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A Kiss In Kashmir

February 23, 2024 16:24 IST

'Everything about Sharmila was a gift from the Divine: The graceful way she twirled her paintbrush, the naughtiness with which she teased his desperate attempts at cooking her favorite dishes, the gentleness when her lips touched his, the softness of her hair as it fell on his face, the flowery smell of her perfume when he nuzzled her neck, the mole near her quivering lips that he kissed every opportunity he got.'
A heartwarming excerpt from Monica Saigal's book, A Kiss in Kashmir.

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier/

His mind floated back to the first time he saw her.

'I am told you are the best there is,' Sharmila, a member of one of the most eminent royal families of Jaipur, had said to him when they were first introduced. She showed him some of her artwork. Her amateur work showed that she clearly had talent. But more than that, she had vision.

Soon, his tiny studio filled up with a handful of students. He tried to help them all, but his focus was always on Sharmila from the very first.

She laughed easily, painted with abandon, and was curious about his life and his art.

He often told her that there weren't enough hours in the day, or even a lifetime, to answer all her questions. Nevertheless, she would persist, her curiosity insatiable.

'Vikram, how does the sunrise differ in October versus January when you paint it? What does this brush do? How did you find that perfect shade of magenta?'

Of course, the questions slowly went from being about painting to him, and then to them.

'What is your dream, Vikram -- for your art, I mean? Tell me about your mom. Does your brother paint? I eagerly wait for each morning to be with you, do you feel the same? Is this what love feels like? I feel so safe in your embrace, do you feel that?'

Endless questions, and each one drew him closer to her. He had many of his own.

'I worry I am not good enough for you, Sharmila. You belong to one of the richest families in the country and my family is from a small town. We are of humble means.'

She would simply smile in response. And if he insisted on worrying, she would add, 'I didn't fall in love with your bank balance, and I did not choose to be born into a royal family. Love is love. That is all that matters.'

Their love of art, of the blank canvas and its promise, brought them closer and closer.

'You must learn to think and see with your brush. Your brush should lead your hand, not the other way around.'


Vikram guided her hand as she learned the intricacies of her craft. Within a short few weeks, her work had shown remarkable progress.

Vikram remembered how shocked he had been when she showed him a painting.

'Vikram, I want you to see something.' Sharmila had pulled him into one of the many gardens behind the studio.

She had spent early morning hours working on a mural.

On a small wall, facing a fountain behind the studio, she had painted him standing by a lake with a brush in hand and canvas in front of him.

'Oh, this is beautiful. You make me look good,' he had said, a bit shy at first.

'I did what you said. My brush guided me. This is the result.' He had kissed her that day and she had held him close, whispering, 'I think I am falling in love with you.'

Just the thought of her and her name made his smile brighter than the sun in Srinagar that morning. But there was a stop he needed to make before heading home, right by the Gawkadal Bridge.

The bridge had been the site of a massacre a few years earlier, a terrible memory.

The last time Vikram had called home, his brother, Suraj, mentioned that the area was now safer, but added, 'This isn't the Kashmir of our childhood. I know you will want to see Afzal for tosha, but come home first.'

Vikram had mumbled an agreement, but, of course, disagreed in his head.

A typical artist, he always insisted that these political things were a passing phase and did not affect him. Besides, he had to tell his childhood friend, Afzal, about Sharmila.

Of course, he also wanted to pick up tosha for his mother. Filled with cashews, almonds, and sugar, tosha was his mother's favorite treat. And pairing a sweet dish with good news was how he had been raised.

Vikram clutched his well-worn gray woollen scarf closer to his body and held his bag tight.

The bag held a surprise for his parents, one he couldn't wait to share. It was true what his grandmother had always said: Jahun chhuh ashhun mazhar (the world is a theatre of love).

Now, he could tell Ma and Baba about Sharmila, about their magical theatre of love that was his life.

A life filled with colours, romance, promises of loving family, and a woman whose eyes were not something just to look at but to immerse your soul in.

Everything about Sharmila was a gift from the Divine: The graceful way she twirled her paintbrush, the naughtiness with which she teased his desperate attempts at cooking her favorite dishes, the gentleness when her lips touched his, the softness of her hair as it fell on his face, the flowery smell of her perfume when he nuzzled her neck, the mole near her quivering lips that he kissed every opportunity he got.

Soon now, she would be his. They had decided to wed in Kashmir in April, on Sharmila's birthday.

He could hardly wait to tell his parents. The thought of seeing her in wedding finery with his family blessing them, and his beloved city surrounding them, made Vikram giddy with anticipation.

He smiled as he looked at the red and yellow autumn leaves falling around him.

He had told Sharmila all about autumn there and had even taught her to paint these leaves.

He enjoyed painting a verbal picture of his favorite places in Kashmir and then watched her paint those landscapes. She was a quick learner and could paint majestic scenes with ease.

'What colour exactly was the tree bark? How did the sky look from this angle? How many minarets were there in the mosque? How many steps were there in that temple?' Sharmila and her never-ending questions created magic on the canvas.

He remembered their first trip outside of Jaipur. Sharmila had been telling him about the little sacred town of Pushkar, a blessed town nestled in the heart of her home state of Rajasthan.

'I want to take you there and show you Pushkar Lake, Vikram. While it isn't like the Dal Lake of your beautiful Kashmir, I know you will love it. There is something timeless about it. I love walking in Pushkar, with all the sound of the chanting, the smell of the incense and endless number of divine places. Oh, and the hot air balloons.'

The balloon ride over Pushkar was nothing like he had ever experienced before.

While Pushkar itself had been intoxicating, the balloon ride was extraordinary.

The balloons danced to the rhythm of the air and every view was breathtaking.

He said as he held her close, 'This balloon makes me feel like I am a part of the canvas of this landscape, this desert below, that lake, the labyrinthine, colourful streets, that warm sun.'

After the ride, he had put his secret plan into action. He'd worked with Sharmila's sister to make sure nothing would go wrong.

He had taken her to a small open-air theatre that hosted traditional Rajasthani puppet shows.

They found seats on the first wooden bench. All the benches were full as locals and tourists alike came to watch the sweet performances.

'Oh, I have loved these since I was a child!' Sharmila exclaimed. At first, Sharmila didn't seem to notice.

Then it suddenly dawned on her -- the puppets on stage, large, intricate marionettes dressed in vibrant Rajasthani clothes, were telling her and Vikram's love story, from the time they met to the present moment.

Just under a year, but a memorable and beautiful year. The dialogues were accompanied by musicians playing the double-headed drum dholak and the stringed instrument, the sarangi.

Oil lamps strung around the stage and the entire theatre cast gentle light and dramatic shadows.

As the puppet show reached its climax, the male puppet hesitated, then offered something in his hand to the female puppet.

He then told the audience, 'For the rest of the show, please watch the couple on the first bench.'

Vikram turned to Sharmila and said, 'I don't have the riches of the world, but I love you dearly and promise to make you the happiest woman on earth. Will you marry me?' In his hand, much to her delight, instead of a ring he was holding his favorite and most prized paintbrush.

While the audience clapped and called for rings to be exchanged, teary-eyed Sharmila lovingly accepted the valued brush and hugged her husband-to-be.

The memory made him smile. And now, soon, he would bring her here to his hometown of Srinagar, in his beautiful state of Kashmir.

It would be her first time. He couldn't wait. He knew she would fall in love with the valley as soon as she saw it.

Excerpted from A Kiss in Kashmir by Monica Saigal, with the permission of the publishers, Bodes Well Publishing.