Srinagar. The Bund is a bending road around the Jhelum. Like memory it takes subtle, soft turns. I saw the stranger walk down the Bund in autumn, and my memory from years ago is like it happened yesterday. Perhaps it did.
That promenade around the Jhelum is like a metaphor for Srinagar, fallen from grace.
He appears from below the Chinar trees, the golden leaves’ dust on his shoulders. He smiles, but his eyes are hollow.
“Don’t lose hope, love” I want to yell. But he doesn’t see me. He sees right through me. I can almost feel his gaze. Piercing, like his eyes. It warms my heart.
As we walk together, I can smell the leaves in autumn – with their strong dry fragrance, and his cologne. We walk past the Goodfellas cafe, the chairs in the lawn are hunched. At another restaurant, the sign says open, but the door is closed. The coffee shops are all closed in the city. A few men sit in the park opposite on the benches around the trees. There is no one else. “What do you love about autumn so much?” he asks.
We walked in silence for a while. The question hung in the air. I had once questioned what lovers in Srinagar did in winters, when it is all hard and cold. I think I know now. They wilt. The stranger’s hollow eyes are an answer enough. His dream seems to be deserting him – it isn’t fair for anyone to be so beautiful and without dreams. But Life is too busy to take such questions, and we must pass this promenade of memory and into the maze of the city. The cacophony of the city doesn’t reach here. We seem to have found a corner of the place, most people have forgotten. Two men were digging the side of the road. What if they found treasure hidden at the bottom of the city?
In this place bereft of all romance the sun sets early these days. It rises late. The sunset is very golden behind a grey sky. It is the only thing that makes sense, the clockwork of nature. We were walking away from the sun, and our shadows were long and touching as we got off the promenade near the Post Office. Even if I wrote him a letter, I would not have been able to post it. This year all the love letters were delayed. Love was put on hold, momentarily, and lost forever.
It was getting dark and the markets crowded. Near the unfinished construction barrier at the Fountain, the hawkers and the cars were adjusting themselves to the pedestrians.
An old man calls from his chestnut cart saying this is the last of this year’s season.
“Its like short lived romance, where everything is possible.” I say, “It also doesn’t last.”