelled together. Competition was unheard. We all had a symbiotic relationship, as you will read further.
Kaku, was a Delhi boy, not at all adventurous and perhaps pampered. He was unlike most of us outdoor types, who played sports and games and as students were swimmers and NCC Cadets.
Kaku was prone to minor accidents and mishaps. His travels were full of these incidents, some hilarious some serious ones.
He was scared to death of water, hill streams, small rivulets, etc and there were plenty en route. His excuse: an astrologer had predicted his death in water. All bull, he was a scared kitten.
While we swam to freshen ourselves, Kaku in ankle deep water, sat on the banks filling a water bottle and pouring on his head, the water trickling down slowly on his Ganesh ji paunch. It was a sight to see and he was the butt of jokes for the next hour or two.
He was fun and humorous bachelor and a good organiser of get-togethers but lazy. His passion was to lie down on his bed with both hands behind his head on a pillow and gossip. Ready for a drink, any time of the day.
On our travels, we preferred hiring a taxi and share the costs. We had the freedom to travel at our own pace and with like-minded company for a week at least.
On one such travel we were just two of us and alone. We decided we will take the bus to Poonch.
It was a long arduous journey of 12-14 hours, required early departure at 5 am to reach just around sunset. It was winter and a difficult time to leave so early. Being a smoker he kept his carton in the suitcase and few packets in his hand bag.
Sunderbani was the first halt about 2 hours 30 mins away. He was smoking away and talking. We would doze off occasionally.
Just about 15 mins away from Sunderbani, Kaku felt uneasy. He requested the conductor at the rear to stop the bus, to answer the call of nature, who in turn sent him to the driver in front. He shuttled between the two, getting desperate by the minute.
Afraid he might do it in the bus making it unfit for further travel, I pleaded with the conductor to slow down the bus at mandatory Army TCP drive through (Traffic Check Post) at Sunderbani. He nodded to oblige.
I told Kaku to jump off and that I will wait for him to finish and return to the stop.
There was no sign of Kaku for half an hour. The conductor announced departure. I off loaded the baggage waiting for Kaku.
Yet no sign of him, I was on my fourth tea. It was 90 mins waiting but no show. I got worried and flagged a jeep going his way.
About 5 mins midway through, I saw Kaku limping back, legs spread. I held him and asked him if all was well? He angrily shooed me off, cursing me. We managed to reach the bus stand.
The more I enquired the angrier he became, refusing to even look at me, let alone talk to me.
Realising it was a medical emergency, I pleaded with him to visit the Government Dispensary and consult the doctor. He was in foul mood and abusive.
Uncomfortable sitting at the tea stall, I managed to hire a taxi, with a bit of local help, to return to Jammu immediately. He fired the driver and shouted, “Poonch,” pointing North.
Knowing he would not understand logic I agreed but he was in temper still.
I put him in the rear seat to lie down and chose to sit with the driver in the front myself … onward to Poonch
He was uncomfortable still and I managed to make him lie down on his stomach. In half an hour, he fell asleep.
When we stopped at Rajouri, he was snoring. I packed something to eat to proceed further.
He woke up around 2, feeling better. I offered him an omelette and bread, which was our lunch. He was hungry.
An hour to Poonch he was sitting on his rear and near normal, answering in monosyllables. A bit responsive.
We reached Poonch finally just around sunset.
A pleasant surprise awaited us as we saw more of our friends camping there already. Happy hugs followed, we unpacked and settled down finally.
Our friends noticed the Cold War between us. I was cornered by them to disclose the reason and its genesis.
Two drinks down Kaku was finally asked but evaded the query. He was eventually pushed to narrate the reason and disclose all the cause of the riff raff.
By now we were into our third.
“Aren’t we your friends, tell us your problem. We are not your enemies.”
This broke the camel’s back. Kaku finally blurted out the following to all.
“As I ran to find a lonely place in the bushes I asked the Sentry on duty, ‘Is there any water here?’
The sepoy said, ‘I will make some bandobast. Do not worry, just go.’
I ran, my mind at ease at the assurance. Half way through the job I felt a thud on my posterior. I turned back and saw a bundle of rags, I picked it up to examine.
There were cloth cuttings of different materials, colour and size, bundled up in a ball. I recalled the solitary tailor who sat in the verandah.
Chalo, something to clean up myself and resigned to the idea in a do or die situation.
Job done to my satisfaction, I balled the cuttings tightly to finish the job, clutching it in in my fingers. In the process I felt a sharp piercing pain, where it hurts most.
I was in panic, pain and anguished I couldn’t see the area only feel it.
With my finger I wanted to pin point the area. As I withdrew I saw my fingers full of blood. I was in a tizzy, couldn’t lie down or for that matter do anything. I suspected something serious In desperation I called loudly, ‘Ustad Ji, Ustad Ji , Ustad J…’
The Sepoy ran towards me, fearing a snake bite, very common in these areas.
I explained to him my dilemma, he, a trained soldier, instructed me the following:
I felt reassured but declined the last suggestion. I pleaded, I’d rather walk. He said, ok we will try.
With his help I limped back, holding my trousers, lest my family jewels were exposed.
He gave me water to drink from his canteen bottle and made me lie down on my stomach, on a bench kept there. I had begun reciting Hanuman Chalisa.
He managed to get a first aid kit, cleaned me up thoroughly and applied Dettol. It singed badly and he plugged it with cotton. I found relief.
On the next examination, half an hour later, he said the bleeding had stopped. I was relieved and with folded hands I kept saying, Thank You, Thank You, Ustad Ji.
In a while I went to sleep. I woke up I don’t know when
I found a new Sentry on duty. I asked about the other.
I was told, duty over, he had gone back to the barracks.
After a while he came up with a Fauji mug of tea. He made me sit, which I could with mild pain. Tea over, he asked me the destination. A firm reply I gave him, pointing North, ‘Poonch.’
After some time I decided to walk to the Bus Station, with a huge ball of cotton between the two cheeks plugged in my posterior
It hurt so I spread my legs slightly, still holding on to the cotton up my … I was very awkward and uncomfortable with a precarious gait.
That’s when I met him midway, worried.
The narration over, all were glum and serious about Kaku’s plight and in sympathetic mood towards him.
Next day we took him to the District Hospital for a check up.
The doctors didn’t find anything abnormal but advised investigating it further at Jammu.
Kaku was not a brave heart by any chance. After the little needle prick it must have fallen off without piercing since he squired and jumped up in pain.
That night after the consolidation, Kaku was the ‘butt’ of all jokes, literally.
We all were looking for ‘needle’ in the haystack all night.
No one slept, it was a hilarious night. Some volunteered to examine the area, he shooed them off. He was shouted upon for his misbehaviour towards me. He apologised we shook hands to forget the incident.
End of an Escapade of Tours!
Kaku in now happily retired director of his company, settled in Delhi. I am tempted to visit him, and with his grandchildren on either side, hands on their shoulders, and narrate to them the escapades, heroics and adventures of their grandfather.
Our old friendship of nearly 45 years, restrains me to address him just as Kaku and not reveal his identity and be good friends still.
We had our ‘Jungle mein Mangal’ days.
More to read by Bimal Chadha
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