It was one of those mood swings. I was feeling melancholic and desperately needed something to cheer me up. So I decided to drive uphill to Narkanda. But my protective dad would not let me go alone. If I am 42 years old, he is 73 years young! I wanted my space and preferred to go solo. But he turned down all my excuses. When I reasoned that the trip would be too taxing for him as I would be trekking a lot, he countered me, saying, "I am equally fit."
"We'll take your car then," I proposed, hinting at the fuel expenses he will have to bear from his retiree pocket. "Yes, yes, we'll drive," came the spirited reply, leaving me with no other option.
We left at sunrise. It was a quiet drive till we approached the Shivalik hills. "The weather is pleasant," he broke the silence after an hour or so. "Hhmm," I replied, noticeably preoccupied with my own thoughts. I had not even switched on the FM radio. "So, are we halting at Narkanda?" came the query. "It will take us an hour and a half from Shimla," I replied.
I started opening up with him as we crossed Solan. "You and mom used to often take us (my sister and I) to Shimla," I reminded him. "Yes, and I made a man on honeymoon drink beer for the first time. His bride got so worried," he laughed. My father is not that old, after all, I thought to myself, noticing the naughty smile on his glowing face.
I switched on the radio. Romantic songs of the 60s and 70s were playing on FM Shimla. Dad chipped in with details of the hit films of yesteryears, the singers and the actors who made those romantic songs even more romantic. "Which was the best part of your life?" I enquired. "When I was teaching in Batala," he said, recalling how a colleague having a fling got exposed. "Did you ever have a fling?" I asked, suddenly realising that this 73-year-old man who brought me into this world is also my best friend.
He laughed and narrated an incident when a single-line letter from a Batala girl he had a crush on ended it all even before it began. It was: "Ikk chupp, sau sukh (silence is golden)." He got the message loud and clear, and stopped pursuing her.
We chatted our way to Narkanda, and once we were there, I headed to the woods right away with my father in tow. We agreed that I needed some space and he was not to intrude.
"Rum?" dad asked later. I readily obliged, and also fetched some snacks for him. I remained engrossed in work, but my father kept observing me with an affectionate gaze while enjoying his drinks.
We were to return home the third day, but we decided to go to the Sangla valley in Kinnaur district instead. The eight-hour drive was scary. A shooting stone cracked the windscreen on my father's side, but he never complained. "Bach gae (we are saved)," he said sportingly, as if it was all part of our adventure.
We finally reached Chhitkul, the last Indian village along the China border where NH-21 ends. My dad showed his mettle as a trekker at an altitude of 3,600 metres. I was pleasantly surprised. We sat on the banks of the sublime Sutlej. With a childlike enthusiasm, he pointed towards the freezing waters of the small streams meeting the river. We also took snaps.
Another night went by over rum and snacks. I finally poured out my heart to him. He listened to me very patiently and comforted me with his soothing words, words of wisdom. All thanks to this trip, I have finally discovered my best pal, the one who brings out the best in me.