I use to love walking zig zag on the empty inclined winding roads of Zakhama. A field station in the east command of military, this tinsel town lay nested in the dormant pellucid laps of the lower Himalayas. One could literally gaze down from the edges only bound by roughly shaped white boulders sticking out of the earth lanes on either sides of the concrete to view Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, bustling with life and colourful maroon dots jostling on meandering boulevards. Kohima must have been half a km below Zakhama and the feet wide and long rock masses were all that lay separating the two. It was a typical early winter day. The pinnacle of monsoon had been reached and now the subsiding rains which were almost a round the year phenomenon there, had not been lashing down as violently as their usual selves .Mornings were usually crisp sunny with sea bound winds shoving through a dense outcrop of conifers .Later starting from afternoons up till mid evenings or even after that, the rains nurtured the placid valley with romanticism it had now become accustomed to breathe into it. The rains and the evening were as evergreen a pair as 1 would sight in this part of the world which comprised of lofty mountains and steep ravines. On such a day as I speak of above, I had set on my usual course for an evening walk. Today was unusually lively and the air feverish and dressed to be a graffiti of extensive colors of mood and earthily beauty.
The rivulets after a heavy downpour were more swift than usual too. I walked along stepping and splashing water from those narrow streams keeping an eye out for cones shed generally during the early spring in plenty. The ones which still stuck to the tree as a rule were soft and small. The road ended a little way off at a junction which harbored a helipad which had been inactive for as long as I can remember, while I had been here. When no one would be around , I would often climb it and speak to myself or some envisaged characters or do some other vocal derivatives such as humming or inebriated (not literally) even sing. This was one of those days. I did it because I loved to hear the echo of my voice reverberate in all its solitary soulfulness. For what reason, god only knows. One of my favorite tracks then was sweet home Alabama which I began to hum, and by the time I reached the notes “Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you?” I was quite lost in a trance singing loudly with eyes rigidly closed and hair fluttering all over my face. I opened just in time to get a whiff of cold crisp air and saw an indistinguishable grey formation on the other side of the helipad. As my eyes readapted to the light darkness and the obscurities diminished a little more, I could distinctly see someone looking at me, sitting on a ball. Wasn’t this Nikhil Roy, the basketball freak and the intern who worked in dad’s department? Had he just seen me acting like insane, singing songs loudly to no one, and what was that he was doing….smiling???
“Sorry…err….didn’t see you” I said trying to keep my cheeks from turning a crimson red although they were almost halfway through. “Yah I figured that out. You sing well. Had no idea. Sir never told us about it.”
“Well thanks …was just a bathroom singer. The guitar thing just happened. And the band luckily followed. Stars….never know how they align themselves.” I said unsure of how to reply and so terrible fast that I missed out most of the syllables myself. “Really. You play a guitar for a band? Well….that explains your absence from most parties. Must be really busy…studies and this.”
Wow, had I just bragged? Told him about the band without being questioned. And I thought he already had an inkling. It was pretty awful. I thought to myself that after such an interaction he might definitely take me for a compulsive showoff. It couldn’t have gotten more embarrassing than that. “Hey you like collecting cones? There are a few pretty huge ones a little way on the left bifurcation. If you want, I can accompany you there. Just around that place is also the unit cell, where I need to deposit the ball. Will hardly take any time. After that I can walk you back to your room and go for my evening round. What say??” he said.
You see the station is on such elevated and rugged terrains that it leaves no scope for residential. So instead of the usual army flats it had rooms with a fireplace and a bath. & above these a huge mess on climbing 50 odd steps right over these slant roof-ed rooms and the hospital right in front of the entire setup. Such was the cantonment with vast stretches hogged by majorly conifers and sporadically by other paraphernalia. “Yeah alright” I agreed. Rest of the interaction was routine talk with nothing worth reiterating except this miniscule part where Nikhil asked me to join him for a basketball game early next morning. Since the court was right next to the shed where my band practiced after the fauji orchestra practices got over, I agreed. . Besides, I was quite enjoying Nikhil's company. That was the start of what eventually grew as a passion, basketball. We would play almost every morning and most sessions would progress into rugby-in-the-rain kind of a game due to the early morn showers. Then we would go to that shed and I would play guitar while he would give the vocals with me. Yes, he could sing marvelously which just added to his already long list of accomplishments that I’ve mentioned. Two months later on another evening walk to the helipad where we had 1st met, he insisted I carry my guitar. On reaching we sung “losing my religion” by REM, one of my favourites, followed by many more. I would have loved to continue but it was growing colder by the minute and my fingers were numb with effort. As if he had read my mind or probably he had seen a weary glance, he took my hands in his warm ones and said “Let’s go. You look tired”. We proceeded back home. Just as I was about to wear the guitar bag, he took it from my hands and put it behind his back. I gave a sheepish grin and said “I am not as frail as you think, you know”. To this he just petted my head and replied” I know. But can’t I be allowed to do this for the girl I love”. I looked at him for few seconds and then turned quite unsure of how to frame my response. We dint speak much that day on our way back. Next day when we met for the basketball practice , Nikhil faintly asked me “You dint mind what I said yesterday, did you?” I had though over it the entire night gone past. I did not like the boyfriend-girlfriend concept but weren’t we good friends spending loads of time together? And dint I like when he gave me more attention then all other girls around? So if love was only a formal expression of what inexplicably was evidently present between the two of us, what was the harm accepting it? I grinned back and replied “Dude, gear up. If you don’t teach me that fake pass during a lay-up before the heavens pour out their heart, I might just say that I did mind it”. The palpable tension that had been breathing suddenly seemed to melt away. That day we had a wonderful game and guitar session. Less than a year later dad got posted out. We moved to Pune but before moving we decided to stay in touch regularly. Though my basket ball practices increased , my correspondence with Nikhil only saw a decline. Busy in engineering and extracurricular I too did not make enough efforts to revive it much. We hardly spoke once a week online. The 2nd last phone call was almost 4 months back, the last being yesterday, in which he told me he was coming to Pune for a temporary duty. Don’t know how things would turn out. Do I love him anymore? Maybe not …or maybe I do. Or is it just all the nostalgic memories rushing back?? Don’t know, but hell, let god do some work and see what course it will take. As of now, all I want to do is pick up my guitar and play “there ain’t no mountain high enough…there ain’t no valley deep…”