Cabbie Cabbie

8.15 pm. Land in Mumbai. And let me begin by bragging- from a business class flight, – you know what that means, you have your own bed in the sky and a clean toilet, so no cattle class woes .. (Did I say that too soon?)

8.40 pm. cleared immigration. Fun of coming in business class that you can move forward while the rest commoners have to toil through the long q.

8.45 pm. waiting for luggage.

9.15 pm. Still waiting for luggage.

9.30 pm. Continue waiting for luggage. 45 minutes now. Whatever happened to the “priority” tag? I thought I would get my luggage like this (with a flick of the finger) and head home.

9.45 pm. fuming now. What the blisters are they doing? The entire world is waiting, so it can’t be lost luggage. And my car must be here by now. I had told them to reach by 9.40 pm. There it comes, finally I can see the pink lace, earmarking my suitcase. (thank God, nobody here knew I came from the elitist class!)

9.45 pm. Call driver. Phone busy. Hmmm, why do I have multiple cabbie/ driver numbers?

9.46 pm. Call again. Are you Sharad? Driver says, Yes, but I am not coming, call the other number. What, why? I am in Pune, it is the other guy. Sigh.

9.47 pm. Call the other driver. Phone busy. What is with the phone busy!

9.48 pm. Call once again. Are you Kesar? No, I am Sandeep. Hain? From the cab service? Yes.

Me: where are you?

He: outside the airport.

Me: why aren’t you here?

He: I will come when you land.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. (you idiot)

He: oh ok, have you landed madam?

Me: No, I am calling from mid-flight. (sarcasm drooling)

He: ok, tell me when you have landed.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. Why aren’t you in the parking? By when will you reach?

He: Oh, you have landed madam, good, I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait next to chai point.

10.00 pm. Call again. Phone busy.

10.01 pm. Call once again.

Me: where are you, 10 minutes gone!

He: coming madam, there is traffic. Will be there in 2 minutes. pls wait near chai point.

Me: !@#$%, Already there for past 10 minutes.

10.15 pm. Call twice again.

Me: It is half an hour! You still have no reached. You had to be here before 9.40.

He: coming madam. 2 minutes only.

10.30 pm. Call thrice again.

Me: 45 minutes over! What happened?

He: in parking madam, will just come and get you.

10.45 pm. Call fourth time again.

Me: will you come or not? It is 15 minutes past when you said you are in the parking.

He: coming madam.

10.50 pm. Call cabbie agency.

Me: your driver is really late. Been saying coming in 2 minutes for the past 45 minutes!

He: Let me check, madam. I will call you back.

Me: chai point beckoning. think maybe I will finally drink chai from chai point since driver will not come for another “2 minutes” at least. Me stands in queue.

10.55 pm.

He calling: madam, where are you?

Me: Where you told me. Chai point.

He: Can’t see you madam.

Me: look at me dancing away!!! (well not really)

Found each other. Gave him an earful. Heard some sorry madam’s. Too much traffic madams. Let us go, madam’s.

Reached the car. Key inserted in boot. Boot refuses to open. Trying left, right, press, pull, shove. Doesn’t work.

Me: forget the boot, we can keep suitcase inside. Let us go.

He:  madam, key is not coming out, I need the key to start the car!

Me: !@#$

Another 20 minutes of push, pull, shove, kick, press. Finally, he jumped on the car boot and jumped on it till, key finally came out. Phew. Let us go to Pune now please.

20 minutes later, car stopped on side.

11.15 pm.

He: Madam, can you give me 1000 rs now and rest when I drop you?

Me: Why the hell should I, you come an hour late and now you want money, will give only when I reach.

He: No madam, can’t go, I have to give some money to him, (pointing at the other guy,) then I can take you.

11.16 pm.

Me calling cabbie agency

Me: I am not giving him money; I am angry and frustrated.

He: madam, please give na. it is the same amount only, before or after, how does it matter?

Me: rubbing my eyes, what choice do I have at 11.15 in the night. Need to get home as I have meetings. Ok, take it.

We move on. He on the phone. Time noted- from about 11.30 pm till about 12.30 am. Man, the guy can talk. Who is on the other side, I wonder?

We reach the ghats. He keeps the phone down. And is suddenly enegrised. Accelerates from Starts 80 to 120 kmph. Twists and turns. I hold on for dear life.

We cross the ghats. He stops at mid-way.

1.45 pm.

He: Madam, 2 minutes only. Bathroom.

Me: ok.

1.20 pm. Half hour later, I see him standing and drinking chai. If he had to drink chai, I could have done that also, why did he say 2 minutes! @#$ People who make me miss chai are like…

1.25 pm. Driver back. Drives on at 140 kmph. Now I am scared. Is he angry because I showed my anger at Mumbai? Should I call the police?

Me: Bhaiya (in my sugar coated tone), can you pls drive slowly. There is no urgency.

He slows down. To 120 kmph.

After some time, he begins watching whatsapp videos while driving.

Me: !@#$. Which was worse, being on phone, or driving at 140 kmph, or watching videos?

Me: Bhaiya (sweetness personified), pls don’t watch videos while driving.

He complies. Finally lands me home.

2.30 am.

He: madam, see I got you home on time.

Me: (!@#$,) bhaiya, your driving is too rash, but then I am in no state to give you feedback.

5.30 am.

Heart palpitations subside. I drift off to sleep.

6.30 am.

Alarm rings. It is Monday morning. Work day begins.

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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).

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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.

Ossum Assam

Yes, as on this Independence Day, I have to go back home, back to routine and to my work, which eagerly awaits me, and since the lounge was closed at Guwahati airport (the folks took freedom from work I guess), I picked up a coffee and sat down to pour my wrath on paper once again.

Let me start backwards this time. The lows followed by the highs. Maybe the irritation of seeing people misuse freedom still persists. Came to Assam for a flying visit.

Yesterday I was in the mood for some fine wine and dine. But since the other half was a little under the weather, we thought maybe we could just get something delivered. Between us, finding a choice that we both enjoy equally is anyway tough. After some discussion,  (read fight) we zeroed on pizza, that he relishes, and I find blemishes in. Over the course of the next hour, I figured why Guwahati is not Pune. Because things we consider normal just don’t work here. Full of matriotism (why does it have to be patriarchal), also having told the cook also to take a break, 8.00 pm when the hunger pangs started, we thought let us order (Domino’s, half hour, you see where this is going). For some reason could not find the 1800 number for Domino’s, that is fine, let me order online. Went to their site and was trying to specify the location, and then the system went crazy, it refused to recognise my location, whatever way we tried, it refused to deliver at our location. Disappointed, forget dominos’, we will try pizza hut. Fifteen minutes later, we are looking at each other. Pizza hut does not deliver at our location as well. Is there a conspiracy? True nationalism surfaced, I will try KFC. Luck had a day off too, they did not deliver either. How can that be, how is it possible that all these food joints had a special aversion against my location, would deliver 1 km away, but not where I was, in the heart of the city. By this time, I was ready to climb the wall. And I was hungry.

With the hubby’s pressure already high, I took few deep breaths to control mine. Let us order some local stuff from some local shop and drown the sorrow with the Glen. Looked at Zomato, Swiggy , ubereats and the likes of it for food delivery options. After eliminating the clowns mentioned above, very few choices remained, mostly places that looked quite dubious. Ok, let me order some Chinese north eastern variety, being the unpatriotic I was. I chose the first restaurant on the list (was too tired to really care), now where is the order button and the selection button for items, after a microscopic search, could not find anything using which I could order online. Sigh, so decided to fall back to the prehistoric method of calling the restaurant. First number, nobody picked up the phone. Second number, the line was down. All our options gone, I declared tearfully that I did not want dinner any more. (My language being a trifle more powerful like- I won’t die if I don’t eat today)

Thankfully I was convinced otherwise, and we walked to the nearest restaurant and got home something to eat, drowned it in with the aforementioned glen. Solace is, we did not go hungry.

Just two days earlier we went to a very interesting place in the heart of the tea estates- a place called Wild Mahseer. A pre-independence tea estate established in 1875, today converted to a luxurious boutique hotel. A few kilometers off Tezpur, the city with very colourful houses, and too much construction. As a side note, Assam houses are a variety of colour, you can find pinks and blues and purples and greens and various shades of yellow and brown, pretty interesting to see.  Driving through the city, which looked completely under construction with bamboo stuck all around, we reached just around lunchtime.

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our home

Our room was massive with a huge bed, that could tolerate 4 people easily and colonial furniture thrown all around. With a quaint washroom which was large enough to serve as a small bedroom. Feeling quite upbeat, we went down the narrow lane shrouded with greenery to the glasshouse where piping hot lunch was served. The spice just about right, food was not typical oily “hotely” stuff, more like home cooked but with the nice aromas and a solid variety.

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The glasshouse and lunch area

After a nap, the estate manager took us for a tour and showed us the place where “Aamir Khan” had spent a week, we Indians are star struck, we had to go sit where Amir did, take the selfie with the bungalow just to show off. But the place was big and beautiful and spotless clean, with a small golf course outside. it was like we were in a large country manor, somewhere in the highlands. Picturesque!

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The Amir bungalow, literally

Took a walk amidst the sprawling hectares of tea bagaans behind the estate, learnt all the art of how tea is made from the over-zealous manager, who was giving us a crash course in “Tea estate primer for dummies”. After a couple of hours of this, all I needed was a finished product, a cup of hot tea, which was served (yes, believe me) complete with a vintage tea cozy.

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The sprawling tea gardens

Couple of days of being spoilt rotten with the good food and drinks, long walks, with extra doses of sight-seeing, no TV and a backdrop of cheerful green, whichever direction you turn. The weather was far from perfect, humid and sultry. It was not a “doing” holiday, where we had to be constantly on the move, just a “chill” time.

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miles to go

But good times have to come to an end and we had to come back and face the pizza crisis in the noisy city of Guwahati. As luck would have it, the weather was hot and we could not spend too much time in the exploring the history of Tezpur, the bloodied city with its own story of war of Gods and a beautiful princess at the centre of it all.

Since the story is being completed a few days later, all is well that ended well, and I did get a something that looked like a pizza on the flight back.

In the Ghats for a day

When you live in Pune and it rains and you want to get away, there is a beautiful getaway called Lonavala that beckons you. Problem is, it beckons majority of the population around. Net result is chaos.

Last week I got an invite to spend the weekend in a resort at the very top, somewhere in that city and I jumped at the offer. Already dreaming about the rain and clouds and waterfalls and cool breeze, I wondered how to go, since taking the car was not an option. Well, driving on winding broken single lane mountain roads is not something I do very often, but the excuse I have is better- my car was being used by family so…So. I decided to take a train. Not having ridden in a train for quite a few years now, my first thought was, how difficult can it be, it is just about an hour and a few minutes away, with trains almost every hour, all I need to do is reach the station and board the next one.

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A view from the train

But then wiser and saner thoughts prevailed, maybe I should get a reservation. A dialogue with the hubby resolved the situation and he booked a ticket for me. So far so good. Reached the station almost 45 minutes in advance, years of non-practice does that to you. Waited with stamping legs and straining ears at the entrance for about half hour till the platform was announced. Managed to board without any incidents, just observing that the platform was decidedly cleaner than what I was used to in the yesteryears. Provided you don’t look out when the platform ends.

The train was cleaned twice in that small journey- nice. It was decidedly hard to resist the constant chant of “sabudana vada, veg cutlet, sandwich”, but the most interesting was “water pani” which I realised meant plain water and not “chilled pani”. Now, not having travelled this route before, I wondered how I would know my station was arriving and how long would it stop for and will there be enough time to get down. Yeah, I know, I am a totally inexperienced traveler. But outwardly, I was cool, even though I was doing the math in the mind, so many minutes from Pune, shall I ask Siri, what was the last station that went by and so on.., I did manage to get down at the right station quite safely. It is a different matter that after that, I had to climb up and down the bridge multiple times to find the driver. I mean how was I supposed to know “towards the city” didn’t imply towards the platform no 1.

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It is gonna pour

Sitting in the cab, with cool breeze blowing my hair, and rain drops down my cheeks, well, I was smiling away, I had arrived, and the rest was going to be a cool breeze (literally). Till I found traffic jam and jam and crowd and hawkers and no one following traffic rules. Well, this feels just like Pune, I thought with a grimace. Small congested roads, directionless people and honking all around. A little more than an hour, a packet of chips and several bumps and potholes later, I reached the resort.

It was as beautiful and serene as expected. Ah the beauty of a hill top resort when it is raining is beyond compare. Gorging on good food, good company, love and laughter. Even in 45 acres of property, we could find hordes of people coming from the dry state and debating whether to be upgraded to purple from white and other such nonsense. No, this is not a gyan session on Club Mahindra.

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6 am from the balcony
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Ah the colours

A day of relaxation, chai in the balcony, long morning walk, lot of selfies and a huge breakfast spread. We hogged so much, needed to lie down awhile. But then finally it was time to leave. The lime water in the tummy kept bubbling up and down as we encountered the familiar potholes again, somehow kept it from overflowing.

We stopped at the tiger’s point, or was it lion, or jackal, not sure. Some animal, definitely. Any self-respecting hill station in India has to have a Lion or Tiger’s point, and a sunset and sunrise point. Amidst a mass of humanity and cars and a breathtaking view, we too decided to do what the tourists do, walk, eat and click pictures. All around us were couple with the girlfriend perched on the boyfriend’s back, posing away, and few I-am-a-cool-dude guys posing on the cliff edges. Thankfully nobody fell off during our watch. After about an hour of touristy thingy, we followed the bro, the leader, who kept going in weird directions till we realised he was looking for relief and so we hastily retreated and went back to the car, relieved.

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At the animal point

Next stop was Bhushi ghat. Now that is a place, I would absolutely not recommend unless you are drunk and rowdy and enjoy sitting in dirty slimy water and throwing it around on yourself and others. The walk is long and bad, uneven stones does wonders for your back, the place has some broken steps with no railing and a sure chance of falling on the rocks, stairs that lead nowhere and a lot of smelly people sitting in smellier water, on the steps and throwing it around. Just not worth the time. The river on the other side that overflows at times. Not for me.

Came back to downtown, tired and happy and in dire need of ginger chai. Unfortunately, my train mode of transport did not work this time, simply because I did not get a reservation. Too many people, too little time. How will you go back, maybe come to Mumbai with us and then go back Monday. No way, I want to be back tonight. So, a cab, me and a 60 km drive back to home. With memories. And an agreement to go back again, with kids.

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The memory

 

Majuli – बीच मे

Literally meaning- in the middle of. Majuli is the largest river island in Brahmaputra in Assam, almost 50-by-25 kms across, largely populated by the Mising tribe, speaking Mising, weaving stuff and using bamboo.

Phew, Wikipedia can tell you much more by just one click.

When we decided to spend a couple of days in Majuli, I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having done my usual homework.

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somewhere at Kaziranga

The terrain from Guwahati to Majuli, via Kaziranga is interesting, with a mix of potholed roads under the guise of construction, ability to see elephants and Rhinos lazing around (try using binoculars, else they are just a speck). And a horde of two and four legged creatures crossing the highway including but not limited to

  • ducks- full family evening walk with two baby ducks and parents
  • pregnant goats (why was every goat I saw, expecting? I guess it is something to do with fertility)
  • chickens who were not too chicken to cross the road
  • cows
  • elephants
  • and of course, humans who know no better than to cross roads and drivers paying no heed to screeching tires and cursing drivers.

Having reached Jorhat by nightfall, with the accelerometer fooled into thinking we had walked all the way, we decided to spend the night in a dubious hotel where waiters did not understand the meaning of Jain food and that cooking is possible without onions too. And promptly refused to serve us. Sigh, somehow passed the night since our गुटखा eating drivers wanted to leave at 6 am sharp and with a family of 7 ranging from 17 to 70, trust me, it is near-impossible.

The route to Majuli took us through a ferry that takes humans, luggage and two and four wheelers. So 8.00 am saw our cars lined up door to door, while we were all on the ferry roof, holding on to dear life as we sailed across the river. An uneventful 45 minute but photographic journey later, we entered what looked like the Run of Kutch.

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As you enter Majuli

Yeah, you heard me right. It is an unending stretch of white sand, which my brother promptly declared to be quicksand. I was a trifle doubtful as cars and dogs seem to be running fine on the same. The banks rose sharply to about 8-10 feet into this stretch as our ferry eased its belly into a nook made for this purpose.

It is indescribably beautiful. Stretches of white sand, followed by stretches of blue water, wherever you see, warm sun, no human construction, save bamboo huts and boats close by.

We drank in the sights using our cameras and eyes, sipping #AssamRunsOnChai positivi-tea. After about an hour, post a refill and release, we decided to drive into the city.

Majuli no longer felt like an island, a couple of kilometres inland. It looked every inch a normal dirty Indian town, with its full share of Oppo and Coke and Kurkure hoardings. Seriously, these guys are everywhere, including no man’s land.

As we moved past the dirt roads, we could only see bamboo huts on stilts. Since water comes in easily during monsoon, a few kilometres inland, the tribes mostly live on first floor, ground floor being left for scavenger pigs who also contribute to the स्वच्छ भारत अभियान. Toilets have arrived at the village, you can actually see a lone one concealed by a crowd of huts. Shy girls weaving clothes, unruly children playing around, mind you- no men.

Moving on, we crossed the north India in the East, stretches of सरसों के खेत, where the kids had their DDLJ moment. A few brick houses, and lots of bamboo and banana trees later, we landed at our resort. Yeah, the place has a resort, and it was all bamboo. The huts, floor, lamps, tables, chairs, झूला, washroom shower panels, and the toothpick stand. (and we also ate boiled bamboo shoots).

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Our home for the next two days

Lovely place, awesome food, decent service. It was surreal to see nightfall at 4.30 pm, so we decided to light a bonfire, try some local beer (made from burnt husk) and play अंताक्षरी and dumb charades with the kids. All of us middle aged people trying to enact Bollywood movies was seriously hilarious and we had a riot. (The word came to mind as I am writing this, the news on TV is shrieking riots at Pune).

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The DDLJ view

Of course we had teething problems like no lights, no water, specially no hot water, plethora of mosquitoes and red ants.

The city does not have a sunset point (strange, all man defined tourist places ought to have a sunset or a sunrise point, basic qualifier), but a bamboo bridge (yeah, and you can also drive on it) from where you can see the sun set. Not really being subject to the sight of sun setting from the high rises we stay in normally, it was a pretty serene view.

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The bamboo bridge

Next day saw us take a long walk in the woods early morning. A dog with a curled tail discovered us, (couple of them actually) and escorted us through the walk and all the way back to our adobe. Funny fellow, maybe he didn’t want other dogs in his territory.

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walk with the dog

Post local breakfast of curd and jaggery with a fibrous poha kind of stuff, delicious, we decided to go traditional and visit temples. Learnt that the island and its people are mostly self-sufficient. They grow the rice and सरसों and vegetables locally, and just buy the spices.

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the Mising villagers (but they are not really missing)

We had just missed Raas Leela that is quite a well-known three-day fest.  The city has a few Satras which are places of Vishnu worship as well as art and culture. With one showing mask making, some featuring artefacts, and some famous for its dance forms. The only issue was we had to take the shoes and socks off at the gate while the actual places were about half a kilometre in. (why socks?)

One fellow these guys worship is Garuda, whose statues are found everywhere, protecting the gates. The island probably has more goats and cows than humans, you can always see dozens grazing in the fields. Mr Gadkari decided to visit the place a day after us, announcing a sanction of some 330 Cr INR for Majuli development. If only I knew my चरण धूलि would make such a difference, I would have blessed the place long back.

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The Garuda

 

What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

IMG_1963

The girl with the groot tattoo

tattoo

#Bizarre1

She was sitting diagonally across me in the flight.  Adorning a low back gown, quite an unsuitable garment for a flight, of course with a looong slit exposing most of her limb. The gown elegantly showed off a groot-like barren tree tattoo covering the exposed back (hence the backless). She seemed to have a great affinity towards being inked and pierced. I could see another tattoo around her neck extending all the way up to her ears and looking quite like a two headed snake but could not be sure as I could not stare too hard. Couple of more stars were visible on her right wrist. (of what I could see). She had four observable rings, one through her nose, two through her eyebrows and one on her lip. (Maybe more)

Her hair was confusing. Rooted as Brunette, a few centimeters later, became blonde and at the edges turned into a rainbow of greens and pinks. She had several wrist bands, I counted 7. Then she felt cold, and did something pretty funny, took out her jacket and put her arms through it and left the back open, well, (maybe only her arms felt cold, I am just a silent observer). She looked so cult like, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she brought out a dagger and started killing people around. But then this was a United flight and you get dragged out for far less reasons than this. After settling down on her seat, she took out her phone, adjusted her hair, said oats and took a selfie, (seems she had a phone full of selfies as I could see her later watching them narcisstically (the auto-correct insists that I must spell it as sarcastically- which is fine too).

A while before the plane landed, she spent half an hour making up, using a large convex mirror to observe and hide the blemishes better, face, eyes, lips, till she got it done to her satisfaction and certified by a pouting selfie again.

#Bizarre2

On the way to Los Angeles, I had plenty of time to observe the folks around. Wondered who next to choose for #weird

  • The tattooed guy at the metro station, with all four limbs fully tattooed in color.
  • The two guys who walked like one, step in step, one fair and other dark, the white fellow staring at the other in complete adoration, without blinking and without taking eyes away for a second. Unfortunately the duo ran away from the train (in unison) as soon as the guy in uniform came in to check the tickets, so the story ended there, without more ado, or was it duo.
  • The girl driving the sports car on Rodeo drive, wearing nothing save a half open shirt with one leg perched up on the seat, a gymnastic miracle of driving with one foot. Look pretty adventurous, sport.
  • And the award goes to

The big-bad-momma who pulled her child to her knees and gave him four hard spanks, which could be heard several meters away. The howling child, who suddenly stopped howling as he was too scared, and the bad momma held his face hard and shouted at him, scaring him to do her bid and listen to her, whatever the hell she was upset about. My hands itched to give her a similar slap. Nobody at the station objected, the guards around looked away. The platform full of people appeared stunned, everyone looked at her for a bit and then forced themselves to look away, knowing better than to intervene. The train came, they went away, but the resounding echo still lingered and while the child’s bottom may bear the marks for a few hours, his heart will bear the scars forever.

#Bizarre3

This time it was a whole breed. A bunch of people loitering at the airport, with an aura not unlike an Indian railway station. It was the noisiest gate in entire Frankfurt airport. It was a complete cacophony of humanity who insisted on speaking in loud volume at the silent airport and who had to play their whatsapp videos out loud for the world to hear with blasting Bollywood music. And then there was this guy who snored through all this, his torso occupying four chairs, while lot of others were standing, his T shirt well above his swollen torso. We Indians give too hoots about others’ discomfort.

As we boarded the aircraft, I realized, on just how dirty this noisy crowd could be just as I visited the loo. Eieeks, is that how they use it at their homes, tissues thrown all around, basin blocked, loo not flushed, I mean, come on, it is all well documented, well labeled, all you need to do is follow instructions beyond nature’s call as well. But no, Lufthansa is more Indian than India, but still not a part of Swacha Bharat looks like (Microsoft has yet to add the word Swacha in its dictionary, Mr Gates, are you listening?).

By the time the flight landed in India, I deduced that this noisy, dirty crowd was also unruly. The air hostess kept on repeating, please sit down, the plane hasn’t reached its destination yet, please sit down as her voice raised a few decibels, and people just ignored her plea and shouts and displayed their bus-mindset by getting up, and blocking the aisle while the plane was still taxiing in an urgency to get out. I guess we are an overzealous lot, in a hurry to load ourselves and in an equal hurry to unload.

A bunch of 12th standard kids were on the flight and the most laudable and noteworthy joke they cracked was about stuffing a nipple into the mouth of one of the boys as they laughed heartily and loudly at the vision. I just mentally raised my eyebrows, let me forgive them, they know not what they are saying.

The last straw being the Gujju bhai at Delhi immigration just before me, who while waiting suddenly found his voice and shouted to someone standing far away “अरे jignesh bhai, passport तो देते जाओ”.  About 200 people turned and looked at him, while he remained unfazed as he waited for Jignesh Bhai. It is just after I have gone through turbulent and emotional experiences like this when I feel so proud of my fellow countrymen. What a loud covfefe aggressive bunch we are!