Sunday, December 22, 2013

Udaipur Dairies... Never forgotten!!!

It was a Saturday. Office was supposed to be half a day. The so called “half day”.  My previous company The Hindu, had this ridiculous way of fooling the employees that they are supposed to work only for half a day on Saturdays by allowing the employees to leave only one hour before the usual time. And in-turn the employees used to fool the company by not even working half of what they usually worked. So on one such Saturday, I planned impromptu to go on a short trip all by myself. I like to use the word impromptu but actually the trip was planned two days prior. Location chosen was Udaipur, City of lakes. Also coz it was hometown of one of my best friend, Raghuveer Singh Lodha. “I know,  the name sounds like someone royal, right?? That’s why I call him rags. This de-royals him enough to be my bets frnds”.  Before going to Udaipur I always thought of it to be city of dessert and after visiting it, I would always remember it as a city of beautiful girls. But the main thing about that trip was that it was jinxed from beginning with lots of misadventures, near death experiences and above all to be remembered as one of my most memorable trips ever.

So coming back to the “you-make-me-I-make-you-fool” Saturday of The Hindu. After lunch all seniors used to have a conference call meeting. I slipped out of the office the moment they started the meeting. I know it was not a college, but that’s how I was at my first job, carefree. It was raining heavily outside. Did not expect it to. Hence my ordeal began the moment I stepped out of office. Now with a heavy luggage and a namesake windcheater, I faced the heavy rain in the hope that somehow I would manage to keep myself dry from tip to toe. After some 15 min, I was all wet.

I completed the hour and a half long journey to reach Borivli Bus stand from where I had to board my pre booked bus to Udaipur. Even though wet, the happiness of reaching on time made me forget the harsh time rain had showered on me, literally. I entered the bus tour office only to realize that I had forgotten to carry the money I had kept aside for this trip at my home. I so wished at that moment that if only I had a nagging wife who would have reminded me to take the cash. Never mind. Anyways, you don’t get into bigger trouble to avoid smaller ones, do you? So after forgetting to carry the cash, now I only had to find an ATM and get the money. Mission scout-search-locate-withdraw began. You know guys, in life in later stage; we come to realize that those so called 5 min tasks usually take 20 to 30 min. Like “hey, just 5 min, I will have a shower and have my breakfast”. Or say,” hey, just give me 5 min to complete XYZ report” etc etc. So that day I realized that so called searching an ATM at unknown place in heavy rain with an equally helpless rickshaw guy is NOT AT ALL a 5 min job. It took me a good half an hour and I missed my bus.

Now all the buses were full. So the look on my face when I got a single ticket in a sleeper coach bus was same as that of bride on her wedding day. Emotionally happy. The bus came and I just grabbed my seat cum bed. It’s was a sleeper coach bus you see. So now almost evening and my journey begins to the land of beautiful girls, I mean Udaipur. At around 10:30, the bus reaches some place in Gujarat and halts for the usual refreshment break. After dinner there I return back to my seat only to find a couple loitering on my seat. With extreme curiosity, I ask them to find their own seat. But they claim it to be their seat and a chaos erupts. The cleaner who doubles up as a conductor, came to resolve the issue. The couple immediately produced their set of tickets. When its my turn to do the same, as luck would have it, I lost my ticket. Till this day, I term that situation as the biggest coincidences of my life. Look at it this way. Conductor sitting in Borivili issue 2 tickets for the same seat. Coincidentally one was issued to me. And even bigger coincidence, I lost that ticket at a crucial moment when the fate of the seat was to be decided. Now I am on this bus without a ticket in the middle of a town in Gujarat at 11 pm. It’s a bad situation.

The driver was a genuine guy and he accepted the error of double booking. He allowed me to sit besides him till he could arrange for another seat. And it took 3 hours for another seat to get vacant. Guys, but those 3 hours were undoubtedly an awesome experience. Reason: looking at the road from a drivers perspective. We hardly get time to look at daily mundane jobs from perspective of people who make them happen day in day out. Like, train driver, air hostess, teacher, gym instructor, mall sales person and all. The life is too short to try to fit in everyone’s shoes. But all we need is a perspective. The open wide highway road, the relentless quest to overtake every vehicle ahead of you, the music from cassette player drifting across to keep you alert and the funny stupid conversations with the cleaner. I made few friends and that’s all you need on a trip. After 3 hours, I finally got a seat and just crashed on the bed. I hope you haven’t forgotten that it was a sleeper coach bus. “warna fat se dialogue aayega, yeh bus mein bed kaha se aaya?” Next morning the first view of a beautiful rocky mountain through the bus window. I leaned my body out of the bus window and wanted to scream “HURREY” at top of my voice. Then refrained from it as it looks good only in movies. But still I leaned out of the window and screamed in my mind. But that day I realized that leaning out of any bus window on a highway is a bad idea. The realization happened 3 hours later when I reached my friends place all covered in dirt on my face. The moment I reached my friends place, I noticed that his house was filled with relatives. Ofcourse they were not there to welcome me. Wish they were actually not there. Coz I was at my shabbiest best. But later on I realized an even bigger goof up. It was as if it was a day of realizations. Will come to it later though.

Now one thing I would tell about myself. And I will be frank. I HATE DOG. The HATE word can very well be replaced by FEAR. Meri faat ti hai boss. Ekdum. My friends are live witness and testimony of the fact that I have danced on sofa, only because I was hell scared of the Pomeranian puppy on the floor. That’s the level of scariness I am talking about. So when I reached my friends place, I froze in horror on seeing a giant German shepherd growling and showing his teeth to me. Rather he should have been happy that GOD has sent him a live chewing toy. But he was growling. And that was enough to make me say a small good bye note to all the people I loved, ask GOD for forgiveness for all the sins I committed and picturised one last time how beautiful this world is. But my friend Rags, owner of the dog, came to the rescue. And that was the only moment ever when I did not take him for granted at all. Rest of the time you know how best friends are supposed to be taken for granted. For the rest of my stay, I had to continuously endure the thought of being bitten/ chewed/ attacked/ mauled/ torn apart/ eaten live etc etc by a German Shepherd. As I entered the house past that “dinosaurous” German shepherd, I was to find out another big blooper of the trip. Remember people, when I mentioned earlier about lots of relatives at my friends place. They were actually there for my friend’s birthday. The Birthday which I had so categorically forgotten. And after travelling for 12 hours had landed at his house on his birthday without “ANY GIFT”. Now that’s a goof up you would want to avoid in your lifetime.

Post the dog terror, public embarrassment and personal guilt feeling, I settled in my friend’s room. Had the much need bath and relaxed. My friend has very beautifully decorated houses I have been to. This has nothing to do with the blog subject, but I am sure my friend will feel happy reading this expression of admiration. One more step towards forgiveness for forgetting his birthday. So back to the story. Post the welcome session and moments of relaxation, it was soon lunch time. Oh ya.. Lunch se yaad aaya, I must say one thing, the so called “Dal Bati Choorma”, the famous Rajasthani dish, is way too over hyped.

Now time to explore the city. Now when you are in one of the most beautiful cities in India, what do you do? Try to see maximum of the city beauty, ideally on a bike or something, right? But this doesn’t hold true in case of two young lads who were at peak of their hormonal effects. Definitely we took our 150 cc bike but only to chase around the 80 cc ones. And that’s the beauty we tried to see all day long. And that’s the case in whichever city you are in. The routine was set. And I loved it. Ofcourse city tour was one of the agendas too. Udaipur is a city of lakes. I being from Mumbai, a city which has view of untamed wild water body in the form of sea, the soothing calm beauty of lakes was completely mersmerising. And the Palaces, being in Udaipur, one is sure to end up in city palace. The sweet shops, having a sweet tooth I just hogged on them. The vibrant colours which the city is draped in, the rich cultural heritage the city encompasses, the narrow swift lanes and bylanes  and carvings and artistic nature of every building gives Udaipur all together a heritage royal feel which altogether have a different charismatic experience as compared to the concrete jungle of high rises, I come from. Just didn’t feel like coming back.

During one such day of doing nothing much, me and Raghu were driving in his vintage car. “I have to term his Padmini Premier as Vintage. Who has it these days, except the taxi guys” So 2 “not so” royal lads in “not so” vintage car, (now the interesting part) following 2 chicks on a scooty. Udaipur being a small city, you tend to encounter same faces every now and then. So we had been following these 2 chicks for quite a few hours and were a bit optimistically hopeful too. And then the blooper happens. We decided to take a short cut to encounter them head on with hopes of exchanging actual smileys. Not the virtual ones which kids these days are used too. (Kids now days will put scores of smiley on whats app and FB, but will go stark blank when meeting face to face. Also their LOL’s are only alphabets coz I hardly see people laugh out loud who do maximum use of LOL. Strange) So back to the story. We encounter the chicks head-on for obvious reasons. Our car and their scooty cross paths. And suddenly there is sound of a splash. It was a rainy season and raghu forgot to notice a pool of water on the road. The after effect of this splash left the girls all wet. Shit. I could see my optimistically hopeful chances getting vanished into the thin air. And then came a wave of curses/ bad words. Never ever in my life have I experienced such bad words from the fairer sex. All we could do was to race ahead with full throttle and the 2 “not so polite” girls screaming at the top of their voice. We didn’t venture out for the rest of the evening. But decided to have dinner outside. Only to realize later that staying at home would have been a better idea.

We went for dinner at a local restaurant. Decent one. The restaurant was jam packed and so we had to share our table with another 2 gentlemen, typical practice in India. I must mention that people to the north of India are loud during their conversation. So were the 2 gentlemen. Little did this fact help us in having a peaceful dinner. We were subjected to topics ranging from one guys financial crisis to second guys marital crisis. We had our sympathies with both but more for the guy troubled by his wife and in-laws. I thought that this nuisance was pretty ok as compared to the incident that happened in the afternoon. And then suddenly to our horror, the fan attached to the adjacent wall came crashing right on to our table. With plates being flunged here and there, glass of water getting spilled on the table, wetting our clothes, we still had smiles on our faces, because of the realisation that we were so close to getting seriously injured on head or shoulder and we got saved. The hotel authorities did apologise profusely, but we just wanted to finish the dinner and leave. And we did just that, with thought of heading straight home for we did not want any further mis adventure. But it’s funny how we encounter situations on paths we take to avoid them in the first place. And that’s what happened in next 10 min with another near death experience.

As soon as we came out of the restaurant, Raghu interrupted me with option of having a pan. I waited, thought over it and then negated the option and we headed straight for our bike. We got on the bike, kick started it, and were about to zoom by. All this while I was sitting pillion and was gazing at one of the cow strolling on the road a little ahead of us. A very common site in small cities in India. From my vantage point, I could see that after starting on our bike, we would cross the strolling cow at 90 degree and with just the enough speed, would narrowly cross just before we collide with the animal. A fairly routine thing for motorists on junctions, crossing with animals, people or other vehicles at 90 degrees with fair manipulation to either go first or go later depending on each other’s relative speed. “I hope I am not sounding like I am explaining a chapter of physics here”. But just trying to give an exact picture of the whole scenario. Because what happened next was shit scary hilarious experiences. Our bike was about to cross the cow. And suddenly out of nowhere, a mighty strong muscled bull came charging from behind the cow and mounted her with the same momentum with both his front legs on the cow’s back. For all the non science students, who are still clueless of what I am talking about, the bull was trying to mate with the cow. But such was the force of this testosterone charged animal that the cow and the bull hurtled past us in front with the tail of the bull brushing on Raghu’s face. If our bike would have been a little more ahead of where it was at that moment, we would have got trampled by both the cow and the bull. And I am sure the bull would have given a damn about it. Coz all his mind was thinking about at that time was “you know it”. With enough crap incidents which happened on that day, I rightfully presumed that my quota of misadventures was over. And all that I was left with was peaceful holiday experience. But life is a result of endless permutations and combinations. And sometimes all worst combination is delivered in same trip.

Next day it was same lovely routine of endless chasing through lanes and bylanes of the royal city. Evenings were strictly reserved for sitting by the lake fatesagar and sensible (mostly senseless) introspection of our lives. No sage, psychologist or for that matter God himself can sort the complexities of your life the way a best friend does. Coz they explain you things with weird logic's, and when the logic's fail, they batter you with words, curse you and even beat you to make you understand. But you know it’s worth it. And how can I not mention the gossips. It’s said that only girl’s gossip. But the fact is I feel guys gossip a lot more. The only thing that makes guy-gossips not so girlie gossip is the topics. We guys gossip about hardcore facts. “No pun intended”. For example, we gossip about cars, bikes. What manipulation can you do in those facts? We gossip about girls and their statistics which are visible. So what manipulation can someone bring in those. But girlie-gossips revolve around people’s behavior, style, fashion etc. These topics are never too well defined with constant factor of subjectivity. Hence they irritate. At least to “hardcore facts” loving guys.

So one such late evening of introspection and gossiping around Lake Fatesagar, we decided to return to my friend’s place which is very close to lake. We were also discussing about a secluded spot on the other end of the lake named “Rani Road” which we decided to just zoom by on our bike. “BTW, what were the locals thinking before keeping such a fishy name”. Anyways, so we headed towards that road and after a good amount of ride, reached there. Now remember the logic given by Columbus when he wanted to discover India. Since the earth is round, go around in opposite direction and one can still reach India. Similar logic struck us and we decided that if Rani Road is around the border of the lake, we should reach Raghu’s place within few minutes if we keep on moving ahead in the same direction. So with a bike which was already on reserve for the whole day, we merrily started going ahead on the road notoriously famous for thugs, robbery, rapes, bad road and no street light at all. (And it was a pitch dark). But these factors didn’t bother us as by our calculation, it was going to be a merry ride of just little over 10 min. AND IT WAS NOT.

So while on the bike, in that chilled night on Rani Road, Raghu started narrating incidents for which the Road is famous for. And in full detailed version, he told me about how motorists were killed by robbers for money, road accidents in which cars just rammed bikers and went, of how thugs would stop bikers with barricades and go away with bike leaving people in middle of nowhere, incidents of rapes  etc etc. The blabbering went on and I kept on listening. Then came the stories of ghosts. Slowly and steadily, both the listener and the narrator were getting gripped by fear of unknown. And then suddenly and simultaneously it occurred to us that we had been riding for more than 20 min. And still no end of the road was to be seen even far away. The area was pitch dark with only the headlight of the bike to show the way ahead. Not a single car had passed us for last 15 min. And not a single light to be seen till our eyes stretched. Now the possibility was either we had got on the wrong path or that we had HIGHLY miss calculated the diameter of the lake. Now going back could have been disastrous as we were least sure about the fuel we had in our bike. We needed the bike running to get us out of that place and also headlight switched on. Darkness was scary. So at that time the last thing we would have wanted would be for the bike engine to cease running. AND THE ENGINE STOPPED.

We freaked. Scared out of hell. A stalled bike, pitch dark location, chilled atmosphere, constant fear of unknown treat, no network in cellphones and no help in sight. Fatt gayi boss. Literally. Me and my friend took turns to kick start the bike. And like a silver lining in a dark sky, the bike just started in one of the kicks. The only thing I remember after hearing that sweetest sound of start of engine was zooming on that Rani road with full speed and wind in our hair. The idea was simply to reach maximum distance before the bike gets stalled again. But luckily after more 10 min of speeding, we were on a familiar road within city limited again. That was a big relief and big adventure too. (Which was so close to miss adventure)

During the whole trip, there were many more non mentionable miss adventures. And I guess biggest was waiting to happen at the end. Like an icing on the cake. It was my last day of stay in Udaipur. With a great farewell and due adieu to Raghus lovely parents and not so great adieu to Raghu’s monstrous dog, I headed to bus stand on Raghus bike. The bike was comfortably carrying the load of 2 guys and my 2 bags, one backpack and another small hand bag. As usual I was late. Being late being my trade mark. So we were speeding. On the way I decided to withdraw some cash from an ATM. Stopped at one and it was a quick process , not like the one in Borivili during the start of the journey. We were back on the road towards the bus stand and reached there just in time. With my heartfelt bye to Raghu, I boarded the bus. This time the seat was pre booked without any margin for error. Reached my seat and followed the usual protocol of keeping the hand bag at one corner. And then I realized that something was missing. OH GHOSH!! My backpack which was carrying my camera ( with photos of the whole trip), my wallet (with all the essential crap), my souvenirs etc. How could I be so dumb to have forgotten the backpack in the ATM is till today a puzzle to me? I reached out of the bus window and in a panic mode, shouted at Raghu the distress situation. And in no time he was gone to fetch the bag on his bike. His disappearing figure was like that of a batman on his bike zooming on for a mission. Mission to retrieve the bag. That is, if it was still there in the ATM. Who would not want to take away a bag with camera and wallet and gifts? But my last realization of the trip in Udaipur was that in smaller cities, less people use the ATM as compared to bigger cities. Atleast that was the case I would like to believe. Coz the bag was still there. And waiting at the bus stand with guilt of having been so careless and contemplating the implications of this loss, I was on cloud nine when I saw Raghu coming towards bus stand, riding the bike with one hand and holding the bag high with another to showcase the victory of the mission. That scene simply got inscribed on my mind for ever.

Later on after many years , I realized that more that the happiness of not losing my bag that day, my happiness was more because of coincidence which turned that disastrous moment into a sweet laughable moment. And that trip to Udaipur was full of such coincidences which turned many would-be disastrous moments into sweet memories. I guess that’s all we need and expect out of any trip. That the usual itenary would somehow turn out to be full of surprises and we would have the experience of our lifetime.