The silence in the mountain air was intermittently punctuated with the long and short bursts of the sustaining glissando every time the blades ripped back-and-forth across the axis of the wooden planks.
As the rays of the late afternoon sun peered from the single window of the 20 feet-by-20 feet workshop, the scattered golden wooden chips and sawdust gleamed like gold. The earthy and sweet smell of the freshly cut lumber, which happens to be the most significant note of the perfume that I wear, overwhelmed me. Out in the backyard, the finished products are oiled as it rested on its handle against the brick-wall – sunbathing!
Rahim interrupted the monologue of Salim Chacha, the man with blue-eyes and a flowing grey beard like Gandalf, lamenting profusely as the sales have dwindled in recent times. We were seated on low wooden stools in the porch outside the workshop, in the shade of the pine, the willows and what Asif, our chauffeur and guide for the entire trip refers to as the “Booune” (Chinar).
Earlier in the morning, the history-enthusiast in me had compelled Asif to halt at Awantipora, where the ruins of the Vishnu and Shiva temples built by the emperor Avantivarman speak volumes about the grandeur and marvel of his erstwhile empire. Even before, the foodie in me, had sprung in delight, as we had passed the saffron fields of Pampur, where the mauve-coloured flowers were in full bloom, ready for plucking. As I had hurriedly packed my 5 grams of the finest and the most expensive of saffron, the “Shahi Zafran”, in my mind I could vividly hear my friends complimenting me for the most amazing khus pulao they had ever had for dinner!
However, the greatest of all surprises awaited the cricket-lover in me at our final halt of the day before reaching Pahalgam. In Sangam, a small town, in the old road connecting the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir to Pahalgam, we decided to have our afternoon tea.
Asif was a distant relative of Salim Chacha, and we were treated with warm hospitality and hot saffron tea. Salim Chacha’s cricket bat manufacturing shop was one of the 250 units sprawling in the town, employing thousands of craftsmen and boosting an economy which is heavily dependent on tourism. He gave me a detailed insight of the raw preparation of the willow clefts, the process of slicing, which gave shape to the bat, the skillful insertion of the imported handle in the groove, the final adjustments made before it turned into an useful bat, the filing of the edges for a smooth finishing and the knocking and oiling at the end. All the conscientious craftsmanship to perfect the blade for the warriors to battle it out in the 22-yards battlefield! Now I knew where to go if I had the chance to take out my favourite cricketing heroes out on an unforgettable date!
The septuagenarian patiently answered all my queries and even offered me another pot of tea. His amused look on knowing that I played cricket in school was no different to most men in our country who raise their eyebrows and suppress their smirk at the mention of women’s cricket.
While waving goodbye to Salim chacha and his men, I spotted a young kid hitting the ball real hard.
When I asked him his name, he replied smugly,
“Main Pakistan team ka captain Sachin Tendulkar hoon”. (I am Pakistan team’s captain, Sachin Tendulkar)