Friday, August 29, 2008

The abode of the motley crew

You either love big cities or you don’t… doesn’t feel too right… nah….let me try again…you either love Mumbai or you don’t. I love Mumbai. Yeah that’s it.
It was not easy living mind you. Filth strewn like no other city, I can only recall the description Gabriel Garcia Marquez used for the Caribbean in “Love in the time of Cholera”. Every where your eyes rest you are assaulted by nameless heads bobbing up and down in ocean of humanity. Local trains, pollution , humidity, traffic jams , flyover construction, hawkers, human feces, abject poverty, jaw dropping wealth, nameless people, star icons, overflowing drains, Arabian Sea, AIDS activists, theatre artists, eunuchs, writers and well the list can go on…..
Yet despite utter chaos there was a cosmic rule that ran as a common thread across souls…. Work hard and smile on… the city has so much of macabre to show, so why fret. There is an unspoken code of conduct …what earned you your bread is your god and god shall never be displeased. Everything in that city begins with worshipping your god and ends with the same and there are circles of entities that ensured that whatever you do, those gods must remain pleased and bless you….
The every morning auto rickshaw ride from Bandra to Malad was not easy. No sir. It was bumpy . It was arduous and took an hour everyday one way. I stopped complaining when I met a girl in one of the offices in Mindspace who came from Panvel every day. It took her two hours and a change of two buses and two trains one way. She woke up at 5 in the morning and slept at 12 at night. Such is Mumbai. She had dark circles around her eyes, a slight frame and though mere 23, her skin told a different story. What amazed me and made me celebrate the human resilience is her smile. Or the grit on every face that I saw in the local train which I took whenever to save time or the sudden urge to save 100 bucks.

Amidst the mechanical churn of life there is a continuous blossom of spring that gave hope and determination to every one. Why, that incident of a lady travelling in the train. No place to stand, she stood next to me in the all women coach. She got in from the Bandra station where I took my train from…When the train stopped at Khar , a small girl hawking odd ends got in. She droned on about her tidy basket of clips, bands, hair accessories and bindis. She soon drew closer to the door to get off at Andheri. But a sudden surge of women got her enmeshed amongst bodies and she let out a huge wail of helplessness and terror. I saw a sudden flash of a hand , that belonged to the same woman I had mentioned earlier, draw the girl close and pull her to have her ensconced safely between the woman’s body and the coach wall. She held on to the girl and in the next station, let her off personally before quickly getting in. I was touched and flummoxed at a Davidoff perfume wearing and Dior bag clutching woman to express humanity this way. Only when I said so, did she smile and said that managing finances in a big bank was not so special as managing little lives. I got to know her designation, that of a Vice President in HFDC and the fact that that morning her car broke down and a busy schedule pushed her to take the train..
It is hearty to know that neither capitalism has completely corroded the mind of some to hear just currency tellers counting money nor has communism made such minds sluggish by continual shouting matches. There are these unsung heroes that live their ordinary lives in extra ordinary way. Why isn’t it divine to just find a smile on a face when most brows furrow thinking of destiny’s next tricks and the plots in the mind to negate those.
The ode to beauty must go to such human beings who smile despite life’s everyday challenges. I salute the spirit of Mumbai and its precious thinking minds!!! Minds that really think!! People who don’t smile to impress someone but to express life’s virtue that has pain and happiness et al.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Glint in the eye

Was in splits when Bryson wanted to look at the woods and comment like a seasoned mountaineer and trekker, with a hard glint in the eyes “ yeah I shat in those woods” or something to that effect. Man I almost came close… I pissed on a winding road between two car doors, opened to barricade and three helpful people covering me from a peek a boo of my posterior. Helpful tip from the gal with us who pulled the same stunt in Ladakh. Let’s call her …hmm… Tinkerbell . Tinkerbell (TB from now on) was celestially made to fall in love with Clicky Traveler(CT) and these two swell guys gave us company to explore the Hinterland of a Deccan State, Karnataka. Us? Why its Monk and SQ if you have forgotten…. The grand idea to go off for something unplanned germinated in Monk’s head, slowly really going the monk way of being shorn of hair, after the spitfire version of my energy surfaced and it was either a yearlong haranguing or a quick weekend trip….
You need hassle free, uncomplicated, shat in the woods variety for these unplanned low budget four day get away!! Monk in all his earnest could only recommend one member of his large friend circle … CT and his better three fourth TB …. CT is a great conjurer… he makes dull places look great in pictures and squeaky old cars fly like Sea Harriers that want to bombard evil terrorists in Asian heartland!!!! TB gave me a complex in loquaciousness… that gal spoke and laughed and demolished goodies with my kind of agility and earned herself the decree of being a woman of substance…if she really cares for that kind of brandishing !!! Remember she gave me a new perspective on bladder clearing and I practiced it on my way back from Bangalore to Hyderabad, the Land of Biryani. My gratitude to TB remains eternal on this account!!!
The tried and tested method of stinky stuff bonded me well with TB and CT…this was the first time I was meeting them and man I needed to get on beyond polite conversation…so in a fit of verbal diarrhea I exclaimed that the only woe for a travel bug bitten woman is the defecation bit. Ha then what, we got talking about fart, types of farts and shit habits…. There that did it, so we continued hogging and talking and making shit…..
As was expected from CT (Monk had set a very appropriate expectation from the offset for a change) that it will be very sudden, very unplanned and great fun. There would be synchronized open air dumping by the CT and Monk. It was just that. This time luck favored the sons of great duodenal lubrication, they were miraculously offered CCD toilets.
TB and I took turns to be gods of small things…we just peed everywhere possible….
The drive to Hyderabad to Bangalore, on Day 1 was tiring , irritating and dull for me and Monk…The start from Hyderabad was late and our car created some confusion that got us in a tizzy to show her to a technician…We could only get out of city premises by 1145 hours…mistake, huge mistake . This route of 540 odd kilometers does not boast of interesting eat outs like the Bangalore- Mysore- Kerala stretch. Most of the eating joints are unhygienic and have very dirty toilets. That dint deter us from eating at this very filthy place middle of nowhere and Monk thanked all the gods for conjuring rice, rasam, soggy papad and lots of busy flies!!

We had palate scalding milky tea on our way ahead and food poison inducing pakodas. We also demolished an entire plum shortcake and couple of cookies and an apple each. By sundown we were still 180 km away from Bangalore. That entailed night driving. The road is middle of an overhaul , there were potholes and everybody drove on a high beam. Add 7 hour long fatigue and 6 hour of disturbed sleep, Monk and I envisaged very horrible news traveling our friend’s circuit… but CT was our Mayday and we made it to his house at exactly 2345 hours. TB , after a day’s long work , fed our undying appetite with a homemade welcoming dinner, and after two hours of chatting and catching up we all dropped like flies to get up in the morning quite late.
On Day 2 there was still no clear cut plan of destination and after much thinking, calls and re-thinking , we all decided to go to Coorg, so we were out of the house almost at 1200 hours after a hearty brunch of dosas , palya and chutney, awesome combo, thanks to Madame Ecstasy , TB’s lifeline!!!
After some one hour on the road we re-voted for the destination and this time CT who navigated the car (get the word navigated ? well that’s because we were flying low) towards Baba Budangiri , about 200 km away.
That’s when stinky talks happened and more mindless talks, no job, no boss and no competition …clean getaway… just like Trey Anastasio croons in his number “Everything flows out right through my head”. Lunch was at a government certified vegan lunch house… four people, four meals and back to the road…. No place yet to stay due to heavy booking everywhere … my early morning ablutions worried me a bit…. But we kept driving and soon reached a place called Hassan there we spotted a manna from above…Hotel Ashhoke….TB called them and booked two rooms at unbelievable rates of just 2.5 grand a night and complimentary breakfast…we were hopeful that in Chikmagalur we may still find something to stay the night, so though dusk was not too far, we carried on. The two places Hassan and Chikmagalur, are just 65 km apart. On the way we saw a Hoysala Resort. Enquiry for rooms left us disappointed. I even tried an oriental accent but to no avail. But we still marched on to Chikmagalur and on our way stopped to take many a pictures. CT is an analog camera buff… so am I but digital ones can be handy for not very serious shooting trips and also to discern for your analog the light quality…so CT and I took many a pictures. Must say he is cool …pretty good with the light versus object thing…. CT recommended Nikon D80 and I am still hung on the Canon 400D…. both needs obscene moolah…. Let’s wait for a long time till I get one!!!
We reached Chikmagalur at around 8 or so and soon found ourselves trudging our way to an obscure Taj property…these are those leased properties that use Taj’s brand name but offer substandard facilities…must tell those guys not to dilute their brand like that, I mean 3000 for some sick buffet and no La Carte!!! Cheap wine that TB and I wasted and regular beer for Monk and CT. We drove back to Hassan at around 2200 hours and were in our rooms by 2330. We were more than happy for the pads…. Surpassed our expectations. Hotel Ashhoke was truly splendid given the circumstance and otherwise for a low budget getaway…. Hot water, spacious rooms, good service, mini bar, wake up call, clean towels, clean washrooms and comfortable beds…folks that’s not really rough traveling …. But secretly I was very happy . And complimentary breakfast that served other than the South Indian spread, bread, egg, fruit, fresh juice, chicken sausages and good coffee. Having stuffed ourselves we checked out and headed towards the real gold… Baba Budanangiri. These are coffee hills, best recommended for trekking. Legend has it that one Baba Budan, disciple of Sufi Saint Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Azeez Mecci, undertook a pilgrimage to Yemen and on returning thence , surprised his followers by some magic seeds – coffee beans…Duly planted, it gave rise to the famous coffee plantations in Hassan and Chikmagalur. It was a lovely rainy day, salubrious and green, the drive from Hassan to Chikmagalur was repetitive but from Chikmagalur to Baba Budangiri was refreshing. Narrow winding roads up the hill and coffee plantations with pepper tress. It was a perfect setting for some hot tea and spicy samosas, alas not to be found anyplace…one way its good, cuts off the crass commercialism and ecological decay by non-biodegradable waste. We started to trek up but a steady drizzling got very chilly till we hardly trekked too much and headed back more wet by rain than sweat. Our next agenda was to find a lunch place. Most of the places looked shady so we had to rely on the lone Hoysala resort. We had to call them and ask them if we could use the restaurant “Belur” therein. We were there in the nick of time to have some very average and soon gone cold lunch. The highlight was the green daal. Hot and spicy and available. Post eating we took off to Bangalore at about 1600 hours. CT and Monk took turns to drive… I was drifting in and out of sweet slumber and engaging in the general merriment. We reached Bangalore at about 2100 hours . TB being the conscientious host ordered in some very light Chinese food. Gorging which the last few days of strain surfaced. A hot shower and “ The life of others” had a soporific effect. With an early start back to Hyderabad , I had to call it a day.
The next morning, a quick packing and a sweet breakfast by TB had us ready by 0800 hours. And TB majorly embarrassed Monk and I, the shameless duo , by entrusting a lovely Goan tile on our way out. I mean we just got them some cookies and cake, which we joined them to demolish on our trip to Baba Budangiri. This is neat huh, get people cake and you munch it half yourself . Shameless I tell you, Monk and I. Anyways after a warm and lengthy goodbye we were off to tackle the 14 hour long drive to Hyderabad, boring and forlornly quiet after our three days with CT and TB. We got home late by 2230 hours. Well Hyderabad House beckoned us and we devoured Chicken Biryani like maniacs… on the way…. Jeez have you ever encountered hogs like us?
The trip was great. Bangalore is a little sad these days but Chikmagalur and Baba Budangiri was scenic, unwinding and gave one the opportunity to trek, shoot and develop a glint and say “ Yeah I pissed on one of those winding curves”…but above all it connects you to people who have an identity beyond designations in clinical glass offices….who draw their self esteem in being grounded, warm and extremely talented people. TB and Ct were so refreshing after the pseudo we come against day after day…
Let’s hope we meet CT and TB again and have very brain dead yet meaningful trips!!!!
Let’s hope we get the real glint