The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.

The ghostly family

The realization hit me at 3 am in the morning. No, I am absolutely not a night bird. But I am a part of a ghostly family. Let me start from the very beginning.

My husband’s cellphone rang at 3 am. Now, I have to tell you something about this ring tone. It is an ascending crescendo, enough to wake up the dead, literally, in the dead of the night. No matter how many times, I have told my husband to change to a more decent tone, he keeps the same which creates this sense of urgency and alarm every time it honks and leaves your heart racing. I got up to open the door, we had a guest who had arrived then.

You may think that is hardly a decent time for anyone to arrive, but that wasn’t his fault really. Pune, happens to be a railway nightmare. If you arrive by train you can expect to hit the town anytime between 2 to 5 am and you not only can’t sleep yourself, you can’t let anyone else sleep either.

As I was going to open the door, I saw my father in law, sitting up on the bed and having his midnight glass of milk. ( नोट किया जाए, मी लॉर्ड, at 3 am) Now he normally stays awake during the night and rests in the day, turning life upside down for everyone around him as well. That also really isn’t his fault either, it is just that he normally would have had his quota of sleep in the day, which expectedly eludes him in the night. And the circle goes on. Now when you stay awake, you feel hungry, so he needed something to eat, of course he has to wake up my mom in law, who then heated the glass of milk for him and hence was up, trotting along in her white nightgown and rummaging in the kitchen, looking irritated and resigned to her nightly routine.

In recent times, my dear husband has also developed the tendency to be nocturnal. He will find his reasons, he can be thirsty, so he will get up to drink water, and then of course he needs to go to the washroom, in an hourly ritual. Sometimes he likes to read a book or newspaper or watch the match ( in mute, will I not kill him otherwise) at 4 am when sheep and forward and reverse counts don’t help. He may also have his natures call very early, pre-dawn or very late, post-midnight. All in all, he was awake and hungry too at the unearthly hour, hunting for something to eat.

With everyone around awake and eating and talking, it felt like 3 pm and not 3 am. You know, how it is always daytime at the station, all that was missing is the hawker crying चाई, चाई….in his broken monotonous tone. Addam’s family, anyone?

Let me give you some more insight. My bro in law has different reasons for staying awake, he may be reading a book that he needs to finish tonight, ( maybe the ending will change if I leave it till the next day) or he may be working, ( or shall I call it tweeting) more often than not, or he may be watching a old faded martial arts Jackie Chan movie and the next sci-fi after that and then what. Going to sleep at 5 am is normal for him.

His wife, wanting to spend as much quality awake time with him, stays up when he is up and sleeps when the world wakes up. Other than wanting to be with him, she has her personal reasons as well like playing candy crush saga for 5 hours, or skying her daughter who is in the GMT time zone. Going to sleep early morning is again a daily routine for her and she can continue her beauty sleep through the morning while the kid is away at school.

This routine has a major advantage – nobody can loot us when we are all asleep, because we are never.

Tensions are a major worry for this insomniac household. My husband has discovered 101 reasons for staying awake and maybe he will write a book on it one day. Some of the gems from his list are- every time I slept, I could could hear Ornob and others shouting on the TV having a political debate on intolerance. Really !!! Ornob, you have no right to enter my husband’s dreams in the middle of the night. The ruby being – since somebody in the family needs to travel the next day, I can’t sleep today, I was worrying. ( about what?)  The most glittering diamond – I should have bought the pounds while it was 2 Rs down, now I lost 200 Rs. इव क्या होगा?

Normally I sleep pretty soundly without any worry. Other than when I wake up and see everyone moving around and look for the signs like turned feet and rotating head. The one night I did not sleep is the day I read about Mr Gray. No, do not get the wrong ideas into your head. I could not sleep because my inner voice kept asking me how could such drivel be written. How can you repeat yourself every 5 pages and still be categorized as a literary bestseller? Forget the strong urge I felt about giving a hard slap to Mr Gray and the waif. I can’t even find 50 adjectives to describe the book except that it was repetitive, boring, unreal, teenage, soppy and more. The ending of the volume 1, ( where she walks out, leaving him) was expected to create a desire and longing to get your hands on the volume 2 ( much like कटप्पा ने बाहुबली को क्यों मारा?) left me yawning and wondering why I was wasting my beauty sleep on this.