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.
www.bl.uk for St Paul's Cathedral
rovinglight's photostream on Flickr for Victoria Memorial