Featured in the anthology REBIRTH, published by The Impishlass Publication house
It was the last day of our all-girls’ trip to Ladakh. The past one week had been exhilarating, to say the least. As I sauntered into the balcony of my hotel room and soaked in the panoramic view all around, I let out a silent word of thanks to the heavens above!
A messy divorce, an endless barrage of uncomfortable queries, sly innuendoes, and preposterous suggestions by so-called well-wishers, had pushed me to a tipping point where I developed an anathema for all things social. I, decidedly, needed a hiatus – and what better than to escape to the mountains, all by myself! I channelised my inner nomad and registered with a reputed trip organiser. The choice of destinations was alluring and varied. Finally, Ladakh, doused in its ethereal, timeless beauty and zen energy, acted as my travel lodestar and I finalised my itinerary with them.
The mesmerising mountains, the turquoise lakes, mighty rivers, serene monasteries and quaint old-world villages, acted as a balm on my jaded soul and helped brush away the cobwebs of resentment and disquiet, ensnaring my mind. I forged some comforting friendships with a few like-minded travellers. Neena excelled in coding, Zainab was a banker, Revathi dabbled in theatre while Harsimrat pursued music. Tara Jaisingh, the only senior citizen, proved that age is nothing more than a number. Blessed with bright, expressive eyes and smart, salt-and-pepper layered tresses, Tara was an epitome of dignity and decorum, and mingled seamlessly with her younger counterparts. In fact, her occasional trivia about her soldier son’s daring escapades, held us in thrall! There were twelve of us, from different backgrounds and with diverse mindsets. But Ladakh served as a great levelling ground where we all laughed, played, shared anecdotes and accessories, and experimented with adventure activities – carpe diem at its best, we concurred! In short, I felt alive, loved, and rejuvenated.
This last evening, we all gathered around a modest bonfire. There was a peppy Bollywood number playing. The ladies were either shaking a leg or were engrossed in a hearty conversation. We all realised it was our last evening of such unbridled freedom and gay abandon. To commemorate the occasion, our trip leader organised a game – each of us had to describe a defining event which had comprehensively altered our life and our perspective. The members took turns to narrate several interesting incidents – marriage, childbirth, a career boost, a prolonged illness, an unexpected favour, a broken relationship, a lost-and-found friend – the stories evoked awe and wonder, annoyance, smiles, sniffles – but they all kept us rivetted. Tara and I were the two final speakers. Tara volunteered to take the penultimate slot.
“Vipin, my husband, and I have always been very proud of our only child, Rishabh. Thanks to Vipin’s career in the Merchant Navy, we got to travel almost the entire world. Rishabh was this very precocious, self-driven child who had made his career choice pretty early in life. It was a proud moment for us when he graduated from the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai and joined the Indian Army. We visited him occasionally, if he had a peace posting. During his field tenure, he came home to us.”
The air felt nippy and the clear sky overhead was spangled with a million silver specks. Zainab threw in some truncated logs into the simmering fire which immediately crackled and spluttered into a blazing flame.
Tara’s impassioned voice continued,” Rishabh undertook further training and joined the Army Aviation Wing as a qualified pilot. The shining brass epaulettes adorning his dependable shoulders reflected his dedication to service and made us so proud! He eventually married his childhood sweetheart, Sanya. That was a red-letter day for us. Sanya became the daughter we never had – we felt our family was finally complete!” Here, Tara’s tone mellowed and a gentle smile played on her lips.
“Sanya joined a PU college as faculty. During the summer holidays, she visited her paternal home in Jaipur. One afternoon, while she was away, we were visited by the Commanding Officer of Rishabh’s unit and a few others. Rishabh was flying a routine sortie when his aircraft suffered a major technical glitch, nosedived into a cluster of trees and burst into flames. Whatever remained of him, came to us in a well-secured coffin, wrapped in the tricolour!”
Tara’s final statement cut through the icy silence like a knife and was followed by a collective gasp! However, she continued to speak with an admirable equanimity,” Life, for Vipin, Sanya and myself, had plummeted to a nadir. Standing at the crossroads, I was faced with two choices –immerse myself in an all-pervasive grief, or, soldier on through it and be the calm to Sanya’s raging storm. I pledged to do the latter. It took a herculean effort but walking along the breadcrumb trail that Rishabh had left behind in our hearts, I pulled Sanya out of her stupor and injected a trickle of hope into her woebegone veins. Time, as they say, is the best healer and last summer, after five long years, Vipin and I got Sanya married to a fine, young gentleman. In fact, I’m all set for a promotion to grandmomship, can you all imagine?! And meanwhile, I’m following my dream of exploring Ladakh on my own!”
Happy tears glistened in Tara’s eyes – the lines on her face softened, and she exuded a beatitude that glowed brighter than the flickering light of the dying bonfire. I dried my moist eyes – it was finally my turn to speak. Earlier, I had zeroed in on my divorce as that one blitzkrieg that restructured my entire life. Now, I struck the D-word off my mind’s lexicon. The gamechanger of my life had to be this trip, the people, their easy bonhomie, but most of all, the life lessons I imbibed from Tara Jaisingh’s narrative.
Amor Fati – loving life and embracing its fate – was what I decided to speak on, as I reached out for the microphone.