Love and Other Possibilities
by Rekha Navani
It was a white winter morning, but it felt warmer as my heart was filled with hope and joy of meeting my family for Christmas after 2 months. At 19, in my first year of college, I was living my dream of capturing Kashmir’s scenic treasures and lifestyle through my editorial internship. It was supposed to be my first holiday season away from family, but like my own Christmas miracle, I managed to get a week long holiday.
I was flying on Christmas Eve from Kashmir to Delhi, and I was already on cloud nine. The taxi ride from the hotel to the airport was spent day dreaming about mum’s food. 9:00 am I popped out of bed like a jack in the box; I reached the airport 2 hours before my flight. Howeve, I was met with grey skies. The flight was delayed by 6 hours as a snow storm was heading our way. Dejected and crest fallen, I wandered around waiting for an update from the airline. That’s when I spotted her.
Dressed in an Army uniform and in her early 30′s, her hair was tied neatly in a bun and her skin bore the wrinkles of hardship. However what caught my attention were her eyes; they were angelic and calm. She noticed me staring at her, and her lips curled upwards in a smile. I approached her and asked her if she was flying to Delhi as well. With a nod and another smile, there was instant camaraderie.
“My name is Megha,” she added with a twinkle in the eye. She was flying solo like me, but her luggage was comprised of only a small backpack, unlike me. I, being a motor mouth, blabbered away my story of how lucky I was to be visiting home for Christmas. She listened patiently with courteous nods in between. After a quick cuppa happiness in the brutal blizzard and still no information on our flights, I asked her what her story was.
“I am a doctor, and I serve for the Indian Armed Forces. I am posted at Kargil for the past 3 years. My husband works for an IT multinational company in Delhi. I have a son, Aarav and he is 6…no, 7 years old.” My eyes, heart and ears listened to her intently.
“It is my son’s 7th birthday tomorrow, and after huge amounts of drama, I managed to get a leave for 3 days, to be with my family. I have to report to work back on the 27th. It is my first leave in the past 2 years. Against my good judgement, and the greed to be with my family for those few extra hours, I decided to fly to Delhi,” she added with a sad smile and at that moment, my heart really sank further.
It was 4:00 pm now and the storm did not show any signs of mercy. The airline staff had no answers to our questioning eyes. The flight was indefinitely delayed now, and we were asked to reschedule the flight. Megha was speaking on the pay phone and clearly having a fight with her husband. She hung up and dragged her feet reluctantly towards where I was sitting. Through her moist glistening eyes, she asked me if she could use my laptop. I gave her my laptop, and decided to take a quick nap.
At 6:00pm, she woke me up with a start, a huge grin, and some comforting food. “We leave at 7:30pm,” she triumphantly said. My eyes widened; I was still groggy and confused. “I have made all arrangements, I have hired a car, and we will drive down to Delhi.”
Now awake and in all my senses, I tried to explain to Megha how dangerous driving through a snow storm can be. “But you do not understand, he is expecting me, Aarav is waiting.” Her eyes pierced through me–her sadness, her hope–and I couldn’t argue any further.
We picked up some coffee for our 14 hour long journey (i.e on a normal day). It was 8:00pm and we began the treacherous voyage with dismal visibility. There were 12 inches snow on either side of the road. Luckily enough, it had stopped snowing. We traveled through the narrow ghats relentlessly.
“I was about your age when I had decided to join the army. And I have lived this dream every day through nightmares, the stifling cold, the intensive training, the heart wrenching solitude, the iron heart, seeing soldiers suffer, seeing them passing away with dignity; I have seen it all in the past 14 years.”
We slipped through moments of silence, talking about Aarav and his cute antics, and my heart only reached out for her further. Listening to the latest Bollywood movie song on the local radio, she quipped, “Oh this is Aarav’s favourite song, and he performed this at the annual day. My husband had sent me the video.” In that numbing cold, I could only sense the feeling of pride sharing the same space with this courageous mother.
Morning broke with the sun sending some much needed warmth. It was 10 hours since we had begun the journey. We decided to halt at Amritsar for breakfast. 1 hour later we were back on road for the remainder of our journey. She decided to add some vibrancy to the new day by singing aloud accompanying the radio. You couldn’t resist her infectious energy. We had 9 more hours before we reached our hearts’ destination.
After crossing three state borders, and a flat tyre later, we entered Delhi at 9:30pm. We met with some heavy traffic within the city. She insisted on dropping me home first. After numerous attempts of arguing with her and trying to convince her to go to her home first, she dropped me at my place at 11:15pm. I had tears in my eyes. She hugged me tight and mentioned, “Indian Army, serving the nation and nation’s children, with pride.” I saluted her, and hugged her again. I asked her to message me once she met Aarav, and also gave her a packet of chocolates for him.
Her happiness could be sensed from miles away. Radiating with joy, she hurriedly drove away.
At 11:56 pm my phone buzzed:“Hi, I have reached safely. Spending the last 5 minutes of Aarav’s birthday with my family. He loved the chocolates.”