I have been very lucky when it comes to ‘homes’. Now, one may ask why I am using the plural form of a word which for most people translates into love and comfort. Well, I’m a fauji brat and I have been quite fortunate for having been to and lived in so many places across India that for me, home isn’t a place where we live, it is much beyond that. More so because we usually live in places for not more than 2 years so you must understand that I have to arrive, like, love and miss a particular place in less than 800 days.

As a child while most people associated their favourite place with their favourite restaurant or say, some really good friends, I always have fallen in love with those cities and towns which were very quaint and tiny, filled with people who had nothing to do with the world outside. For them, the place was ‘ghar’ and like most Indians they had sworn to not leave their ‘ghars’ ever. We, the fauji guys were simply ‘fauji jo aate jaate rehte hain aur border par hote hain.’

Today, while having my lunch I ate some curd which reminded me of my first love story which began long back, around 16 years ago. The memory is still as fresh in my mind as a daisy. I was also watching the news, something to do with the bitter bilateral relations between India and China where Ladakh is now on the butcher’s block. Let’s not get into the news here. I wanted to tell you all about my experience of having lived in Kashmir, very near to the border. It’s a very simple one but I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

I think this was somewhere in December. My birthday is on the 27th so back then mum had decided to bake me cake. You don’t usually get a maid in Srinagar but we were lucky to have found one. Maa and I were looking for the cake tin and other paraphernalia required for making my birthday a huge success, invitees for which were me, maa, baba and my favourire- Raja Begum.

I don’t remember much of her but maa tells me Raja Begum’s name was Shehnaz. Heaven knows who named her raja and why but she loved it and didn’t like been called Shehnaz, nor ‘Raja’ or just ‘Begum’. Meticulous and organised to the tee, her routine was set. She would come, make herself do ande ka ‘aamlet’, have some tea, talk about how beautiful Kashmir is while washing the dishes, dance around with the broom for some while and then leave. I don’t know if she really helped my mother with the chores but in an awfully cold place like Srinagar with connections snapping every now and then, my wailing self to top it all, I reckon Raja Begum was a pleasant presence.

She was the one who had taught me how to walk. I was almost 2 and wouldn’t move an inch from my stroller. I used to just sit there either crying or eating mashed apple looking outside the window. My Raja Begum took it on herself to teach me the art of moving on two feet and she was very successful I must say, it’s been 19 years since and I have only improved. She took me in her arms one day and put me on the floor and as expected, I didn’t do anything. ‘Haraamzaadi, tum chalegi nahi?!, yelled Raja Begum and within no time I had started to walk to my dear mother’s utter pleasure.

So now I hope you understand what value Raja Begum holds in my life. Coming back to my birthday party prep in full swing, as always, Raja Begum walked in, made herself an ‘amlet’ and since she was loving herself a bit more that day, she used three eggs that day instead if two thus using up all we had.

‘Arey ab kaise cake banega Raja Begum! Ande khatam’, said my poor maa.

‘Usme kya beti? Zamdoodh daalo, cake ko banega.’ For those of you who don’t know, Zamddodh is curd/yoghurt which apparently is used to make cake sometimes. My mum didn’t know this and asked Raja Begum if it would turn out edible to which she replied, ‘ Kyun nahi banega accha? Raja Begum ko aata cake. Hum Kashmiri daalte hain zamdoodh. Aap Hindustani nahi istmal karte honge.’

We made the cake and it was tasty and while it has been so many years, I’ll always remember how Raja Begum felt she wasn’t Hindustani enough. She stands for the many Kashmiris who don’t feel like a part of India but alas, in spite of all the constitutional changes and the political efforts, they are still Kashmiris trying to save themselves from us Hindustanis.