(This post has been written for an Indiblogger contest. To know more, please visit http://www.mahindraxuv500.com/ )
In the December of the year 2011 I, dear readers, was a sombre soul. Life held no meaning. Each day was as empty as a Maharashtrian farmer’s stomach, and soon neither the rooster’s call nor All India Radio’s Evening News played out in my mind as separate entities. Reason you ask? Well, now that the exams had ended, I had envisioned a trip to distant lands for a bit of frolic and rejuvenation with some cronies worth their name. These cronies worth their name had however besmirched it by expending all their cash in one night of drunken revelry. The rest, they said, would be essential in securing a ticket back home.
Bloody Momma’s boys.
Anyway, as I smoked one Goldflake after the other while the X-ray-ed bust of John Terry beamed at me from the packet approvingly, I hit upon a link on google. Meditation courses. There was a time when I was roused from sleep kicking and screaming to meditate, which according to me murdered brutally the entire point of meditating, but Mater didn’t seem to give a damn. To rally around something that I had vowed never to do again was, to put it mildly, depressing.
And so it was decided. I would be renouncing all material possessions and earthly enticements for a period of 10 days in some village in Pune. Dhamma Vipassana Centre was very kind not to charge any money for this duration. I informed my folks at home of such an arrangement, lest the centre turn out to be a slaughterhouse dealing in human flesh. And on a cold Monday morning, I left for Dadar, a printout to be shown to the Centre to verify my credentials kept securely in my bag which held a few clothes as well.
I stared through the bus windshield at the heavy bandobast ahead, laid out by the Pune cops for Atal Bihari’s motorcade to pass through, and at the irked commuters getting aggravated by the second, before I tried to make sense of the figures on the print-out.
Nobody could be this stupid, I said. At least not when the intellect in question is mine. Yet the evidence now smirked at me, etched proudly in carbon black upon the A4 remnants of a hapless tree.
A flashback, dear readers? Yes, yes, I was coming to that.
So you see I was on the bus en route to Pune which I had embarked on in Dadar, feeling quite indifferent to the early morning hustle, a co-passenger who requested the window seat (I declined, respectfully of course) and the fact that I had left my I-card in the institute. However, as the bus gradually lurched and braked on the Mumbai-Pune highway, I awoke to the mesmerising beauty of the landscape that played like a reel across the window. Hillocks and knolls dotted with trees of several kinds were to be seen, and in a while I could see the Sinhagad College perched in a valley, baying for its share of existence.
Soon, the city came into view, and I pulled out the printout to look at the various buses and the bus depots I would have to visit. Skirting around several approaching rickshaw-drivers, I made my way for the bus depot and alighted one. The workforce of the city could be seen milling around pumped with vadapavs and chai. What is particularly impressionable about the city of Pune is that it looks like a miniature metro city- appearing like Mumbai only with smaller roads, smaller buildings, giving the impression of a cramped beehive with drones struggling to get breathing space. The heat bore down on me as I dismounted at the Swargate bus depot, immediately enquiring bystanders in bursts of Hindi and broken Marathi as to which bus took the mango Marathi manoos to Markal. It was starting to appear that my broken Marathi was too foul to be deciphered or there was no place named Markal in that region before a kind gent told me to go up to the Pune Corporation Building depot, which is where I would get a bus to my destination.
Sprawling in the limited space that the seats of the bus would provide, I wiped my now copiously sweating forehead and looked at the time. 1 pm. With any luck I would reach there by 2. I was famished, having had nothing to eat the entire day so far. I was immersed in some reverie about me cloaked in Buddhist robes when I noticed that we had been sitting at one traffic signal for the past 15 minutes. Further questioning revealed that the erstwhile Prime Minister of India (who I strongly believe to be a zombie) was to whiz past.
Why not make hay while the sun shines (atrociously, I might add), I said to myself, flipping the pages of the same printout to look for their number and ask for directions. It was while doing this that I locked upon the grievous mistake.
The readers would perhaps remember when I earlier mentioned that time had melted all boundaries between the morn and the eve, so that I lived like a jet lagged individual. Which had led to me coming a day too late. I had not even checked the day properly, simply assumed it to be so. Not the one to despair so quickly (as untruthful as that may sound), I tried all their numbers one by one, each coming out to be wrong ‘uns.
I felt cheated. I felt like battering a co-passenger delivering a discourse about the wrongful expenditures by the ruling elite of the taxpayer’s money. One trip, one outing I sought, to no avail. I thought about how I had always wanted to go to Goa, and in the three years of college life had managed it nil number of times. The first of the motorcade meanwhile appeared, and as the fleet of Ambassadors followed suit, I found myself thinking, why not?
Why not go to Goa alone?
A sudden adrenaline pulsed through my veins, and I flashed a triumphant smile to people nearby, who probably thought I was seeing a politician from afar behind tinted windows for the first time. Hoisting my bag, I launching myself heroically from the open bus door, bruised my knee, dusted off, gave a thumbs up to the concerned Puneris in the vicinity before I took off.
Jahangir was in my thoughts as I lit a smoke and placed my hand on the chilled KF pint, being shielded from the afternoon sunlight by the beach shack I was currently seated in. The poor soul had obviously never been in Goa, or those famous words, “If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here” would have been spoken here. I reminisced the morning when I changed two buses, coursing along the road in the rickety mode of conveyance that shook my already emaciated structure. I remembered the exhilaration as I caught sight of the beach from the windows of the bus, holding promises of unknown adventures, and the heady jubilation felt at having made it here alone.
I looked down upon the waves crashing on to the sands of Anjuna Beach even as an Israeli psychedelic track elevated my consciousness to the highest levels of tranquillity. The foreigners indeed outnumbered the Indians, with a greater proportion of the old and flabby than the young and virile. Even as I watched, a woman rose from the waves and coming up to a lounge chair, removed her top and reclined. The intimacy-starved engineer within me did a double flip, but even then it was asking too much of an introvert such as myself to go and engage in conversation. I kept myself content with watching her and ordering pint after pint of beer, before I decided to go back to my guesthouse to catch a few winks to replenish the energy levels which had been sapped out during the overnight general bogie train journey. I paid the bill and got up to leave.
I turned to look at the addresser, a black, heavily built native with curly hair. I had seen him earlier behind the desk of the shack.
“Want some acid?”
“800 bucks a shot.”
I certainly was interested, and I exchanged the monies for a sugar cube apparently dunked in the stuff, never stopping to judge whether it was genuine. Then I turned to heed to the image of the inviting bed in the guesthouse.
I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye.
That a lone woman should be staying in this decrepit guesthouse was a surprise in itself. That she should display considerable affection for a wild cat perched on my lap was another. I was seated on an armchair in the corridor, a beer and a pack of cigarettes on the table beside, whiling away time after the end of a call from an old friend, who invited me over to Bangalore, which I accepted. She gave a squeak of delight, and in between interjections of ‘awwws’ and ‘oooohs’ hurried into her room, adjacent to mine, and came out with some biscuits. I lowered the feline creature on the floor, where it darted from my grasp for the crumbs.
“You sure do love cats. “ said the suave I.
She beamed a smile, and replied in affirmative. Judging from her accent, she seemed Russian. She brought out a beer and a pack of cigarettes as well and sat down on the chair beside.
We started talking, and boy, did we talk! Hours went by as we conversed about Indian and Russian households, people, writers, literary work, films and personal lives. She had been travelling in India for about a year now, earning through writing projects online. She was a couple of years elder to me. She spoke in broken English, albeit in a very quaint manner, occasionally giggling cherubically in an effort to conceal her inability to spout the proper English word in any phrase.
Presently, the sound of raucous, hyena-like laughter reached us, startling us both.
“Must be the Russians.” remarked she, casually
We laughed. I looked at her, and suddenly I felt an irresistible urge within me to pet her, to cuddle her, to take her with me. A thousand thoughts ran through my head.
“Do you wanna go someplace…uhh…quiet? My room is just across…umm…here.” I blurted out.
She gave me a weird look, before she started giggling again. I gave her an unconvinced smile.
“You are not sleepy, are you?” asked she.
“Oh, umm..no..not particularly.”
Silence hung in the air for a while.
“Well, I-a..now that you mention it…”
“Oh, please don’t let me keep you up.”
We exchanged names and contact details. She shook my hand, before shutting her door with a smile. I looked at the dirty, grimy wood for a while, sighed, and retired for the night.
I looked at H as he threatened a junior, and then at the scared young one, and remarked inwardly at how much H had changed over the past 3 years.
H had become a typical dude of the sorts that inhabit the quintessential engineering college-brash, two-timing, threatening, egoistical sonuvabitch. It was not a matter of judging him; in fact I thought such qualities to be quite essential in surviving this shitty rat infested world, but the H I had bid farewell to after two rigorous years of intellectual training in Delhi had completely vanished.
I had been in this room, hiding, for the past day, from the landlords of this building which had been converted into a private hostel. I was caught loitering in the roof while H went to submit a lab manual on the evening of the same day that I had reached and sneaked into the hostel by a pair of Kannada ruffians, who demanded that I pay them the rent that was due for a few months. Not one to dissent this fortunate case of mistaken identities, I had assured them the payment would be made in 3 days. Since then H had been smuggling in third rate packed food from some shitty establishment that he claimed fulfilled all his nutrition requirements.
The junior left with a bundle of assignments he was to replicate and give back to H the same night. H conveyed that he was going to have to meet his girlfriend the next day to sort out matters that had led to them put their relationship status as ‘It’s complicated’ on Facebook. I sighed mentally. Here I was, a tourist, wanting to behold Bangalore in all its glory, being made to huddle inside a room for the second consecutive day.
It was soon time for the forty winks ritual. It was during this that I was reminded of the acid cube ensconced within my handkerchief inside my bag. Tomorrow, I decided, I was going on a trip of my own.
“Hah! You lose again!” exclaimed H as I neared astride my go-kart. His girlfriend stood nearby, still eyeing him with that look of brainless devotion.
“Hehe! Yeah! Totally felt like Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas!”
“Eh…what? Movie hai kya?”
“Aah, yes…see it if you have time.” I said, climbing out of my vehicle.
Dinner was decided upon, the completion of which led to us dropping his girlfriend back to her hostel. As soon as she was gone, he asked me what I thought of her. I would have told him that she was the most pathetic, dumb and childish creature I had ever set my eyes upon in life, but then realised that both of them were probably made for each other. I told him she was wonderful, using a few more such adjectives so that my appreciation seemed genuine. H seemed happy.
“Tell me something. You seem a bit off today. What’s the matter?” He asked, lighting a fag.
“Abey bata naa.”
“Abey it’s nothing, I had one shot of acid, I did it this morning when you were out. I am still tripping a little.”
And indeed I was, a metallic taste still gnawing at the back of my throat. It had taken about an hour for the effects to show up, until which I had started believing that I had been duped of 800 bucks. It started with involuntary spasms of the joints. A while later the walls started to wobble, and everything around me started to convulse as if alive. Vivid hallucinations followed, and I saw designs, plots, schemes and colours everywhere. I had also started penning my thoughts on the order and hegemony of the world, but to include it in this post would mean effectively saying ‘fuck you’ to the readers, if any of them still remain to read this.
H had returned in the evening, sporting an apologetic countenance. In an effort to make up for his absence he sneaked me out for go-karting, as if I couldn’t have done something like that in Mumbai.
“What the fuck! You had acid!”
“Why the fuck did you not tell me?”
“It was too little bey, one cube only. Too little for the both of us.”
“Dafuq man! I wanted to try it out too! Here I bring you out for go-karting, risking my skin in the hostel, and yo…and you call yourself a friend!”
We reached the room in silence, changed in silence, slept off in silence. I was getting the fuck out of there the next day, whatever it took.
Back in Mumbai, I flung my bag to a corner and threw myself on the bed, famished and fatigued.
Five days, three cities. Not bad, I thought. I had gone to pray but ended up encountering love (well, almost) and ate an acid cube.
So dear reader, (and I say reader because I am quite sure nobody nowadays reads a magnum opus of a blog post such as this these days, and if you do find yourself reading this you are a very gifted individual indeed) now that you have read this complete departure from your normal action packed, drama infused adventure stories, how do you feel? Murderous, I think, more than ready to throw the author of this post off Niagara Falls. Hell, that would be quite adventurous.
Five minutes must have elapsed when my phone rang. My hands foraged sleepily for the equipment on the bed. It was Mater.
“Nothing, just chillin’.”
“I made Khichudi and Payesh for dinner tonight. I remembered how much you like it. When are you coming here?”