Around the world in 20 days

Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.

Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.

The famous Auckland Harbor

Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!

The gaseous volcanic region

 

Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout.  Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.

The gloomy deserted beaches

Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.

Mapping the location

Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.

A view to kill

Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports.  With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.

The Eighth Wonder

 

Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.

I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.

The falls in the Fiord

Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.

San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).

IMG-5624
The Del Coronado beach

Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.

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A license to drive

31-Oct-2017- It is almost 10 pm and my flight to Pune is delayed. Amidst the tantrums thrown by passengers, the tearful attendant, the abusive fellow and a lot of noise, my musings and imagination starts working overtime and the best way to spend my evening- beyond wa and fb is to write. The flight was delayed at 21.10 from 21.10 to 22.10 (a mouthful) and finally took off at 22.50. So, a story I had been meaning to write for some time was born.

Part 1: The beginning

13-Jun-2017 – My driving license expired. I was blissfully unaware.

20-Jun-2017 – I don’t know what made me look at the booklet. It was made in the era when the license used to be a book. In the 20 years I had it, some of its pages were torn off and my photo didn’t look like me, primarily because I had aged and the photo was still in twenties. But it still served its purpose when the guy in white wanted to check, they would look at it disdainfully like it came from another planet and give it back reluctantly. And then phew, it was no more even a saving grace, it died.

I was about to travel to Bikaner and it was earlier renewed in Bikaner, cool, I could get it done in a week. Problem solved.

22-Jun-2017 – Oh no, it was renewed in Barmer. Now where the hell is Barmer on the map? I don’t recall ever having travelled to the godforsaken place. Doesn’t matter, it is still in Rajasthan, I should be able to renew it in Bikaner, it is the digital age, I thought with all the confidence of a person with little experience of sarkaari daftar.

25-Jun-2017 – Back from Bikaner. Laws are laws (and in-laws are by-laws- no relevance, but J). And the law says that once a license is made in Barmer, it can only be renewed in Barmer. And if you want anything different, you require a complicated document called a No-Objection-Certificate. Really? Who and Why should anyone have an objection? I can drive.

I wondered how I ever got it renewed there? Think, think. Am I a time traveler? Of course, my dear mil was posted there hence I got it done in absentia (shhh, proxy used to work in those days)

Now how do I get a NOC now? I am sure mil knows someone who knows someone. Found the “someone”, and went a call, sms, wa, reminders and more.

30-Jun-2017- I am getting fed-up, why am I not getting a simple thing called NOC?  Someone please remind him again.

5-July-2017- I got it, looks like an NOC. Read it with the reverence it deserved. And reread. What was this again? They got my date of birth wrong? (How can someone sitting in an unknown RTO in an unknown city get her highness’s DOB incorrect?) How did they dream up this date? But then I can’t use this. When I go with my id proof which mentions a different date, someone is going to throw this NOC out of the window. I need to start the process all over again.

6-july-2017 – Now I had to find someone really jugaadu, who could undo this atrocity. So found a twisted friend who just happened to be posted at the B city. Told him the whole story. He just said, ho jayega with the nonchalant confidence of a Government officer.

15-jul-2017 – wa- anything happened on DOB. Friend: hold on, I am busy.

18-jul-2017 – wa- a gentle reminder. Friend : kal pucca.

20-jul-2017-  Friend: The RTO guy is adamant. He says his file has this DOB so it must be correct, his file is nothing short of the Bible. hence all the id proofs must have goofed up somehow. That lone guy knows that the world is wrong about when this diva was born. So what next. I told him, I don’t care. Clean up the mess. Twist the tale from the tail. I guess he smiled. And said something like- I must sit with him till he solves it. Will he take money? Maybe, we will find a solution, thus spoke the guy with 6 pack brains.

1-Aug-2017- wa- Friend: yeah, got it done, sending it soon.

16-Aug-2017 – Finally I got the godforsaken paper once again and it was correct this time. Ah bask for a few minutes in the glory of having fought a govt system and having won!

Part 2: The Conclusion

Visited the nearest driving school. Can you get the license made quickly? Yes we can. It will cost. That is fine, my time is costlier. Deal done.

8-sep-2017 – I get a call from the driving school. You need to go down and get a backdate entry done since your license is an alien one. Why is that my responsibility? I am paying you. No mam, you have to do it yourself. Sigh, ok.

11-sep-2017 – drive down to RTO (without a license). Reach the specified window. Nobody there (at 11.30 am, I though office started at 10.00 am) but several folks queued up. Waited for a few minutes twiddling my thumbs and toes. Finally, someone took pity and told me to go to another window, where a harassed looking woman was noisily sipping her cold saucer of tea and doing what looked like sorting papers. After a few minutes of watching this, I looked for the opportunity to tell her, excuse me and parroted the issue to her as she deigned to look up from her busy schedule. She disdainfully took the papers and stowed it away in one of the many piles. Come after a week. Why, should be a minute’s job. She looked at me exasperated look there is something called backlog. I will get to this in due course. Phew. Ok, can I get a receipt? She gave me a what-is-a-receipt-look and decided not to respond to the superfluous and silly query. I was mortally afraid she would lose the holy grail called NOC.

18- sep-2017 Went back and lo and behold, she had got it done. Promise was a promise. I got a 12 digit number. Wow, looked at it with even more reverence, a number after a week of effort (more than a month, but what the hell).  Went and gave it back to the driving school. Ok, that out of the way, we will submit everything and call you if needed.

29-sep-2017 It is needed. I got a call. Please show yourself for the biometrics. Third visit to the RTO and got my thumb printed and mug shot taken. When do I get the license now?

Soon, he promised. (No driving test, do note)

29 Sep-2017 Called up the driving school. Where is the license? Oh, you don’t have it yet, we will check and revert.

Two days later, I hear some music. It is processed, will come by speed post, Can’t I collect it? No madam, that is the process, the driving school receptionist was also exasperated by this time.

23 Oct-2017 Got a tried-to-deliver note at the door.

24-Oct 2017 – went to the Post office and got what is finally looking like a license to drive.  Just in about 3 months and a few days later. Man, aren’t we efficient.

PS: An intermediate visit to the RTO on a working Saturday revealed locked doors. Maybe it was a achcha din.

 

From Two to Four – wheels

Learning a bicycle is piece of cake, once you have digested it. I remember I was at my ननिहाल, for an extended family gathering having fun. And I wanted to learn to cycle. So my मामा decided to help me out. I was nonchalant 13. The first time you get up and sit on that thin seat and ensure your frock covers your vitals, you wonder how on earth can anyone balance on such thin tyres (observe the oxymoron – thin tyres). The bicycle just insists on falling towards one side, and even if you use Physics to balance, it almost always fails and you end up falling on your rump. My मामा did try his best to help by holding the carrier, but the bicycle handle refused to stay straight, it insisted on swinging in the direction opposite my fall. Murphy or whoever wrote the law of how many times you fall when learning to cycle, I proved it true every 5 seconds, till I had bruises all over and my ego was hurt beyond repair. Three days of tenacity, and I could manage to hold the wheels steady for about 10 meters, and then the law had its way. Fourth day, I managed just about not to fall off, but driving in a straight line was still miles away. I was mostly cycling like a drunk, weeing from one end of the road to the other and at times when I knew the forces driving me to the ground were winning, I chose instead to land on my two left feet. A week into it, and I was under the delusion that I was master of the game.

Came back to Jodhpur and decided to try my skills on Baba’s bicycle. Problem, it had a hard rod, so climbing on to the fellow was a project it itself and then climbing down was another. (Just reread what I had written and trust me, that was not the intent, whatever you may think ) And the Jodhpur lanes, if you could call them that, full of gravel and sand. Anyway, as I said, I believed I had wings (even without red bull), and the supreme arrogance of a beginner. So went full swing, round and round across lanes at full speed. Second round and I was coming down a lane which was an inclined plane. Now physics was far away from mind and my speed tried to defy the still unfamiliar laws and of course, I slipped and went straight into the ditch. A visit to my favourite doctor where he had to tch tch and scrape off all sand and gravel stuck into my घायल legs. He probably wondered whether I did it deliberately to have an excuse to go see him every now and then. Did I? Even though I have now cycled for years, the art of holding my skirt down against the wind with one hand, while trying to keep the handle straight with the other and using my mouth to shoo away the traffic, it is tough to say the least. These days I prefer the one that you can pedal, but which doesn’t go anywhere.

I learnt to drive four wheels in my late 20s, during the forced relaxation period after popping out my baby. The Maruti driving school was good and while in the learner car, my beginner confidence was back with a big bang. Except that I lacked the ol’ fella called courage. We even bought a car, which was kept safely parked outside the home gathering dust while I went to office on a rickshaw. One day I was encouraged a lot, you can do it you know, Is there anything you can’t do? Now, I am a sucker for motivation. And my dear husband took me and the car to a road and literally pushed me to the driver seat. I knew the ABC yes, had read the user manual and done test drives but driving on Noida road alone for the first time with no safety break on the co-passenger seat was perilous. Anyway, started the car with shaking hands. First 20 times, it stalled. Wasn’t giving enough raise (Same problem with us salaried people, when we don’t get enough raise, we stall). So pushed the accelerator, created some noise and moved ahead a few feet, hit the first speed-breaker, and stalled again. After a few feet of this, I got the hang of ensuring, car didn’t shut down, (though the unnatural noises emanating from the sudden pushes and jerks did nothing to calm my nerves, remember I am talking about the car).  There after I started looking at the road and other vehicles around me and realised I had too many cars crowding me, I screamed, “what to do”, froze with horror, panicked, shut down the car in the middle of the road and came out trembling, I can’t do it. And refused to take the wheel after that. Thus ended my first day on road on a four wheeler.

Then came a day when again I was challenged, you can take out the car yourself from the narrow lane where we lived, why should we take a three-wheeler. We should take our car. No, too many cars around, I can’t handle reverse. Yes you can. Three times, she said it and I was persuaded. So I started the engine, reversed, bang, hit the car parked on the other side of the lane, changed gear and curved right, didn’t cut enough, scratched the car on the left, full body length, recovered, swerved right, I guess too much, went into the car on the right, and there I was, driving steadily down the lane. (Well, I did better than a certain someone I know who drove the car right into the boundary of the house across the lane) Poor car owners, never came to know what hit them, by the time I came back, I was already a pro. Once you have dented a car on Delhi roads, you are virtuoso.

This was a WagonR. Few years later, we went hunting for an SUV, as we upgraded ourselves from middle class to middle class+. ( And also I had a fervent desire to look down on some people and what better way to do it than sitting on the tall seats) The Tata sales guy was more than willing to let us test drive the Safari, as he handed over the keys to my husband, who forwarded them to me, his face paled. But his job was at stake, there was no way he could say no. (He asked to see my licence though). I could literally smell his fear as he watched me turn the keys in the ignition. Blimey, ‘Tis the end of the world if ladies started driving what has so forth been exclusively for the gentleman. Disgraced in my eyes, he survived, didn’t wet his pants, to give him due credit, but did not make the sale. At the end of the drive he meekly managed, मैडम आप तो अच्छा चला लेती हैं. We chose a Scorpio instead. I caused two accidents while driving the Scorpio. All because I was driving an SUV on Noida roads, quite unheard of in 2005. A fellow on a cycle came from the front, looked at me, opened his mouth and fell off as I passed by and looked down on him on the other side of the road. It was such fun to be the first to drive off as the light turned green, being the fastest on the road had its own charm. Then there were these two fellows on a bike, who went and hit an autorickshaw since they stared agape so hard at me, they forgot to look at the rest of the traffic. I enjoyed the attention unashamedly. The moral being that a woman driving an SUV with undisguised confidence is still a visual hallucination so people either give a wide berth or have accidents.

Car-rey Night

This is set in 2011 when I had just moved to Pune. Lacked the secondary necessities of life like a car. This is set in the pre-ola days, when people normally used buses or autos. Soon I realized that the अॉटो रिक्षाs in Pune have a major problem, their drivers, who don’t want to make a fast buck. Invariably, when you need an auto, 1) you will not find one, 2) if you find one, you will not find the driver, 3) if you find the driver, it will be his siesta time, 4) if it is not his siesta time, he will not want to go where you want to go. After a few days of facing this, I decided to take the easy way out- buy a car.
Let me not delve into the steps and the documentation it needed, that is for another time. Let me directly jump to the day the car was ready to be brought  home and the incidents surrounding. Before I go further I hope that the reader does not form an unfavorable opinion about my driving skills on this account. Let me state on record that I am a good driver.
I had an Airtel network – legacy from Delhi and the coverage in Pune was/is माशाअल्लाह!. And being new to the city, I did not know any routes. Being ultra smart, I took a few pages of google maps print that would help me find my way to the showroom and back home. 3G never worked on my phone in those times, hence the जुगाड. Took an auto to the showroom at around 5 pm.
The car wasn’t ready by that time. It took them another hour and a half to have it ready for takeoff. At around 7 pm, I finally got the car. It was already dusk, early January and I had no idea of the route back home. Great.
Started the car. As soon as I put it in the gear, it stopped. Repeat a few times. Finally I realized it wasn’t my old Scorpio hence I needed to press the accelerator more, else it would not pick up. (A few minutes later I also learnt,  unlike a Scorpio, you can’t raise a Linea in 2nd gear, and you can’t see the road beyond the car in front, sigh). Moved out from the showroom. I had memorized the route to certain extent. But the first intersection and I was hopelessly lost. The road the map told me to take was one way- and the wrong way at that. Within 5 minutes, I knew the maps were useless. Lesson no 1. Google maps for Pune did not tell you one way routes in 2011. I kept on driving in the general direction of where I thought my colony would be. I knew I had to reach the railway station, from where I knew the way home.
I stopped at one intersection and asked a fellow driver, भैया, स्टेशन के लिए किधर से? He tchched. अरे, आप तो बहुत दूर आ गए। ऐसा करो, red light से reverse लो, फिर आगे से left, फिर right and then I lost him.
A few minutes and meters later, asked another भैया. He also tchched me in a similar manner. I am sure they must be thinking in their minds- अगर रास्ता नही पता तो गाडी लेकर निकली क्यो है?
Not to forget the blinding headlight, horn blasting, omni-directional Pune traffic that makes you feel right in the center of apocalypse. Why did I ever choose a sedan?
A little ahead, the road diverged, and I thought I should verify before taking the road more traveled. So got down to check in the local shop. As I was asking him, he asked me, पीछे वाली गाडी आपकी है?  I turned around to see my car driving itself in the reverse. There was a slope and I had not put hand brakes :-). Lesson no 2. If you want to learn how to stop a moving car which is locked and moving steadily back, I am the woman. Thankfully it did not hit anything or anyone on the road.
By this time it was almost 8.30 in the night. I was sweating in the month of January and I was tired. And I was hungry and I wanted my mommy. The 12 km journey was a never ending one. Finally reached home without any more incidents at 9. Parked the car and drank a bottle full of water.
Writing this reminded me of the ten commandments I had drafted in my pre-blogging days and decided to add as epilogue.
1) left and right are just ‘मोह ‘ and ‘माया ‘. We think left, go right, turn left from the rightmost lane, give an indicator and not turn. वैराग्य के बाद मोह और माया में क्या रखा हैं .
2) we are enlightened souls and we enlighten our paths with full beam, low beam may misguide. If it troubles you, you are in need of enlightenment.
3) we understand the full circle of life. Sometimes we take that circle right in the middle of traffic., especially when we are on 2 wheelers. Brakes and screeches don’t sway us.
4) We prefer to take the road less-traveled when on 2-wheelers, like overtaking from the left or crossing the street in transverse at full speed. Breaking rear view mirrors and causing accidents are minor hazards but we always get our own way.
5) Our struggle with life begins as soon as we land on the road. Saving the potholes and protecting the manholes is the mission. Hence we drive in s-shaped curved paths. Impacted passerby’s are just collateral damage.
6) when on foot, we meditate. Sometimes we meditate on phone as well, so we cross roads when and where we want with total disregard to the rest of the material world. Sometimes we get deep into in right in the middle of the road, oblivious to the chaos we have created.
7) Honking feels like the temple bell, we ring it all the while. It gives us divine happiness.
8) we are not followers, why follow when you can be a leader. Our way to go is opposite to traffic, full beam, horns blazing and all of you can follow your own sedate path at your own risk.
9) we have true democratic thoughts, lane and speed no bar, treat every pedestrian and vehicle equally with the same amount of disrespect, road is my own property.
10) If you follow any other traffic rules, designed for mere mortals, we will give you a glance of pity and contempt and roll the mouth to express the deepest abuse in Marathi and you can’t even retaliate.