“What are you looking for?” advanced a soft voiced question from our backside.
Our instant reaction was to look back and we replied in chorus “Chemistry Department". We had entered the Kashmir University Campus.
"It is in the next building” pat came the reply. We looked carefully at the young man who was a little behind us. He was a slightly tall, fair colour and thinly built.
"We are from Delhi and teaching Chemistry in a college there". We rattled these words before any further questions could be shot at us. Hearing this the voice became more respectful and polite “I am Bashir, Bashir Ahmed - a student of MSc Botany final year.” Then came other the round of introductions.
"I am Harish Saxena and this is my friend Subhash Hari. We both are Assistant Lecturers in a college of Delhi University.” Our voice had a tinge of pride. We had reached the Chemistry Department of Kashmir University in Srinagar and had a cursory look at the Labs. It was more or less a bonhomie with Chemistry rather any serious study.
“Will you come to my hostel?” Bashir asked us probably gauging our superficial interest in the Chemistry department." Yes of course.” replied my friend Subhash.
A few more minutes’ walk and we were standing inside a hostel dormitory with many beds evenly spread in rows, probably three or so.
We got introduced to few more students who were present there. “You might be hungry but it is 2.30 pm and the mess would be closed.” Bashir told us.
Just then, a helpful student offered to make omelettes with Kashmiri bread and tea. We were indeed hungry so accepted the offer, though without omelettes as both of us were pure vegetarians.
“Where are you staying in Srinagar? Bashir asked. ”We are putting up in a tent in front of Tourist Reception Centre” I replied. "I will come to meet you in the evening” said Bashir. “We will wait for you.” came the reply from our side.
It was time for us to bid goodbye and as the word might have spread that two young lecturers from Delhi have come, there were a number of students who had gathered by now. We shook hands with all of them.
After our warm departure from the college hostel, we shared a ride to the city in a Tonga and enjoyed the trip.
While we were relaxing in our tent and debating whether Bashir would come or not, it was late evening when Bashir with one of his friend finally visited us. “Meet my friend Mohammed Gora. He is into fruits' business.“ Bashir introduced Gora. We had another round of hand shaking and self introduction.
"Let us walk to Lal Chowk", Bashir commandeered us. It was late evening and we were enjoying the walk more so with the company of these two new friends.
I do not remember what exactly we talked, but we kept on chatting indiscreetly about our study, family and beautiful Kashmir.
“We would come tomorrow early. My mother has invited you both for Kashmiri tea at my house” informed Bashir. We agreed and bade good bye to them and then walked to Khalsa Dhaba, a popular eating place for tourists visiting Kashmir.
Next day, Bashir and Gora came early and we went walking to some other places in old Srinagar. After that we went to Bashir’s home which was near old fruit market. His house was on the first floor. All four of us were good friends by now. Kashmiri tea with bakery products was heavenly for us.
“Bashir we will leave tomorrow morning as we are planning to go to Manali in Himachal”, I said.
“Oh! you should stay for few more days and I will take you to my fruit gardens” said Gora. We thanked him saying that we can't delay and will have to leave by morning itself as there aren't many buses going to Pathankot leaving at about 7 am.
After thanking them, we walked back to our tent skipping dinner.
The next day, we bought bus tickets for Pathankot and while we were locating our bus, I saw Bashir and Gora coming towards us. It was 7 o’clock in the morning.
Gora was clutching a small wooden box in his hands."These are cherries for you both, but as they will not last for long you should eat these in couple of days only”, he said while handing over the wooden box with these instructions.
"Oh Friend! we have a long journey to cover and these will be spoiled in heat”, I protested without any result.
"This card bear the name of a shop in Azad Market in Delhi, every year my fruits go to this shop. You just show this card and bring season fruits from there without paying anything”, said Gora giving us visiting card which he had signed as Mohammed Gora.
We were so involved in our conversation that we didn't realise that time was passing so fast. The bus driver started blaring horn and the feeling dawned upon us that it was time to move forward. We embraced our dear friends from Srinagar, bidding them a reluctant farewell.
I kept the card of Mohammed Gora for almost 40 years but never visited his shop in Azad Market.
Some people have a remarkable effect on you, they never tend to fade away from your memories. Bashir Ahmed and Mohammed Gora were my earliest friends whom I vividly remember in my travel experience which encompassed all India and 107 countries by now. But I never met them again.
God bless them.