I was only eight years old when I arrived in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. My father was too fond of me, I being the youngest amongst his six sons and two daughters, to leave me behind in Lahore when he was to travel to Kashmir on a business trip. As the Chief Representative of the Oxford University Press, London for Northern India, he traveled quite often to promote their new publications in the schools and colleges in the area he represented. It was not that he always took me along whenever and wherever he went on tour. In fact, this was the first time he did me the favor, firstly because timing of the tour coincided with closing of my school for summer vacations, and secondly because there was something special about Srinagar. This was the city that my uncle, father's favorite younger brother had selected to settle in life, after receiving his master's degree from Punjab University, Lahore.
The week we stayed in Srinagar was well spent and most enjoyable. While Lal Singh would take me during the day to show me various interesting places in the city, including the main bazaar where uncle's store of sports goods was situated, on the weekend uncle took us all to Mughal Gardens, the pride of Srinagar. It was the most enjoyable sightseeing trip of the scenic Valley in my whole life.
The next time I saw uncle was after a couple of years when he came to attend my sister's wedding. He came with a contingent of the famous Kashmiri cooks, to supplement the cooks hired locally, so that a wide variety of Mughal and Kashmir cuisines could be served at the wedding dinner, where several celebrities from the film world of both Bombay (now Mumbai) and Lahore were expected to attend, my brother-in-law Surendra, being a popular singer-actor of the time.
After the wedding was over and all the guests were gone, including the out-of-town relatives who had stayed on for some more days to enjoy my mother's hospitality, father took the first available opportunity to have a brother to brother talk, and it was decided that uncle would spend at least one month with us, his first ever vacation with the family in Lahore ever since he had left for Srinagar. He soon began to take pleasure participating in dinner table talks of the family, when he would rejoice remembering old times in Lahore as a college student.
“I loved to be in the gym all the time while my brother was a bookworm and wanted me to be one too. Our interests and areas of activity were so far apart that we would not see each other for days together though staying under the same roof. He would know about me from your mother, as he knew I must be in regular touch with her to get money for all my financial needs. She was the one who spoiled me with her generous funding, at times forcibly putting money in my pocket when I would hesitate to take more than I needed.”
Uncle was persuaded to extend his stay for another two weeks, after the one month period originally planned passed too fast. But the time did not stop even during his extended stay, and the day had come when he was all packed to depart early next morning by bus for Srinagar. At dinner that evening, the last one with uncle before he was to leave the next day, he invited the whole family for a holiday with him in summer, and father readily accepted the invitation.
It was still dark; no sign of the day break yet, when an unusual commotion and suppressed cries downstairs suddenly woke me up. Thinking that I had overslept and it was already the time uncle must be leaving. I rushed down from my room on the top floor, to grab my moment of bidding good-bye to uncle. Alas, I was too late. Uncle had already left, left us forever. He did not survive the massive heart attack he suffered in wee hours of the morning when it was time to get ready to leave. Uncle felt so relaxed living with the family that he really never wanted to leave us, and he never did. The fate had brought him back to the family, never to leave again. His soul lived in peace with us, and we felt his presence in the family for ever.