Last 7-8 months, living in UP has been a revealing experience for me. I had had my apprehensions about this sea of humanity before coming here. Not that IIM-L undergrads have much to do with what goes on ‘outside’, but I am a person who likes to explore at the grass root level, and I wasn’t without my concerns about what I was going to see over here.
After stopping for a sumptuous Maharashtrian lunch of Bhakhri, Brinjal, Kadhi rice, Lahsun ki Chatni, dal and Pyaaz at a comfortable place before Pune and confessing home about the trip, we landed in Pune. I had been drenched and dried up innumerable number of times. While the moisture goes from your clothes, the dirt which the rainwater carried with it doesn’t. And you only bother to, in fact you only can, wash your face and eyes at the roadside Dhabas.
Thoroughly shivering, I stopped for a mug of hot chocolate in Pune. The receptionist of the mall gave us strange looks. I headed straight to the washroom, and as I looked into the mirror, I knew why that had been so. And I had a sudden, secret two minute crush on my friend for hugging me when she had met me a few minutes back. I wouldn’t hug someone who looked like I was looking now. And never in my life if I were a girl.
It was the second straight night on the bike. Dusk fell as the lights from Pune were left behind. Climbing the Western Ghats, it grew chilly. The socks which had been adorning the tail lights, the shoes slung on the front bumper, and the windsheeter which been tied around the waist all came back to serve their purpose.
Upon the Ghats and later was a journey I do not wish to describe in full detail. There were the two of us riding for well over 24 hours now, now under a thundering Western Ghats rain, over bad, treacherous mountain roads, in the Mumbai Pune highway (and not the expressway) traffic in the night. On top of it was a fog thick enough to facilitate a view of your own shadow formed by your own headlight right in front of you. If you compare our journey to that of the fast bowler’s spell, this was the time when under 45 degree centigrade temperature, Sachin and Sehwag were blazing away at full throttle and there were Chris Gayle, Ricky Ponting, and Kevin Pieterson oiling their willows in the pavilion. With the added clause that one wrong delivery and the bowler, alongwith all his balls, will go for a long, long toss. Full marks to Daddu for his bikesmanship. In terms of real adventure, this was the only patch on the whole trip where we encountered any.
There are numerous ways to enter the huge Megapolis, and a wrong turn can cost you another hour or so in reaching your destination. The road turns ugly on the ghats near Mumbai. Because of so many trucks plying on the road, and not less because of the heavy rains, and not the least because no government gives a shit about mountains and mountain roads, it is often broken. And for most of the way smells sickeningly of oil. Stopping trucks that are hurtling down the hills in the middle of the night under a roaring sky, and asking them for directions was one remarkable feature of this patch.
From the height on the edge of the Ghat, when you first look down on the patchwork of islands and reclaimed land stitching them together lying below, it looks like a forest on fire. So much light that against the darkness of the forested Ghats, it is positively blinding. As we rode towards it, I couldn’t have enough of looking at the sun which is always risen in India’s west. The heart and soul of India’s economy, the city which never sleeps, where lights never go off. Mumbai.
We reached Vashi at around 12. It was Ramzan time, and I got packed a Tandoori chicken from Sion. We reached Narsi Monji after a full three hour bike ride, this time over the still busy expressways and flyovers, dark lanes and lonely bylanes of Mumbai. The hot bath I then had at Sanket’s brother’s flat, after which the entire bathroom was under a layer of gooey blackness, was the best I’ve ever had. After that, the Tandoori chicken was the best I had ever eaten. And after that, the crash on the simple mattress in that cramped students’ apartment in Juhu, resulted in the best sleep that I ever remember having.
I lived a whole life in those 53 hours. A few things I’ll always remember. The shopkeeper in Karnataka who gave us water melon flavoured ‘medium class chocolates’, four for one rupee. The Dhaba owner in the middle of absolutely nowhere, who gave me a tattered chatai to sleep on. And where moisture seeped into the ground due to the rains outside and I practically froze from the cold wave coming in from the earth while I was lying face down on that chatai, using my jacket as a blanket. All this, while Daddu slept on two plastic chairs in the rain outside.
The dhaba owner boy refusing the tip I offered. And telling us to ride carefully as we took leave.
Finding a drunkard crawling on the highway near Solapur, and passing him by. A while later realizing that one simple act of dragging him to the side could have been a possible life saver, and that in our hurry to reach home fast, we had left him for dead from our side. Being condemned to live with that thought for the rest of our lives.
Coming across places called ‘Bhosari’ and ‘Shitole’.
Leaving home from mumbai, all set for a 750 km long journey, and getting wet inside out within the first five. And then realizing that there was no polythene to protect the cellphone, picking up a cover from the drain overflowing nearby and putting the cellphone in it and keeping it in the pocket.
Almost getting stamped upon the highway by a truck gone mad. And a few kilometers down the line, finding out that it actually had stamped a few people to death.
Riding into the setting sun for two days straight, riding into the full moon on the third night.
And on the fourth morning, to finally reach Hyderabad, our new home, riding into the rising sun.
Like the Hindu mythology says, the end itself contains the seeds of a next beginning.
What do I write about my Mumbai bike trip?
What do you write about the British teenage pacer who bowled for two days on a flat Indian test match pitch, and returned figures of 60-20-100-2? Except for the two wicket taking deliveries, the odd half chance which ‘could have been’, maybe one or two misfields, or the odd LB appeals, what did the bowler do, really?
We hit the highway at around five, and were pretty much drenched by six. It were the monsoons, and rains were not something we could make an excuse for stopping. so the sky became our washing machine, and the wind our dryer. I was the smart one here. Wearing sleeveless gym T-shirt over my drip dry track pants, which I had rolled up to my knees. Like the Hindu cycles of births and rebirths, I would get wet, dry up, then get wet and dry up again. There were no such cycles for Sanket, though. Wearing a cotton shirt and vest over his thick denim jeans and jogging shoes and socks, he was accepting with aplomb, and then not letting go of, any of Allah’s offerings.
Well, to each one his own. As long as the other one remains beside you and does not ram you into the truck passing from the side. That’s the first lesson you learn on the road.
We both tend to get a little high on the open roads. The mind leaves behind all the clutter of the corporate life, and the vision is clearer. The thoughts which come gushing in then, are more neutral and plenty, and make for some mind blowing BC. The only problem is that although you are able to soak in the rain, and are able to see the skyline five kilometers to your left and five to your right, and can look up and count exactly how many stars are in the galaxy, and can scream ‘Hey you up there, I’m down here’ without thinking about your manager, other people still are not looking beyond their desktop monitors a few inches away. They don’t have any reason to look up, ‘coz they would only see the ceiling (often false, that too), so they don’t even do that, and thus the computer screen remains their world, and thus…
Conversations like this happen.
Boy: Hey, how’re you doing?
Girl: I’m good. Do you know what time it is?
Boy: Um, hmm, I’ve kinda lost track (Checks his mobile)…yeah it’s around twelve.
Girl: Okay forget it. Where are you?
Boy: Umm, somewhere in Karnataka.
Girl: What? Where in Karnataka?
Boy: Somewhere. Some place you won’t know.
Girl: Okay okay. What are you doing there?
Boy: Right now? I’m lying down, face up.
Girl: Where are you lying down?
Boy: Umm, see there’s this grass on the side of the highway.
Boy: Yeah, so that’s where I’m lying down.
Girl: What? Aniket! ANIKET! ANIKET!
Boy: Hey, hey! Hold it. I’m gonna visit you tomorrow.
Girl: Okay! When do you reach here?
Boy: It depends.
Girl: Depends? On what?
Boy: On how fast we ride the bike.
Girl: Bike? what bike?
Boy: Ohho… tumko to har cheez samjhaani padti hai… what bike can it be? Vahi jispe hum aa rahe hain!
Girl: Aniket! ANIKET! ANIKET!
And this would go on.
If you notice the number of exclamations and question marks on the ‘Girl’ side, and the corresponding lack thereof on the ‘Boy’, you would realize how much was the difference in the states of mind. It’s mind boggling that the conversation actually took place.
Tired of riding slowly in the rains, we slept off in the dorm of a roadside motel, and were on the highway in four hour’s time. While we had been heading west, into the setting sun the evening before (which had made for some awesomeness), and I had sung practically all the Lucky Ali I knew, this was dawn. Time for spiritual, soul stirring Mantra Chanting, and Kailash Kher, and Piya Basanti. And it became a new journey again.
We would pass by a tree, where the birds were a bit lively. The sound of the Royal Enfield, solace to lonely ears in the stillness of the night, was then the roar of a hungry lion intruding into a Wordsworthian pasture, and so we would kill it. And let the birds have their say. We would stop by a hillock I would find particularly interesting to climb, and we would park the bike at the side of the highway and climb the hill. And the gazing at the vast, flat Vidarbha countryside, so covered with young, freshly washed grass shining under the cloud cover, we would smell the air. And then we would do nothing but close our eyes and feel the air filling our insides with all the promise of a new birth, till we felt as if we had been born again.
We would see a mandir, and bow to the one who has made it all.
And then we would move on. It was the most beautiful morning of my life.
It was one o’clock in the night. All through the previous day, people had been closely following what looked at that time to be the strange and increasingly worrisome disappearance of Dr. YSR from over the Nallamalla forests. Sanket and myself, along with Sanket’s cousin were closely following each and every second of coverage of the disappearance over the net, while BCing away to glory into the night. Out of our fertile imaginations, various theories about what could have happened, what will happen next and the reasons for them were emerging.
Out of the blue, Sanket suggested that we went to Kurnool and took a first hand look at the search operations going on. We looked up the search area on Wikimapia, and realized that it was some 100 km farther from Kurnool. Kurnool is some 250 km from Hyderabad. We figured out that the round trip from our home in Kondapur, Hyderabad to the search area and back would take the entire next day. We still decided to go ahead and leave at 2 o’clock in the night, i.e. in half an hour from then. I went downstairs to clean my bike to get it ready for the trip.
It was only then that Sanket’s elder cousin, who had been a party to all the planning we were doing realized that we seriously intended to go. He firmly put his foot down on the plan, saying that there was no way he was going to let us go at 2o’clock in the night to cover 700 km on bikes, in the middle of the monsoon season to the Naxal infested Nallamalla forests on a wild goose chase. We decided to reason with him, but realized that it was futile. So with our tails firmly between our legs, we went to sleep at around 2:30.
As soon as the news of Dr. YSR’s death reached Hyderabad, there was mourning all around. In addition, there were chaos. Congress workers started shutting down shops. They sent home all the public transport and beat to pulp anyone who dared protest. Our managers sent us home as a precautionary measure. Since office had closed for the next day, which happened to be a friday, also, this translated into an extra long weekend for us. Both of us had been wanting to go to Mumbai for some time, so we decided that this was the best time to do that.
We left at around 4:00 in the evening from our flat on Sanket’s Thunderbird. We looked for an ATM to withdraw some cash, but realized that even the ATMs had not been spared the bandh. Similar was the case with petrol pumps too. Along the roads, there were signs of violence. Tyres were burning here and there.
We reached a deserted Allwyn Circle, halted our bike and shouted questioningly over the roar of the Royal Enfield to a lone 7-Seater driver –
Looking us up and down with some curiosity, he pointed out towards what I already knew was the direction on the highway.
We set sail for Mumbai. With exactly Three Hundred and Sixty bucks in our combined pockets and 80 kilometers’ worth of fuel in our tank, with no source of cash and/or fuel nearby, and faced with a situation unprecedented in the history of India due to which we did not have a clue as to how far we’d have to go before we found any of these. But none of it mattered, really.
‘Coz we were on the road. Under the boundless sky.
In the last two posts, I’ve talked about my experiences in Devabhoomi. I argued in the last post about the shortcomings of photographs, and then gave a supporting example.
I don’t deny the importance of photographs. A picture does speak a thousand words. But words themselves have their own significance, and it’s important we keep our words close and not let them get lost in the maze of pictures that we’re bombarded with nowadays.
Here are some things which words cannot do justice to:
Standing at the edge of Parvati river was our base camp, and this was the view of the mountain we were gonna climb. Just looking at it snapped us into euphoria, and if you think that this looks fabricated, cliched, straight out of a picture postcard and so on, you’re not alone. We thought so, too.
From the base camp, we proceeded to higher camps and were put up in tents like these which were located in some clearing in the forests. 10-12 people shared each tent. The tents not only provided for some much needed warmth and protection during the night, but were also witness to some of the most insane, mind-blowing BC I’ve ever seen.
Finding a suitably well-hidden, clean and level spot behind some rock or tree in the mornings was one big ordeal. Here I am suggesting a possible alternative to our group members.
I had climbed this ascent bare handed till about the highest point you can see in this pic, when I was ordered down by our team leader Sanjay Ji. I was proud of my climbing skills, till Ravi (the little pahadi boy beside me in this pic) ran down this slope. I repeat, Ravi ran down this rock. Quite a humbling experience.
This was Zirmi, a paradise nestled deep in the hills. The place was so enchanting that Suneja and I went on to explore this bhaloo-infested valley unarmed and on our own. While climbing back up, I gave Suneja the scare of his life.
Also, this was the place where I got the biggest craving for poetry I’ve ever had. I literally rolled on the groud, beat my fists against rocks, recited one of my self-composed poems to a lady and grabbed a girl by the shoulders and made her listen to some Yeats I remembered after assuring her that the poetry wasn’t intended for her. I could have killed for some Wordsworth or Yeats then. The high wasn’t quite settled till I finally scribbled about a hundred lines of poetry, sitting on a rock which provided a view of the artistry of the clouds…
And while I was writing, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one bitten by the poetry bug. Sitting on nearby rocks were Pradeep and Vishal, scribbling away to glory.
As we took our first step in the snow, our hearts filled with apprehension and overflowed with reverence. The pure whiteness of the snow told me that this wasnt an ordinary place, but a ‘Bhagwan ki Jageh’. I’m not particularly religious, but the shouts of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ spontaneously escaped me as I started walking up this patch. Others around me followed suit, but no, the valley didn’t reverberate with the sounds of our ‘Har Har Mahadev’s. Rather, our sounds just got lost in the vastness of the surroundings.
This stone structure is a ‘Monument of Estranged Love’ created by the humble villagers. The guide told me that if someone who has got estranged from his love prays with a true heart and places a stone on this structure in her memory, God soothes the agony of both the ex-lovers’ hearts. I’ve never had a love which I could get estranged from, but I nevertheless said a prayer and added my stone to the pile. Maybe it’s still there.
The picture shows (from the left) myself, Pradeep and Vivek.
At the height of 15000 feet, only 60% of the amount of oxygen that we normally have in the plains is available. Walking in itself is an ordeal. Here’s Doley Ram, carrying more that 20kg of load on his slender shoulders. And he does this everyday.
Not everybody who comes from the city for a trek in the hills is used to the hills. Kishore just got the life scared outta him while rappling down a slope.
A unique experience we had during the Sar Pass trek was sliding down a hill slope sitting on a piece of polythene.
Here’s one of us, probably Vivek, sliding down a slope.
You are bombarded with snow flakes from all sides as you slide, and it’s impossible to prevent some from entering your shoes. A 4 hour trek to the camp in wet clothes and shoes follows the slide. As Vivek reached the camp, he was in no condition to walk any longer. (click on the pic to fully appreciate the contours).
A trek is only as good as the company you have on it. Here are some of the wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting on the trek. (From the left) Pratham, myself, Shobhit, Rohit, Vishal, Pradeep, Nishant, Vineet.
And finally, a lot of thanks to YHAI without which this trek wouldn’t have happened. And as for the wonderful friends I met, well, it was a pleasure. I’d like every trek of mine to be with the same set of people. Wish it were possible.
And yeah, for the people who were there on this trek, guys, just one last time…
SP 16, BALLE BALLE
Baaki saare, THALLE THALLE!
The last post describes my experiences with the people of Devabhoomi (God’s land) Himachal Pradesh. I’d never planned this post, but then Turbo asked me to write a post describing the trek itself, complete with photographs.
I do not own a camera, and whatever pics I have of the trip are courtesy a few good people I made friends with on the trek. Anyways, pics and cameras have their own limitations. Cameras can catch the snow covered mountains, but cannot describe the reverence I feel when I look at them. They can see the look of the rag-tag pahadi people, but do not have it in them to see the goodness they hold in their hearts. The blast of the mountain wind, the drowsiness of the early morning mist, the strength of the pahadi bidis and even the beauty of the Pahadi women are beyond cameras’ reach.
Here are some things that cameras could never have captured.
We were on a 6km road hike from Kasol to Manikaran Sahib, when it started raining heavily. We had no raincoats and the rain lashed against our unprotected skins. The rain was so heavy that it was difficult to see even ten feet beyond on the road. The soft ground under our feet threatened to give away every now and then, and we shivered in the below 10 temperature as chilly wind blasted against us, threatening to fling lightweights like myself lock stock and barrel into the gushing Parvati river. The hills to our right, and the stalwart Deodar trees covering them all stood surrendered against this fury of nature.
It is under such difficulties that one gets to see a hitherto prohibited side of mother nature. A stark, real picture, different from the benign, modified one one has been made accustomed to. For city dwellers like us, the sheer nakedness of contact, the brutally honest directness of the surroundings might be more difficult to handle than the actual physical sensations. With me, the connection was instant. I was in that all powerful grip of nature, in some different world all by myself; drunk on the surroundings and thrilled beyond words.
We trudged on, and came across a narrow ‘bridge’ that had been drawn across the Parvati river at the side of the road. The river was narrow at this juncture, and as a result its fury seemed to be greater than ever. The old, narrow, weather beaten bridge was charming in a very rustic way, and I simply had to explore it in spite of everything. It was swaying left and right in the storm when we stepped on its wooden boards. Tightly gripping the ropes holding it in place, we tottered, shivering and almost tumbling from excitement, to the center of the bridge. We were directly above the middle of the river now. Clenching the rope tighter in both my fists, I peered down to the river.
And then I lost control.
The excitement, the nervousness, the overpowering feeling to break free and the immense reverence that had been building up inside me for so long, suddenly could not be contained any longer. I gripped the ropes, and looking down the length of the roaring river, facing the lashing rain square on the face, I screamed and continued to scream, for some reason I cannot explain, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’ …
And in that one moment, with the rain slapping my face left and right with all its fury, the wind threatening to take me away with itself, the bridge swaying and the floorboards creaking, and the mighty river flowing white with a deafening roar some fifty feet below me, I pictured in my mind’s eye the passage of the river waters right from the mountains of Himachal, through the plains of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal right till the Bay of Bengal and I imagined that the river waters were carrying my voice along with them. And in that one moment, I felt the whole country reverberating with the sounds of my Jai Bharat Mata…
This incidence took place at Tilalottni, our highest camp. It was at a height of 13,000 feet, where dusk sets in at 6:00 in the evening. It was drizzling but I didn’t want to waste a single moment of the mountain view sitting inside the tent.
Vinay and I sat on a rock some distance from the camp, to avoid the artificial camp lights. At 15,000 feet, this hill was the highest among all the nearby peaks. We were sitting at 13,000 feet and there was nothing except snow above us. Below us rolled soggy, green pastures till the the edge of the hill. The thick green forests and small villages dotting the countryside were in the valley below, out of our sight. From what we could see, there was just the two of us, equally high mountains in front and snow above and grass below us under the boundless sky.
Dragging on the head spinning pahadi bidis to keep ourselves warm, we talked while we looked at the view before us. In the dark background of the formidable, forbidding mountains, white, frisky clouds hovered in front of us, forming and unforming into different shapes. We were deep in conversation, when I noticed small white flakes streaming soundlessly down from behind us. Both of us looked behind, up the hill, and realized that clouds were forming around us. We shut our mouths and looked in awe as the world quickly started getting misty.
Vinay resumed the conversation, but this time I shushed him. I had noticed something else.
I strained my ears to listen. To something. To anything. Anything at all. I whispered to Vinay to listen. Both of us strained our ears as the calm wind wordlessly carried on with its task of creating clouds around us in that virgin territory.
We could not hear a single sound.
The Cloud started to envelope us. Dusk had fallen and the visibility was negligible. I closed my eyes and strained and strained, but except for Vinay’s heavy breathing, I could not hear anything. No sight, no sound. Just the profoundness of silence overflowing everywhere.
I never felt more distant from the world. And I never felt freer.
I love wilderness and open spaces. Any place which offers a horizon unmarred by buildings and establishments instantly makes me feel at peace with myself. Be it the green farms near Agra, the vast, continuous desert sands of Bikaner under a full moon, the endless snow on the mountains of Himachal and the lush green valleys beneath, the infinite waters of the Bay of Bengal and the virgin beaches at the Vizag coast, the rugged, rocky, thorny hill slopes of the Aravalis around my Ajmer, even the simple two lane road which leads from my home to the dozens of villages nestled in the flat pockets scattered among the nearby Aravali ranges. I love it all.
I’ve come to believe, after years of thinking that ultimately it’s your peace of mind which measures the quality of your life. God rests inside every human, and if a person is at peace with himself, he’s living a good life. The people inhabiting the open (mostly rural) spaces, I am of the opinion, tend to be much at peace with themselves, and as such I have high regards for the rural life. It’s a delight to meet people from the villages, and meeting new people is as essential a part of my trip as sightseeing.
In this series ‘Under the boundless sky’, I’ll bring to light my experiences in the above mentioned kind of places and with the people living there. Credit goes to Mr. Ruskin Bond, whose book ‘Tales of the Open Road’ inspired me to pen down such experiences. They’re noting special, these experiences. Just random pickings about common people from everyday life. But then every human is special, and life itself is a great gift!
As the bus rolled, leaving Kullu behind, I forgot all the miseries I’d endured during the night. The Himachal Tourism buses have wooden seats (I’m not joking). The topography is as would be in the hills, with turns at every 100m or so and each sharp enough to pump your bile right up to your mouth. Not much transport is available in the hills, and so the buses often get a bit too full of the handsome Pahadi people. But what takes the cake is the surface of the roads.
A single lane road, which offers the magnificent view of a several thousand feet deep gorge on one side is expected to have been paved with at least some tar; but that doesn’t often seem to be the case. A jolt would come every few minutes, which even minus the three above mentioned factors, would be strong enough to rouse someone like me from deep slumber.
How I spent the night can easily be imagined. But the story doesn’t just end here. Every time I opened my eyes, my miseries would be further compounded with stark jealousy. I was surrounded by the local Pahadi people on all sides, and wonder of wonders! Despite all the turns, jolts, and human pushes, everyone remained sound asleep. Even those who were standing. Some of those who had the privilege to sit were even snoring.
But as the bus rolled away from the rising sun, I forgot all my miseries. The bus was emptier now, and the sight of the majestic snow covered peaks in the distance shot all my fatigue to the four winds. On one side of the road were the continuous hills, some bare and others lush green, and on the other side was the Parvati river, flowing on a trickle, en route to meeting Beas. Ensconced among the hills were villages, full of pretty houses dotted with colourful flowers.
There was no concept of a bus-stop in the villages. As we would pass through a village, every several dozen meters, someone standing at the side of the road would wave his hand and the driver would dutifully, nonchalantly stop the bus to let him hop aboard. A ‘Ram Ram Bha’ji’ would be exchanged and the bus would move on. Just round the corner would be another fellow waiting for the bus, and the process would repeat. I started comparing it to the Hyderabad buses which give precious little time to their passengers even to board and alight, and that too at designated stops. Life, I realised, was certainly calm and relaxed in Himachal. People had time on their hands and didn’t mind waiting for their fellow beings.
The people in the village where we stayed were laid back and relaxed. I doubt if they were even aware of the concepts of deceit and cheating. Once, a group of 5-6 of us tourists had breakfast at a small dhaba. After the meal, the dhaba owner asked us what we had taken. We told him that we’d had 5 omelettes and 6 chais.
“Theek hai bha’ji, 160 rupaye de deo”, he replied after some calculation.
One of us suddenly realised that the tab had actually been 4 omelettes and 5 chais. So we told him so.
“Achchha achchha bha’ji, aapne 4 omelette aur 5 chai li hai,” came the reply, without any sign of any effort to recall anything. “Theek hai ji, 4 omelette ke 80, aur 5 chai ke 50. 130 rupaye de deo…” concluded the nonchalant reply.
Another such incidence occurred as we were checking out of the hotel. We gave the Hotel wale Sardarji 800 bucks. Then again, one of us remembered that we’d given him 100 bucks in advance while checking in. So we told him ki Sardarji humne aapko 100 rupaye de diye the.
As cool as a cucumber, the old Sardarji replied, “Hein ji, aapne mujhe 100 rupaye dene hein? Toh de deo ji!”
“Nahi nahi sardarji, humne aapko 100 rupaye pehle de diye the, aapne hamein 100 rupaye wapas dene hein”
Without as much as ruffling a single hair of his face, and even cooler than last time, pat replied the Sardarji, “Achchha achcha, meine aapko 100 rupaye dene hein! Toh le leo ji.”. With this he produced a hundred rupee note from his pocket, hailed down a passing bus (it wasn’t the bus stand, of course) and bade us goodbye and asked us to come again some other time.
The trip back to Kullu from Kasol was easily the most beautiful trip of my life. The bus was packed as usual, so the conductor asked us to sit on the roof. As I was climbing up the iron ladder, I noticed an inscription at the rear windshield. It said that travelling on the roof was a criminal offence.
On the left side of us for a height of thousands of feet, were the hills, densely forested and lush green in these parts. On the other side was the Parvati river valley, again several thousand feet deep and equally well-forested. With the Parvati river gushing in full-flow after last night’s heavy rains, and the slight drizzle that was there, the weather was just perfect for a ride atop a bus. I broke into ‘Aadat’, to everyone else’s delight, and did an encore on everyone’s request. Here were 5 leather jacketed, cigarette smoking dudes singing rock songs travelling atop a bus and thinking all the time how macho they were.
The bus stopped at some point (which wasn’t a bus stop, of course), and three very old Pahadi men approached it. One of us sniggered that they all looked exactly alike, and the others broke into laughter. One of the men looked up, saw us laughing, and blissfully ignorant that a racial remark aimed at him had caused the laughter, joined in with a smile.
The bus was packed, and there was no place inside to sit. The old men started climbing the ladder to the roof. Alarmed at the prospect of the old men invading our privacy, the guy sitting near the ladder told the uppermost gentleman, as he was climbing up, that there was no room for them there.
The old man, upon hearing this, without a second’s hesitation, told the one below him that there was no room. The second man automatically repeated this to the third, who unquestioningly obeyed and within 5 seconds all three, back on the road, had resumed their patient wait for another bus.
The uppermost man had been just one step below the top. Anyone would atleast have climbed that extra step to check whether what we were saying was true or not. But not these people. They hadn’t even imagined that something could be wrong; that we could lie to them. Their trust had been impulsive, natural. Lie and deceit had probably never entered their system.
Until we came along.