Walking the streets of Kashmir after dark
So, on the very first day of my arrival, I had to visit my office for work directly from the airport. The whole day was spent likewise. I got out at about 7pm. Given the winters and the fact that dawn arrives sooner in the mountains, it was already dark. People generally go back to their homes as soon as the sun sets. So much for the habit of my midnight runs to Delhi's night bazaars and 24*7s, I took it will be fine to walk back to my hotel. I started walking and for my surprise, to a girl who have lived in 4 different states for an ample amount of time and have been to about 12 different states and numerous cities in India, I did not feel the need to walk faster to feel safe for the first time in 25 years (Maybe I haven't lived long enough to come to a conclusion, or maybe I have walked after dark long enough as an Indian woman to know that this just might be the right conclusion). I did cross men, military trucks with posted men, women in their hijabs and western outfits (yes, and that isn't the surprise), I observed each one of them given the curiosity of a new city explorer. And the women looked at me, some whispered to each other in their dialect. Bikes passed by without slowing down beside me. And now what took me by surprise was that every man I walked by, had their heads down as they came closer. I stopped at a paan shop and he asked me If I was a tourist. I said I was here for work. Like it happened with me in Delhi once, back in the year I was new there and I was suggested by a good man to not walk the streets late at night. So, when this shop owner started asking questions, I anticipated a similar suggestion. A rather more dramatic one in my head. Reading my face, seeing me alone or maybe just to comfort me, his words followed, "Aap ghumo yahan der raat tak, koi masla nahin. Yahan koi kuchh nahin bolega. Madad mangoge to ghar tak chhodenge. Aap mehmaan ho humaare." (Translation :- You could roam here late at night, no worries. No one will bother you. And if you ask for help, people will walk you back to your home. You are our guest).
I thanked him and walked back to my hotel, thinking of the time I stopped by 2 lady tourists in Chandni Chowk at around dawn, asking if they needed help with the metro route, and the whistles and words of a few boys on bikes behind us echoed in my head, "teeno sath chalogi ya alag alag?"
Atithi Devo Bhava. Right?