Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
The last-minute change of vehicle meant drastic changes to our entire plans. The Alto K10 is new, faster than the jeep, but can we take it from Bangalore to Kolkata? And what will happen to all that luggage we packed for a road trip to South Africa? This is one of the smallest hatchbacks in India and the luggage is meant for a Bolero. My wife (who was about to pack for a one-year-long road trip) was very dejected at the proposal, but I was secretly excited for two reasons:
- she will learn to pack lean
- I will get to drive the young and peppy Alto K10, which forever wants to fly
I quickly took the Alto to the nearest accessories shop and got sun films for the windows, a local stereo, and an entry-level roof rack that I didn't intend to keep after this trip. We were supposed to start very early on December 24, but I spent a long time at the accessories shop at Tilaknagar and came home really tired. When I reached, I was shocked to see that the first bullet point hadn't been addressed at all.
She had an evil grin on her face: "But then you got a roof rack, didn't you? Don't worry, I unpacked your three pairs of shoes and offloaded all your trousers. You have to survive with only two pairs of jeans for 21 days."
"But why still four bags?"
The food that night was awesome: kalmi kebabs, butter naan, and daal, followed by a couple of usual digestive golis and a couple of Disprins. I will talk about the effect of the Disprins later. Now for some sleep.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"I really don't know if I do. I don't know my preferences like I don't know my mind. Do I like the Congress or the BJP? Do I hate both? Do I like the Communists? Or do I like a socialist ideology? Am I a capitalist? A consumerist? I never have a stand. I squirm at the thought that I have to belong somewhere, in some group of likeminded people who flock together, drawing courage from the fact that I'm not alone. What are you, a conformist? You too, like me, seem so confused. Not about your gods perhaps, because you are clear in your belief. That's one thing I'm clear about as well, only we don't see eye to eye. But when you look me in the eye and say "go away" while am still trying to unbutton you, I don't understand you. I feel you don't mean it. And you ask me if that is all I wanted of you when you very well know that it isn't a destination by itself. That is a physical manifestation of what I feel for you always. What do I feel? A strong urge to be near you. And we have achieved that."
"We have been together, read together, bought music together, had coffee, spent nights in each others' company. Okay perhaps not the last one, but because I've always been with you even when alone, that thin line between what has happened and what hasn't has dissolved.
right now, the picture of you standing there in your black skirt with your back to the wall is vivid in my mind. The image is so real, you are moving in it, asking me to stare at your ripe little breasts from a distance. "No, don't come near," you are pushing me away with your forefinger, "look at me from a distance." And as you are trying to gauge my reaction, watching me devour your beautiful body with my eyes, I keep looking at the watch because time is running out. Our time always runs out before it starts. When will our time start? And then it has to end one day, but why can't it start? I have already made a fool of myself inside you last time, so all I wanted was a kiss. A proper kiss without you moving your head away. Don't, don't, hold it still for a second and let your lips part. Am parched. There you go, nodding your head and swinging your hair, which lashes me on my face like long, thin whips, leaving invisible marks that will never go."
"I miss you. I miss being with you right now. I miss lying still on your lap and looking up into the leaves and the stars beyond. Where was it that we sat like that, under a tree? I could see the Pole star very clearly that night, giving me a feeling I was somewhere really up north.
"But do you get to see the Pole star from the north? In my imagination, that is precisely the case. I miss you when you stay incommunicado, perhaps looking for your answers, perhaps looking into your daughter's eyes and wondering if this thing we share is worth it. See? In my imagination you already have a daughter. You already are married. You already are behind that spotless, impregnable sheet of Saint Gobain glass, so near yet beyond the reach of my fingers. But all I want to see now is you walking through my door, which is left ajar in anticipation. I know you will come, perhaps without knocking. You never need to knock because all I have is yours anyway."
"It isn't worth a Jeep Nukizer, but then you never needed a jeep. You probably need a quiet study. Let me go build that now, it takes a few seconds..."
Sunday, December 19, 2010
So the road trip this time is to go again in search of his vast mind, stored in the form of newspaper clippings from way back in the fifties and sixties, books purchased and collected over a period of sixty years, old and yellow letters exchanged with his friends (some of whom are not there any more), some new books that I brought him during my Penguin and OUP days, my old books, the books that I flicked from the university library (which he never reprimanded me for), books of history, music, and poetry, of Latin American music and culture, of Italian short stories, Picasso, and a humongous collection of Russian literature. It will take time to reach 2000 kms by road, but even more time to sift through all the material in the little time that I have.
The jeep is ready. At 99000 km, the Mahindra Bolero GLX (with the XD3P Peugeot engine) still is strong as a war horse, quietly going about its duties. I don't hear a creak so far, but I can pat myself on the back for having treated it well. I got it new shoes at 47000 kms, rotated the tyres at every 5000 kms, got the suspension overhauled from time to time, kept changing the belts (there are four under this bonnet) and the various pipes at regular intervals. The nicks and cuts were tended to, it got regular touch-ups done, and now it has some new stickers too, and nice fog lamps. The upholstery is new and so are the alloys, so the overall experience is not that of driving a relatively old jeep.
This time the route will be almost the same as the last time, apart from a slight change on the first day. Instead of going via Old Madras Road, we will take the NICE corridor> Hosur Road> Krishnagiri> Vellore> Chittoor route. It will take us to Naidupeta via Tirupati and will be a tad longer than going via Kolar and Palamner, but because the Old Madras Road is being made now, we would like to stick to the Golden Quadrilateral as much as we can. We want to do Rajmundry (more than 800 kms) the first day (anticipating about 14 hours of driving), failing which we can stop even earlier at Eluru or Vijaywada. Photos and updates on Facebook will be done en route. There's a Belkin car adapter to power everything from a laptop to a mosquito repellent, so we even plan to have mobile tea, courtesy Sayantani, my navigator. She's been busy looking up the maps and surfing for hotels online, and has also managed to pack enough stuff for a journey all the way to South Africa. "You never know," says this lady who can be described in short as never-a-backpacker-when-you-can-carry-fourteen-pairs-of-shoes. How we will manage to put everything inside the jeep is another issue, and worse comes to worst we might even have to get a roof rack this week. A friend in Hyderabad has even been kind enough to offer his trailer to save my marriage.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. The luggage is well under control than it was last time. (For all you know, she might be reading this.)
The second day we would again like to cover a distance of about 750 kms, all the way to Bhubaneswar. Arnab Ganguly of IndiaHighways recently did this route and has posted some details of hotels and other resorts on the way, so am gonna keep his list handy. I have already passed on all the details to Sayantani. I received some good pointers about the first day's route from Raja Sekhar Kommu and Sriram Subramaniam of IndiaHighways, so those emails are being treated with more care than the Eicher atlas. Yes, we don't have a GPS device yet and probably will never need one in India. But then, we never wanted a cellphone either at one point!
So far so good. If we do Bhubaneswar on the second day, the third day's journey to Calcutta can be done in less than eight hours, giving us enough time to reach before sundown. Even if the first two days are a stretch, nothing can beat the beauty of the St Paul's Cathedral spire or the Victoria Memorial's dome catching the last orange rays of twilight. It will be sad to enter the vacant apartment my dad had so nicely maintained, but am sure he will be present in every particle of dust to have settled on the bookshelves.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
"NOOOO, this guy is so not a Punjabi. He is a Kannadiga."
"We'll ask when he gets here then?"
We four were at Pecos, listening to Jerry Garcia, as the waiter came and refilled our mugs. Tzameena had come back to Bangalore after four years in the US, Tulika had come to meet her from Pune, and their friend Tever Peer was always in Bangalore. I knew only Tulika, and the other Ts I was meeting for the first time. Being the only guy with three girls, the idea of another guy joining us soon made me brighten up. I didn't quite care about what language he spoke, Punjabi or Kannada.
The girls were being themselves, their squeals and cackles making me feel like a distant observer. Observe I couldn't much because of my shades, which I had to wear to cover my infected red eyes. And Pecos is dark, pitch dark. Some say the food tastes good there mainly because you can't see it. Or you don't care because the draught has already started dancing with your senses.
"Even the loo is the same," Tulika remembered. I knew she got nostalgic, but this was the first time I saw someone getting nostalgic about the dingiest loo in the dingiest pub of Bangalore. I say "dingy" but that's where I go back to. It has this deliberately retro, rundown look, with deliberate Floyd, Grateful Dead, Doors playing from old audio cassettes, to remind you that the world was a lot more beautiful before the iPod generation set foot on it.
"Yes," I nodded in agreement. I had to go twice already to prevent the beer from screwing up my balance, so I knew what she meant. The loo definitely was still the same. And then I discovered popcorn in my beer. I've had corned beef. Liked it pretty much, I must say. But corned beer? I thought I will let it pass as merely a typo when something strange caught my attention. The girls were aiming at each other's necklines and dunking popcorn like those deft NBA blokes. I forgot about the popcorn in my beer and watched in utter horror. The people at the other table were busy head-banging to Bad Moon Rising and didn't seem to mind one bit. Eventually a few of those got dunked into my shirt and I got into the spirit of the game. By then the tacos and crabs were almost over and the free popcorn too.
Shroff came in late. Short, bearded, my liking for him was almost instant. Some might want to argue that it was mainly because I was craving for male company all this while, but then, let's not argue about the "why" now. Fact remains I liked him. We struck up a conversation and then in walked Roshni, another friend of a friend. The conversation grew, multiplied, criss-crossed, and soon looked like a busy underground network. Meanwhile, we somehow managed to move from Pecos to Koshy's and the group had gotten bigger. We could see Prof Ram Guha sitting alone for a while before being joined by two of his friends. I contemplated going up to him for an autograph, but didn't have a proper diary/notebook in which to take it. I don't want to disrespect India's best-known historian by asking him to put his signature on a piece of napkin. Mr Prem Koshy (who was there too, looking dapper in his shawl) perhaps wouldn't mind doing that given that the napkin would have Koshy's written on it, but Prof Guha? Nawww. Some other time, then.
Tzameena couldn't drink at Pecos (because she hates beer), so she was filling herself up like a tank in a hurry. Tever was quietly taking pictures. Shroff found himself in the unenviable situation of being between two beautiful ladies who had joined us later. I remember asking him which one he was seeing, but because the question was put bang in public, all he could manage was an "ummm" with both the girls curiously trying to lipread his mind. Roshni constantly came up with novel catch phrases and kept us entertained. She was narrating a story of how some huge blokes once chased her in Ohio and all I could manage was a stupid laugh! I think the laughter was because she talked about their "size" meaning "bulk" and me doing some instant napkin math. But then, you hardly want to analyze the reactions of someone in high spirits.
We discussed nothing in particular but then almost anything under the sun. It was a motley group of unconnected people sitting together and enjoying each others' company, exchanging notes on almost every topic. A gang of 25-40 year old urban Indians. And as I went to a distance and listened to the buzz, to the topics they were freely discussing, I realized that middle-class, urban India has had a paradigm shift in its thinking since I last witnessed it. From gay relationships, live-in relationships, jazz bands, Bertolucci's Dreamers, anti-rightist political leanings, jobs around the world, Mahasweta Devi, latest mobile apps, motorcycling adventures, cleavages, and the need to care for your parents while they are still there, these people were already open and aware. They knew what they wanted, they had their opinions, and even after having enjoyed one evening of revelry they will go back to their respective lives, chores, and influence others who are probably not so privileged with information. This is not a judgment about whether it is good, bad, sinful, or inadequate to be what we are today, but just a huge exclamation mark a few points bigger than the normal font. I changed some of the names here to make them race-agnostic, but even if I put the real ones, you would realize that this can be a scene from any city in the world. Am I trying to make a point here? What started off as just a casual description of one evening spent with known and unknown people suddenly took a serious turn, giving the impression that I am trying to make a point in this article. I am not. I am not saying anything new to you. You perhaps witnessed this change yourself. I perhaps hadn't, being busy changing diapers. I have a vague feeling it isn’t a change after all because all this was so part of the Delhi I saw ten years back. My parents would perhaps argue that this was the scene fifty years back in Calcutta as well, when the fervor of Mao, French cinema, and unreal idealism gripped the youth of an entire city. In Delhi, when I saw it ten years back, these groups were not common, not from the dregs. There was always emancipation in small pockets, restricted to the college campus or intellectual dos. This somehow seemed more generic, more everyday to me. Am I calling this emancipation? Maybe not. Maybe just a change in some direction. Maybe just the illusion of a change. Maybe there was no such evening, or many. I, unlike the people I met today, am scared to have an opinion of my own, living in the comfort of the dark alley between two houses where nobody asks you uncomfortable questions.
I came home and raised a silent toast to all the people I met today and also to the ones that came after us and sat at different tables. We finally forgot to ask Shroff if he was a Punjabi or a Coorgi. But that didn't make any difference to the evening.