She remembers the conversation like it had happened yesterday.
“Is the trip going okay, Ma? You sound tired,” she’d said on the phone, from her hotel room in Kochi.
“Yes, yes, everything is fine. The weather’s been acting up a little. And the helicopter rides were not available. We had to take mules, instead, for the climb to Kedarnath. It was drizzling throughout. But we’re here now.”
“Have you found accommodation?”
“Oh, yes, yes, everything has been arranged by the tour company. We’re staying at a comfortable guesthouse. It’s not far from the shrine. We will go for the darshan in the morning. Don’t worry about us. We’re fine. How is your dance tour coming along?”
“Good. We’re in Kochi now. There’s a performance in a couple of hours’ time.”
“Wonderful. All the best. Let me know how it goes.”
Nupur had smiled. “I will. How is Sudhanshu holding up? Is he very disappointed about the helicopter ride?”
The prospect of the chopper ride from Guptkashi up to Kedarnath had been the one thing that had finally convinced Nupur’s ten-year-old to go on a trip he hadn’t been too keen on.
“Oh, he’s fine,” her mother had said. “He’s having a good time, though I doubt you can get him to admit it. He’s playing with one of the other kids in the next room now. On the mobile phone! Even over here they can’t be parted from their video games.”
Nupur had laughed at her mother’s indignation. “I’ll call again after the performance. I’ll speak to him then, if he’s not asleep.” And Nupur had disconnected the call, still smiling at the usual dispute between her son and her mother over what the latter called “all this new-fangled technology.”
The last-minute change in Nupur’s tour schedule had necessitated a whole lot of juggling in everybody’s plans. The dance troupe’s performances in Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi, and Hyderabad had been rescheduled to start three weeks earlier. The situation was not unusual— Madhusmita’s troupe routinely travelled within the country and abroad for performances—but it wasn’t usually a problem since Nupur’s mother looked after Sudhanshu in Nupur’s absence. But this time her mother wasn’t going to be in town, either. Some of her friends in the neighbourhood were going on the Char Dham pilgrimage in Uttarakhand, and she had signed up to go with them.
“No, no, don’t cancel your performance,” her mother had insisted. “I’ll take Sudhanshu along. Let me speak to the tour operator. I’m sure they can accommodate one more person. He’s only a child, after all.”
Nupur had studied the itinerary her mother had got from the tour operator. The pilgrimage covered the sacred shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath, and the points of origin of the holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna.
It was June, and Sudhanshu’s new school term had just started. But the trip was for ten days, only six missed school days. Besides, the first few weeks in a term were always light; Sudhanshu wouldn’t have too much school work to catch up on.
“It’ll be so boring,” Sudhanshu had protested. “There are only temples there!”
“Hunh! So God is boring now?” his grandmother had chided him. “All this is a sign of too much TV and computer games.”
Sudhanshu had rolled his eyes. “Aai, according to you, everything that is wrong in the world is because of TV and computer games.”
Chuckling, Nupur had intervened. “There’ll be other children on the tour, won’t there, Ma?”
“Oh, yes. There is a big group going.”
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