“That’s enough! I quit,” and I stormed out of my manager’s office. I was done taking blames for things I’d never done, or rather for what others had done. “Don’t take shit, ever,” dad had always said. Once again, more than anything, it was father’s perpetual absence that nipped me at every point in life. “It’s as though I don’t have the strength to fight anymore,” I thought to myself and allowed the tears pent-up for two months, flow unrestrained. Dad’s demise had left me ruptured and at even the slightest provocation, pain oozed out of every gaping pore of me.
I hardly recollect leaving the office building. But when I hit the promenade, the tears started afresh. The whole world was out there and I, but just a little drop in the ocean. A fatherless girl who had no one to share the proceedings of a bad day with. I held the light pole around the corner and slumped to the ground. Leaning against it, I sobbed bitterly thinking – not one thing had gone right since that cursed night that dad left this world, left me, alone with this cruel world.
I took out the napkin from of my purse and blew my nose in it. Suddenly, a shiny red car appeared out of thin air and pulled to a halt right in front of me. Shocked, I stared at it for a full minute. The tinted window-panes gave away nothing of its interiors or who was held inside the vehicle. Just then, the passenger side of the window pulled down by few inches and a flag was waved out at me –
Welcome aboard ‘The Rescuer’.
You have exactly 1½ minutes to begin the journey.
Then the board was pulled back and the window was shut.
Had the stress gotten into my head? What the hell was happening here? I got up from where I was perched on the ground and walked to the car. Half-believing that it was a sick prank, I was determined to give someone a piece of my harangued mind and knocked at the window. The back-seat window pulled down and whatever determinations I had held dissolved in thin air.
There in the back seat of the car, sitting relaxed as ever, not a day older than thirty, was father. My papa. My late papa. Oh, how my heart stopped beating right then!
How many days had I cried for him? How many times had I broken down in crowds for him? And there he was. He flashed his soothing smile and said,
“You and I have a journey to make. Are you ready?”
I looked back at my abandoned stilettos and sighed. I stepped into the car and it disappeared into thin air once again. I had a fleeting feeling that we were flying; where to, I had no time to care.
For all my shocks and surprises, “Papa,” was all I could manage. The one love of my life said, “Did you really think I would leave you alone?” I didn’t even blink. He’s back? Or am I dead?
“It’s time to change few things around here. Let’s make the worst day the best day of your life. Let’s add some spark to that lifeless life you’re bearing on your shoulders. Are you game, sweetheart?”
I put my head on his shoulders, the warm nook of my comfort since forever, and soon fell asleep. When I woke up it was a bright chilly morning. How many hours had we travelled? It was well past 11 in the night when I boarded the car with father. Father.
The last vestiges of sleep left me instantly. I looked about. I was still in the car but alone. I opened the door and stepped out. A whip of chilled breeze slashed across my face. It was a deserted road across which was a café. In the far distance, I could just about make out the silhouettes of towering mountains. Ladakh? I thought. No, it can’t be.
Just then dad stepped out of the café beyond the street. He had bought me my usual sugar-free coffee and butter cookies which I devoured with glee. I was now of a heart to travel to explore what this place was.
Reading my mind, he asked me to close my eyes and turn around; which I did. When I opened my eyes, there, before me standing proud and tall was the dream of my life – Snow Mountains. “Welcome to Ladakh, my dear girl,” I heard dad say. And I knew this was going to be the best blind date ever.
When he was still around, how many times had I told him about my wish for the exploration of Ladakh? He knew it. He made it come true, finally.
Our next stop was the Pangong Tso which I had come to admire, as an artist would admire an exquisite work of art. The still waters of Pangong instilled a sense of lasting comfort and fortified my belief that if you truly want to be happy, never let your thoughts be known.
We travelled past valleys and lakes, and great expanses of hills and rocky terrains, snow-clad mountains peeked at me, every now and then. All these held such great depths of scintillating beauty that all I could do was marvel at the magnificence with which God had created them.
Every second of every minute was enchantment tenfold prodding me to bask in the kind vastness of nature, imploring me to be open-minded and welcome everything open-heartedly. Such an enigmatic thrill was the Zanskar Valley, where the Sindhu and Indus rivers converge forming a basin against the backdrop of gigantic mountains.
One will wonder what’s in the plain waters and the dreary environs. But only a lonely heart and curious mind seeking answers to life’s questions will be able to dive into the pool of stunning glamor and also feel it all. Soaking into its all-encompassing embrace was the last thing I expected and oh, what an enriching experience that was!
We moved on, with father by my side, to the most beautiful of all the places yet. The Valley of the Stok Chu River. It is nothing short of paradise and there’s a reason I say this. One glance at the valley and you know your heart will never be the same again. Somewhere in the depths of that valley, drowned all the miseries gripping me. It was as though I grew twenty years wiser in that moment; I felt nothing could challenge my calm again.
Upon the heart of the sinking sun, I looked at father, and he was smiling at me. I knew then that he knew what I was thinking, he felt what I was feeling. I knew then that we were one. Whatever I was made of, I was carved out of him. And slowly it dawned upon me, he had never left me. He was always there, inside of me, in some place only I could see.
The whole world was in Ladakh. Ladakh was the whole world right at my feet. I only needed to see it to realise that the world didn’t end just because I had a bad day. I needed to see it for myself. But most importantly, I needed to know that the ones we love never really leave us.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Leh Airport. Local time is 6:45 am and the temperature is 5 degrees. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until…”
I had landed in Leh. The announcements barged in. I was jerked out of my blissful slumber. What would I not give to have my dream back? I looked around. The seat next to me was empty and there lay a magazine, the cover of which read,
“You and I have a journey to make. Are you ready?” – It was an airlines magazine.
A smile kissed my lips. I got up and joined the aisle, eager to touch ground. Through my flight, I had but one wish – to have my father with me on this trip of Ladakh and now I knew, no matter where I was, no matter what my travel inspiration was, he would always be with me, exploring the world with me, just as enthusiastically.
***All images are copyright. Please seek permission before reproducing.***
© Asha Seth