Tuesday, August 4, 2009
A turbaned orderly had served starters a little while ago - cheese पकोराs (Pakoras, meaning fresh deep fried snacks) for me and chicken पकोराs for Baba with some extra pieces for Budu, the spoilt brat, who by his food likings appears to be more of a human than a canine.
The everyday stress of running the house off my shoulder – it felt so comforting. I decided to take a small nap till dinner which was still one hour away. The rocking motion of the train was quite soothing - stirring memories of holidays, when I was in school. Summer vacations were announced on the last day of the academic year. That day we would not walk, but fly, with report cards in hand… छुट्टी! छुट्टी!! छुट्टी!!! (Holidays! Holidays!! Holidays!!!)
The happiness was not for getting a promotion to the next class but for been given holidays. And what did we do for the entire period of छुट्टी? We played cards. कोट पीस! (Coat Piece) Oh! How exciting it was when all twelve hands were taken - slapping a coat on the opponent, with jeers and boos.
तीन दो पांच (Three-two-five if literally translated)! What devices were employed to save the ace cards from खींचो (being pulled). The game was so frustrating that it was difficult to sustain for a long time and would invariably end with someone throwing away their cards and disappearing from the site.
And we played twenty nine. What innovative methods were invented for sending secret signals to the partner! How Binadi would get agitated, showing claws and fangs to the cheater! Interesting thing was that she herself never played, but just developed allegiance to someone by standing behind him or her, watching the hand. How the game was massacred at the end by muddling up the cards! But the addiction was such that we would assemble again for the next session.
And how we would forget count of time gossiping with friends in their homes! Our mothers would become happy when we became खट्टी (have a tiff) with each other, as only then we would be available for doing their errands.
My day dreaming was interrupted; someone was knocking on the door.
“क्या है?” (What is it?)
“Soup लाया हूँ” (Have brought soup)
I let him in. There were two trays with two thermoses, bowls, spoons, soup sticks, butter and pepper for seasoning. I poured some in my bowl and gave the sticks to Budu. Baba asked the man as to what time dinner will be served. He said it will take another half hour, as it was being cooked in the pantry car…a special arrangement for the passengers of AC first class. For others it would be supplied by the contractors from outside. It was news to us. So we were getting V.I.P. treatment!
MD had given me a Sidney Sheldon crime thriller for the journey. I took it out, but could not go much ahead as the light was poor. I decided to go back to day dreaming instead.
In the summer season all the families slept out in the open yard in front of our house. We would hear चरर्र मर्र्र चूँ चूँ noise of the bullock carts passing on the main road, loaded with तरबूजा (watermelon), खरबूजा (another kind of melon), ककडी (kind of cucumber), चना हरा भरा (green beans) to the market. The noise could be heard throughout the night. Early morning we girls would collect together as per previous arrangement and take an early morning walk towards Brijendra Swaroop Park chewing the नीम (Neem) stick, spitting all the way, (would it not be called madness in today’s civilized world?) keeping an eye on the सिंगरी hedges for the ripe pinkish fruits.
And those Ice Cream parties, when word would go round that ice cream will be made today at Dadur bari. That day everyone would forget his most important engagement and camp around the wooden ice cream maker. It needed a lot of churning.We all lent our hands turn by turn, with our bowls ready. And when the can was opened, we would jostle like scavengers for a scoop. How heavenly it tasted. Unforgettable!! This treat was repeated – when one passed the board exams with first division.
And the awe inspiring नगाडा of Muharram!! It was terrifying. We would be awakened from our sleep and run towards the gate for watching the procession carrying tajiyas and chanting something like ‘Hassan Hussain Karbala’. In warring tones!
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in, it is open” I said.
A waiter came in with two trays loaded with sealed bowls. Rice, पराठा (fried roti), डाल (dal) सब्जी (vegetable) , chicken or पनीर (cottage cheese) curry दही (curd), रसगुल्ला (Bengali dessert) and a green banana which looked as hard as rock. Baba was getting ready rolling up his sleeves to demolish the fare. Budu was smacking his lips
I am a small eater, with a middle class mentality. Food comes costly these days. Why spoil and waste by pecking from each bowl? I keep the पराठा and the dry सब्जी and rasogolla and return the other bowls untouched so that they would not go to the dust bin. We had one more day in the train, so practicing some restraint was necessary.
Dinner over, now we could go to bed. I was in the lower berth. Baba asked me to put off the light. Budu was with me. Sleep comes easily in a train. Just then I heard a knock on the door.
“अब क्या हुआ?” (What now?) There was irritation in my voice.
Ice cream, madam.
Now who would say no to ice cream, even after having our fill.
He placed three cups on the table, obviously one for Budu. And asked me if I would like one extra as according to him I did not eat enough.
So thoughtful! Such hospitality! I decided to tick ‘excellent’ in the report sheet, which we were given to fill up.
Next day I kept myself busy with Sidney Sheldon. It was quite gripping from the very beginning. By the time our journey ended at Bangalore, I had finished half of it. AD was there on the platform. She got a frenzied hug from Budu, which lasted for too long - attracting people’s gaze. It was early morning. Crowds had not yet spilled on the roads. We passed the state Assembly and more govt. buildings. Very stately! We were in the much heard of Silicon Valley.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Back home from our month long holiday in south India, I am hard pressed by the sponsoring authorities to submit my report. They had conspired to make a memorable trip for us. I use the word ‘conspired’ because it was kept a secret from us till the very end out of fear that I would create some hurdle to sabotage their plan. Month of June was extremely oppressive in Gurgaon and getting away from here did not seem a bad idea, except for one hitch, - Budi. From my past experience I could see problems looming large in front of my eyes. When I tried to vent my apprehensions, MD snapped - “what’s your problem mother? I am going to put him on the train and ‘High Command’ will receive you at the station in Bangalore, so stop thinking negative! And remember you are taking just one suitcase, minimum clothes…as Budu will be another luggage which one of you will have to tackle”.
Meticulous planning it was. I could see hidden hands of AD behind this. She rules supreme in our house. Every one even Baba has to bow down before her wishes. MD often enquired from Delhi about our preparations and packing, to which I invariably retorted back - “What is there to pack?”
One day before the journey she came down from Delhi to find that nothing was done that gave any indication that we were going to travel the next day. She hurriedly assembled a few synthetic sarees and blouses for me, two trousers, a lungi and one photua for Baba. That was all. All Budu’s things - his brush, tick powder, pots and pans were taken, even his poo-poos occupied pride of place in the suitcase. Budu observed the whole operation very thoughtfully.
There were some anxious moments just before the journey as the status of our tickets and berths booked through the computer were still unknown. It was quite unnerving seeing MD making frantic calls to her friends to apply their sources so that we could get confirmed berths. We were told that the railway ministry was being contacted and we felt elated – it kept our hopes alive. Confirmation came at last. How could Mamta Banerjee ignore the plight of two senior citizens, that too Bengalees!! We had to thank somebody so we directed all our good wishes to her.
We came to the railway station. Budu was taken to the parcel room and put on the weighing scale. He weighed 15 kgs only but a ticket meant for big animals was slapped on him. There was no use arguing with insensitive, uncooperative railway men, who derive sadistic pleasure out of harassing people. As the train chugged out of the station, we heaved a sigh of relief. MD had discharged her duties marvelously again. She has high volt energy. One has to see her in action when she becomes Durga and Kali rolled in one. It is not that we cannot fend for ourselves, but when she is around, we just watch her. I thank God for the gift of a daughter.
Budu was quite dazed trying to understand what was happening around him. He was little panicky and insecure, not leaving Baba’s side and was trying to cling to him. Though inside the coupe yet he was not sure about his territory. Orderlies were coming and going bringing this and that. A turbaned man came to welcome us, presenting a red rose to each passenger in Maharaja style. He looked at Budu smilingly. Budu till now was in his best manners. When the T.T. came Budu looked really nervous and hid behind me. How did he know that this man had some powers in his hand? When he came to us Baba showed him all the three tickets. Satisfied, he darted a smile at Budu. This allayed his fears. Now Budu had gained his legitimacy. He was no ordinary person, but was a VIP. He also established his territorial rights over the coupe, which caused some embarrassment to us. Then he started taking his own decisions - who to entertain and who to snub. We were alerted when we saw Budu wagging his tail. What was the matter? We saw a khansama entering with a tray and a tong and sizzling hot red pakoras.
“Starters, Sir! veg or non veg?”
I leave you to imagine the rest.
Monday, September 22, 2008
It sounded interesting.
How far from Haridwar? I asked.
About 15 kms, somewhere midway between Haridwar and Rurkee
O.K. Chottomama, we will do so
We came to a way side restaurant for a quick breakfast but we had no luck as it was too early. The karigars had not arrived yet so we had to make do with whatever was available. Next we started for the prepaid taxi stand and hired a taxi with a two hours break at Kankhal. We had just started on our journey when the phone rang.
Have you started as yet?
Yes, we are on the way.
Patanjali Ashram will be on the right hand side. It’s a famous place and can be seen from the high way…
Yes Chottomama, we have arranged for a two hour’s halt at the Patanjali Ashram
Which means you will be here around 12.30 - and he hung up
I could feel his state of mind…restless…excited and perhaps a little childish.
I glanced at R. She was smiling with no trace of her initial tension.
It was a pleasant drive through lush green landscape and heavy construction work going on. I had read somewhere that the vicinity of Haridwar is going to become an industrial hub soon.
Baba Ramdevji’s Ashram is a sprawling establishment with world class facilities…well manicured lawns, flower beds, fleets of vehicles waiting to be pressed into service, waiting halls, restaurant, hospital and guest rooms for the relatives of the patients. Aayurvedic treatment is offered there. It is amazing how a person can do so much in a single lifetime. Perhaps that is why he has such a huge following in India and abroad. We bought a few souvenirs from the government antique shop and started on our onward journey to Rurkee. The phone rang…R was smiling,Chottomama again.
Where are you now?
We have just started from Patanjali Ashram, now entering Rurkee.
On the left hand side is Rurkee Engineering college, tell your driver to drive on towards Rurkee I.I.T. Enter the campus from the Eastern gate, after driving some distance you will see Saraswati mandir situated on a cross road, drive towards the staff quarters…
As we reached near Saraswati mandir, I spotted Chottomama standing under a tree.
Oi to Chottomama! Driver, stop here! I exclaimed.
The driver invited him to get into the taxi and we reached the professor’s quarters. My cousin brother was spending his summer vacations with his family in Paris. Mamima welcomed us with her usual exuberance. And kept repeating how happy she was to meet us after such a long time. When R bent to touch her feet she got a hug.
Ki mishti meye!
The next twenty four hours we only talked and ate the goodies, Mamima had been planning for the last two days. How wrong I was to think that Chottomama was a man of few words. He had so much to say about his new life in Rurkee, about his son and about his grand daughter, who is a very special child. And I had so much to ask about his March Hospital, founded and nurtured by him with so much of love and care at Tomluk, where he performed all types of surgery on rural patients at a nominal fee - where skill and experience were more important than modern gadgets - where Mamima helped him by multitasking as assistant, nurse, orderly, cook everything. How hard it must have been to leave his dream project in the hands of others.
What kind of world we are living in - where for doing good work one has to face so many hardships.
Mamima seeing no chance of getting me alone, took R with her into the kitchen and every time I looked in that direction, I found them engrossed in deep conversation, that aroused my curiosity.
Next day, while traveling back home, I asked R what was she and Mamima had been talking about.
It was R’s turn – she only laughed.
She is an overgrown child, that was her assessment.
It was my turn to smile
Saturday, September 6, 2008
It could not have been anything better, as we got a room in the OSHO Hotel, just facing The Ganga, giving the best view from the balcony. What else could we hope for, coming without prior booking? But we left Haridwar with a bitter feeling and rude shock not because my purse was picked - leaving me broke, for later I realized that such things are not uncommon in crowded places. The reason of my bitter feelings was about how Ganga is being commercialized by human intervention, exploiting the religious sentiments of the people, who come with their families and small children for the divine experience and educational and spiritual enlightenment.
The fabled sandhya aarati starts behind its scheduled time as the self professed custodians of Ganga make frenzied appeals to the people to donate money taking advantage of the huge number of people occupying the steps of the bank. Aarati is…when an image of Ganga Maiyya is brought out in a palki, for giving a wash with a much heard cassette playing in the background while the last desperate attempts to collect chanda or money continue…The aesthetic beauty of the much hyped aarati is lost in the crudeness of the atmosphere.
Next day I was stunned to find my purse had been cleaned of all its paper notes. Fortunately R’s money was intact so there was nothing to worry about. R was proving herself superior in every respect, bringing the rude realization that with her around I tended to loose my guard. R wanted to have a darshan of Mansa Devi situated on the top of a hill but we had fallen in a trap by paying advance money for two day’s stay in the hotel. So we had one more day in Haridwar.
Next day we selected a secluded bank avoiding the sandhya aarati. Time just goes by like the running water singing, dancing, rippling and sprinting gleefully. So many old memories were coming to mind. A poem learned from mother in praise of Ganga. It ran like this…
Devi Sureshwari Bhagwati Gange,
Tribhuwana Tarini Taral Tarange,
Shankar Mouli Niwasini Vimale,
Mama Mati Rastang Tava Pada Kamale,
Bhagirathi Sukhadayini Matah
Tava Jala Mahima Nigame Khyatah
Naham Jane Tava Mahimanam
Trahi Kripamayee Mamagyanam
Sitting on the banks we tried to imagine Ganga emanating from the jata of Lord Shiva, led by Raja Bhagirathi to liberate the cursed souls of the 60,000 sons of Raja Sagar (Mahabharat). The evening had set in. It was time to leave and we got up much against our wishes. We used to buy our evening meal from the hundreds of stalls that prepared the most delicious vegetarian dishes. R would make me stand at a spot like a statue while she sprinted around in search of the best Rabri that we had got addicted to.
Ganga is the life line of North India. I wish it is left alone and hundreds and thousands of sal leaf baskets with flowers and earthen lamps are not floated by way of offerings to Ganga leaving Ganga pollution free of all kinds. That would be our best offering and way of worshiping her (hope I have not stirred a hornet’s nest).
To be concluded…
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
In answer to some of your questions let me go back to some history. In my childhood days, Ganga flowed past the well known ghats of Kanpur called Sarsiyya Ghat, Parmat Ghats, Bhairon Ghat (cremations took place here), and Massacre Ghat towards Bithoor.
I did not know about Mouni Ghat, as Azadnagar, did not exist then. It was much later - I was in High school then when residential plots were being allotted to the applicants by the Corporation and my father, Haresh Babu, Moni Sengupta Babu and some more friends of my father bought plots of land, dreaming of a retired life on the bank of Ganga, enjoying the fresh air in close proximity of each other.
We lived in Mac Robert Ganj. As a child I would trail behind my Thakuma on religious occasions such as Makar Sankranti, or Solar eclipse, when people would go for a dip in the river. Parmat Ghats were near to our house. Ganga flowed in all its majesty - broad, deep and calm. Sometimes during the rainy season I heard discussions about the rising water level, about how ‘just a few steps remained to be submerged’ and about the impending floods. It thrilled me, thought the elders would be worried. But the water never rose to that extent.
It was the industries of Kanpur that caused damage to the river. The Elgin mills, Victoria mills, Cooper Allen, the tanneries and others were situated on the banks of Ganga and they released their industrial wastes into the river. Sewage was also poured into the river I think. Ganga slowly started drifting towards Unnao. A thin stream remained in Bhairon Ghat, probably with much diligent efforts. Mouni Ghat was an extension of that stream.
In 1972 we shifted to our house which had just been completed. We were all very happy to be living on the banks of Ganga, even though it was a poor shadow of its former self. I remember in those early days, once my mother had a wild idea of taking a dip in the water. But we did not want her to do so. The river had only a mud bank, no concrete steps. We feared that the earth would cave in to the river and none of us knew swimming. But my mother was adamant like a child. At the end the ordeal was completed - we had to bind one end of her sari to her waist and we held on tightly to the other end!
We did not have any house warming ceremony, as my father did not believe in rituals. The house came up with his hard earned money and many sleepless nights, when he typed business letters on his Remington rand when the whole house slept…My marriage was the first auspicious occasion that took place within one month of us settling in the new house.
I confess, I have seen very little of India. Because there was only one destination when children had their school vacations – Azadnagar. Summer vacations, winter vacations and some times Puja holidays too were spent at Dadur bari and as KD says morning and evening rounds with Dadu were part of the daily routine but by that time even that thin stream had disappeared.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Before R agreed to my proposal we had a small debate. Her point was that - as per our family holiday plan we were going to Haridwar with Budi, then why sacrifice staying at Dehradoon for a day and why not visit Kempty falls too? But within my heart, I was not prepared to bypass Ganga without a darshan in anticipation of a future plan. It could be childhood memories, when I had gone to the Parmat ghat with didima once and quite a few times with thakuma, who was a regular early morning bather. I had taken dip standing on the broad stairs along with hundreds of bathers. I don’t know when Ganga had disappeared from Kanpur and had drifted towards Unnao.
I remember, after my marriage when I had returned to my father’s house for the first time, and I had taken my new husband to the Parmat Ghat to have a glimpse of the Ganga. What a disappointment it was, my heart bled with anguish, when my hopes had come crashing…there was no trace of Ganga anymore. The temples, where we would enter after bathing to get a teeka from the priest, wore a deserted look. The bed of Ganga was lying bare, only with yellow sand. I stood there with a vacant look.
It fascinates me when I find Ganga having great likeness, with three stages of human life. Childhood stage - when it descends from the mountain, flowing over the gradients, sprinting, rippling, bubbling with energy, running swiftly, just like the truant child who either runs or falls but seldom walks, then the Middle course when it flows over the planes of Uttar Pradesh serenely, majestically, acquiring the personality of a settled middle age. And the Last Stage - when numb with carrying heavy loads of sand and mud, it becomes sluggish, breaking into hundreds of channels, before entering into the sea, creating the biggest bay of the world - our Bay of Bengal. Don’t we too become sluggish when we almost reach our house after a long walk? Feet not too steady - falling this way and that way - body swaying left and right. Well! I imagine so, you may not.
I knew if I argued with R on the strength of my secret desire, my argument will not stand, so I said – “let’s go Haridwar to make a survey of the hotels, where we could stay with Budi, as we both were quite sure that no posh hotel would accept Budi as guest.”
R saw some logic in my point and sat down to do what she does best, calling hotels, with the help of her guide book She was impressed with one hotel Siddharth, because the person on line spoke in smart English, which is some kind of a certificate in our country of things above the average. A double room booked, she informed that we were reaching Haridwar next day around 1 P.M.
One more job remained to be done - to inform chottomama.. A man of few words, he had left Kanpur for his medical studies in Calcutta when I was just a kid and from there to England. He had returned after many years armed with double F.R.C.S. and rich experience of working in British hospitals…A pucca sahib by temperament, I felt uneasy in his presence, though my chemistry with mamima was excellent. If I had my way I would have liked to give her a big surprise by knocking at her door unannounced.
Chottomama picked up the phone - "arre Umu!!"
Ashbi.. chole aae.. besh moja hobe..
I was relieved but R was not. They were complete strangers to her. She kept asking me questions about them to prepare herself mentally for the meeting.
Next morning we checked out of the Hotel Deep early. Porters were waiting outside to pick up luggage from the outgoing tourists. We hired a porter and came to ‘Clarks’ for an English breakfast of fried eggs, cheese sandwiches and tea. It took us about an hour. I could see our porter waiting outside fixing his gaze on us, shifting his legs from time to time, and surprise! He never grumbled about waiting for so long. His name was Jublee. We came to the taxi stand. Rates were fixed so there was no question of haggling. We hired a taxi upto Dehradoon only and planned to cover the distance from Dehradoon to Haridwar by bus. R wanted to give some extra money to Jublee but after depositing our luggage he had vanished like voo doo. We kept looking for him from the running taxi but he was untraceable. After coming down some distance our driver said he had put his mobile on charge and forgotten to collect that. We could see he was little worried.
“Would it be lost?” I asked.
No chance of losing he said and kept om driving. But I was thinking how can a person engaged in a business manage without his mobile, moreover, how will he focus on driving, his mind straying elsewhere?
For your mobile
I could see a big smile on his face and he happily turned the taxi to recover his cell phone. That was the beginning of a very pleasant relationship between us. He was a good driver and a good guide too. He pointed at a beautiful palatial building on the top of a hill. It was ‘komal palace’ belonging to the ex King of Nepal, King Gyanendra. And some anecdotes… once he was taking a newly married couple to Dehradoon, who had to catch a flight. In the midway he came upon a roadblock. Huge boulders had slid down the hills, obstructing traffic movement. His passengers became nervous for they were sure to miss the flight. But he did not give up, ran to the nearby village, arranged hammers, pickaxes and everybody got down to work .The road was cleared and his passengers reached the air port on time to catch their flight.. He made our journey really enjoyable by his easy and relaxed driving. What a contrast it was from our previous experience two days ago. He insisted on driving us down to Haridwar. So we abandoned our plan of traveling by bus. And reached safely.
Monday, July 28, 2008
It was a beautiful room. It had no front balcony but there was no need. The front wall was made up of glass windows giving an exciting view, freshly made bed with crisp sheets, rugs and a quilt. Quite inviting! Tired as I was from laboriously climbing steep inclines, I hit the bed to enjoy its luxurious comforts. I lay wondering how unpredictably the day had turned out. How disappointed we were with our last room and how gloomy the day had been. R had been cribbing about how that place had some hidden negative energy and how dramatically everything had changed. The golden sunshine had lifted up the curtain of haze, revealing the breathtaking beauty of the majestic mountains, the lush green valleys dotted with colorful tops of the residential houses. We also had a peek into the life of the local people. Children in school uniforms, carrying school bags trudging along the roads - local sherpas carrying loads or small children or old people in their trolleys - way side restaurants preparing to cater to the customers. orders… I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I heard was loud thumping on the door.
R entered, looking excited. She had been to a cyber café to cancel our return tickets. I felt like the earth was slipping away from under my feet. What was she up to?
How are we going back then?
We are free birds now, no tension… Ha Ha! Look MoD, aren’t we leaving Mussoorie tomorrow morning, or you want to stay one more day?
No need we have seen what we wanted to see - besides Mussoorie is not much of a shoppers delight
This means we have gained one extra day, so we have to reschedule our itinerary, for which we need freedom of choice.
So! What are you thinking now?
Let’s have tea first to ignite our dimag ki batti
Tea was ordered. R spread the goodies she had bought at the confectioner. Before leaving she had given me strict instructions to resist from tasting them before tea-time. She was making so much of fuss pouring tea… I was impatient.
R opened the tourist guide, to see what Mr. Ruskin Bond had to say about Kempty falls, an hour’s drive from Mussoorie. …Traffic snarls take away the fun of driving. Picnic spots littered with plastic bags make an ugly sight...
Enough of that, aren’t we called ugly Indians? We can not let the beautiful experience go sour.
More sips into the tea cups. R had a new brain wave.
See MoD, There is Malsi, a forest resort, 15 kms from Dehradoon, there is a deer park, a forest bungalow… A phone number is given, I am going to ring up…
The call was answered by one Mrs. Roy.
“Yes a double room is available” she said
Rs. 1200, per head for one night
And guided tour?
“At your own cost” she answered.
R not entirely satisfied, still asked to book a room for two, in the names of U. Dutta and R. Dutta.. “We will reach tomorrow morning around 11 AM.” And she hung up looking excited.
MoD, we will be in Malsi Forest resort tomorrow, Oh! How very exciting…she prattled
R. put me in deep thoughts...Isn’t tariff too high? Who will provide lunch and supper in the jungle? Are we supposed to carry our food too? And who will be our guide? Are we going with a group or alone? Will it be safe to go deep into the forest with people whom we don’t know? Who is Mrs.Roy?
My fear was not the animals, for they do not hurt unprovoked and are consistent in their behavior, it was humans, we can not trust, especially in India.
There had developed an unspoken, unwritten understanding between us… responsibility for one another’s well being and safety. What face would we show if anything happened due to any foolish action?
R, you cancel Malsi
Now? Mrs Roy, She will wait for us
Let her go to hell, goli mar do
So what is the plan for tomorrow?
Let’s go to Haridwar, straight away from here, and halt at Rurkee at Chottomama’s for one day
R gave her assent. And then we had a hearty laugh at poor Mrs. Roy waiting for her guests. Our floating itinerary had now started taking shape.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
A taxi was hired for the 34 k.m uphill climb, which takes about one hour. After a few kms drive, Doon valley was left behind. We could feel the sudden drop in temperature and see the changing scenery. The Sal forests were left behind with Oak, Deodar and Pine forests taking their place. After about half way up the hills the gradient was becoming steeper and steeper. Buses, lorries, taxis and private cars coming down from the opposite direction were whizzing past. The roads were narrow with hair pin bends and deep gorges on one side. Through out the journey we just could not relax for a moment and remained on our guard sitting up, holding our breath. It was no use telling the driver to drive slowly or cautiously. It was their daily routine. They even play pranks with a known person by coming on his track and then skillfully maneuvering the taxi out. I had a feeling that they enjoy taking risk with lives of the passengers at their mercy. At last the ordeal was over. We reached Mussoorie safely.
Hotel Deep where R had booked a double room for us was situated on a hillock. The interior had many levels and the steep climb to go to the upper floor dampened our spirit. The receptionist came with us to show us our room. It was situated at the end of a narrow corridor. Contrary to what R had been promised on phone, there was no front balcony. It was a foggy day; nothing was visible beyond a few meters distance. R, as I know her, is not the person to make compromises with something substandard. The receptionist was trying to impress upon us that this room would give us a view of the abodes of the celebrities such as Ruskin Bond, Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee, but we were not impressed. We had come to enjoy the beauty of the ‘queen of the hills’ and not concrete houses. The room even lacked in freshness. Grudgingly we settled down and ordered tea. R had now made up her mind. After tea she told me to lock the door and went out to look for a better place. I decided to have a nap. I was woken up from sleep by R calling me from outside. She was back with some refreshments, which we ate for dinner, and news about a better place, where we would be shifting the next day.
It was raining heavily - we could see flashes of lightening. In the night we heard some eerie noises from the other side of the wooden wall, which made us sit up on the bed. We got up early in the morning. I told R about my worries, had we come at the wrong time? Had monsoons already set in here? If so, there could be chances of land slides - we may be trapped. We decided to gather information about the rainy weather. If it persisted, there was no chance of an outing and no view of the majestic mountains. R ordered tea on the intercom. And the bill too.
After a short while, the son of the owner of the hotel, who had answered R’s enquiries from Delhi came to our room, asking why we were leaving so soon. When R explained the reason, he apologized saying that he had been absent and would immediately change the room. But we had made up our mind. After packing up our bags, we locked the room. We had enough time, so we started looking around a bit. Rain had stopped and a bright sun came up from behind the mountains, with a blue sky revealing the majestic mountains. And lush green forests covering the slopes. It was breathtaking, As we were enjoying scenery, the old man (proprietor of the hotel. He had heard that we were leaving) came up to us and started a conversation. He offered us tea. Knowing that we were not happy with our room, he said a deluxe room was becoming vacant after 11 a.m. and we could have it at a slightly higher price. So we agreed to stay on for one more day. Room problem solved, we deposited our bags at the counter and went out to do a survey of the mall.
It was again a steep climb. I was panting for breath, while R kept on singing in my ears - “good for health, you are loosing kilos.” Smell of doshas and fried eggs was wafting in from the roadside eateries. Local small boys and girls were roasting bhuttas on charcoal fire. R bought two roasted bhuttas, which seemed the best treat in the chilly weather. Shops were opening gradually. We wanted to buy a souvenir of local made but were disappointed to know that everything is imported from outside . Mussoorie has no industry but though there are renowned schools started by the British. The hotels thrive on the earnings that they make during the tourist season. The local sherpas work as porters during the tourist season and in the construction sites during the off-season. There was a Tibetan market, where Tibetan women had their stalls selling teeshirts, skirts etc. We did some shopping there and that was all. We had skipped breakfast so we started looking for a good restaurant. Soon a board caught our sight, which said that authentic Tibetan and Chinese food was cooked there. We decided to have a Tibetan meal starting with the soup, it was hot and appetizing. The main course was also tasty. The hospitality was very good
As we came out of the restaurant, the scene had totally changed. The Mall was buzzing with people, small small stalls had sprouted on both sides of the narrow road, a band was playing .We heard that preparations were going on for celebration of some festival. Mussoorie is famous for its confectionaries and the bakeries were attracting the crowd with their mouth watering cakes, pastries, pies… We bought something for our evening tea. Back to the hotel, we were shown our new room. A beautiful one. One side had wall to wall transparent glass panel - giving an open view of the Queen… It was breathtaking! R told me to shut the door and not open to any one until she came back, and she hurried out. I decided to take a hot shower.
To be continued…
Sunday, July 6, 2008
When R said on phone, she needs a companion for a short holiday - my answer was ‘go with friends’. But R said she does not want to spoil her holiday with friends lacking in the spirit of adventure. Then my suggestion was, ‘take Baba’. Baba was consulted. He could not be blamed for not buying R’s idea. After all he is a retired person, not in the prime of his youth and having responsibilities of house management such as payments of bills and of course, Budiboo. He could not be dancing on R’s impulsive tunes. He wisely said, ‘No’. Therefore, I remained her only choice of a companion.
When R suggested Chennai, that too by air, I was floored. A meeting with B and her canine wards, a survey of her P.G. accommodation and the Blue cross animal shelter, some shopping would be quite exciting. Moreover if B moves out of Chennai, going there on a holiday will have no attraction. And from Chennai, a trip to Kanya Kumari could be planned, thus a long cherished desire would materialize. So, forgetting R’s impulsive planning I said ‘yes’. But disappointment was in store for us - air tickets were not available at such short notice.
R was desperate to get out of Delhi and its sweltering heat and muggy weather of June. So, she started looking frantically for other options. It was the peak season, all hill resorts and hotels were booked in advance. But R was not to give up. After some searching on the internet she chanced upon one ‘Deep Hotel’ in Mussoorie which was offering a double room with a front balcony that had an exciting view of the ‘Queen Of The Hills’. After booking return tickets in Shatabdi Express which went up to Dehradun, she triumphantly informed me on phone to get ready for a holiday in Mussoorie.
Instead of being happy, the news unnerved me. My mind was crammed with negative thoughts. Reports were coming about the rainy weather on the hills - landslides may happen or rash driving on the slippery roads may land us in a deep gorge (such incidents are common, even today’s newspaper carried reports of two such accidents in Nainital and Dehradun, which are just foothills). Besides as Baba was not coming, would it be wise to go with R, who does not have an imposing wrestler’s physique to fight if any untoward thing happened? Then I thought of Benaras. How R had conducted the tour like a consummate tourist and had passed Baba Vishwanath’s test by surmounting all the hurdles placed by him. R must have had sensed my lukewarm response, so she kept gauging my enthusiasm level on the phone. And I had to force myself to say that – ‘I am happy…excited…eager…just cant wait…’
Positive thinking brought positive results and I stopped worrying…
To be continued…