THANK YOU, AKBAR!!!

Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir

1970

I am referring to the time, when it used to take two days to reach Srinagar from Pathankot (given that you take a very early morning bus); somewhere then only you can imagine reaching at Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar, J&K around 8 or 9 pm.

It was first trip to Kashmir for Subhash Hari and me, that too on a shoe string budget. Both of us were standing in a big hall of the Reception Centre which was carpeted with thick daree. One could spend overnight here and leave for home or hotel the next day. Though there was no danger in going out but we had to stay back due to unavailability of any transport at such time.

It was late evening when we got down from the bus. Not knowing where to go, we followed other passengers and ended up inside this big hall. After the long back-backing journey, we sat down on the floor to relax ourselves. 

In no time the hall was nearly full. I saw a young man with a register who was writing the names of the people staying in the hall and collecting some money from them. I could not make out how much he was asking till he reached us. He asked our name, jotted down in the register and asked for 25 naya paisa each. These were the charges for staying per person for the night. He asked us from where we were coming and asked us to wait for him as he wanted to talk. Saying this he went ahead and diligently collected 25 naya paisa from every person.

I don’t remember his name exactly but let us say Akbar(somehow I just feel like calling him from this name). He was a student of
 Kashmir University and was doing this job as part time to sustain himself. As no more bus would come, he was preparing to close his accounts for the day. He would deposit this money the very next day in the tourist office along with the register and then go for studies.
"Bhaisahab (elder brother), where will you go tomorrow?” Akbar addressed us for the first time.
As young person all of us developed instant chord. He was sitting with us on the floor and we started chatting. “We plan to stay 2-3 days in Srinagar before going to other places” was our reply. “You can stay in this hall for two more nights, although it is meant for one night shelter only. In the morning you can use common toilets of TRC accommodation further away. You should leave the hall after that.”

 “What about our heavy bags?”One of us asked.
I had a Second World War rucksack of US army bought from a junk market near Jama Masjid in Delhi. It was large with big pockets and had a heavy iron frame fitting on the back. We were carrying camping gear along with a small stove loaned to me from another friend Markande ji who paid regular Sunday visits to junk market. We were also carrying two makeshift sleeping bags.
"Oh! Do you see that small desk far away in the corner? That is my desk, it has a drawer where I keep the register .You can keep your Bags for the day behind this desk. Nobody will touch these.” Akbar gave a practical and soothing advice. Saying this he left the hall for now.
Every evening Akbar would visit the Reception Centre Hall to collect 25 naya paisa each from the people staying there overnight. After closing his accounts he would chat with us asking about our day exploration and went to his home afterwards.
We spent three night like this before going away to Sonamarg.

We spent 75 Naya paisa each for staying three nights in Srinagar, I think a record cheapest comfortable stay courtesy of Akbar, a young student of Kashmir University. After 45 years Subhash and myself remember this young guy saying “Thank you Akbar, for making it possible for us to explore Srinagar on such a shoe string budget”.

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