Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dream come true

The bus ride on the way home was... pleasant. It had been three days of not having talked to anyone at work. It was peaceful, not having to worry about making conversation. As the bus stop arrived I put away what I was reading and made my way to the exit. It was eleven in the night, and the stopped bus caused a traffic jam. I got down and made my way along the footpath avoiding the numerous cockroaches that had come out to feed. I tried to count them, but got bored after 60. I was half asleep. The pavement was crowded with people having a late supper from the many roadside food stalls. It was dark, with a few dim street lights here and there. And the warm glow from the stoves of the food stalls. I walked. A decorative string of lights on a closed shop cast a multicoloured glow on the wet pavement. Water flowed from a broken drain pipe, and I didn't care. I stepped through it. A smell wafted into the air. A smell of week old fish frying in month old oil.

I longed for my bed and the warm recycled air blown around by the ceiling fan. I kept one foot in front of the other. And I walked. Standing in the lift, I warily eyed my fellow passenger. A cockroach covering in the corner. The doors opened, and I stumbled forward fumbling for the keys. I unlocked the door and headed straight to sleep. In my sleep I dreamed. And in my dream, I slept. For the last time.

The apartment is eerily silent as I watch myself lying in peace. With cotton buds stuffed into my nostrils and ears. It comes as no surprise to me that I live in an apartment. I hear a sound of muted anguish from beside where I lie. My wife? Perhaps. I tried to put a face on her, but it is difficult to put a face on a person you haven't yet met. But the surprise is the girl who is comforting her. Her daughter? My daughter? The doorbell rings, and one by one people came in to say their goodbyes and comfort those I leave behind. I see a few familiar faces. Old friends, from a time long past. I realise that many of my friends have managed to outlive me, but for a few notable exceptions. The entrance to the crematorium on the banks of Kempambudi lake seems to invite a sense of finality. Or is it Dharmambudi lake? I forget. The final rituals are in progress, rituals that are supposed to bring peace to my soul. I try to get a better look at the people gathered to say their final goodbyes. But I feel myself being drawn away from there, and the faces of the people get dimmer. I am placed on the belt that feeds the ever hungry maw of the electric crematorium, and I slowly disappear from view.

I see myself go up in smoke. I feel free. But it is not freedom. It somehow feels that I am running away from responsibility. That I am leaving behind a job only half finished. But there is nothing I can do about it. I see the ones who have come to wish me goodbye slowly drift away to their homes, to their lives. I watch the only two souls waiting to collect my ashes. I long to reach out and comfort them, but I am slowly drifting away. Reality is calling. That call that can not be refused. The sunshine spilled into the room in all it's warmth at precisely seven in the morning. And the alarm gave it company. I woke up with a smile on my face and the knowledge that all I dreamed would come true one day. I couldn't wait.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A departure from the normal

As I sat in the corner of a sort of shady place in Bylakuppe slurping much sought after thukpa, I tried to recall how I had ended up at this place. The original plan was to end up about 500km east of there. In Pondicherry. But a combination of nature's fury and abject spinelessness had interfered. And so it was, that at literally the last minute, 7am on a drizzly Friday morning, we turned the two cars around and headed west from Bangalore. The first destination was to be a much raved about café on Mysore road. The website for that place claimed it open 24/7. Filled with a sense of a good beginning, and a wonder for what lay ahead, we set off at a good pace towards Ramanagara. But, the café had other things on its mind. It was closed. After much cursing at both the café and the guy who suggested the place, we proceeded towards Mysore. At the entrance to Mysore, an idea. Let's go to Bylakuppe, and the Tibetan settlement there. And why not, it was not as if we actually had a plan. Turning onto SH88, we the travellers, Veena and Kalpana, me, DS (Rahul), P (Vivekanand), Shravi (Shravan) and Monty (that's his real name) looked forward to the drive on the brilliantly twisty road that would eventually lead to Madikeri.

The drizzle, barely noticeable, came in bursts. With fellow driving aficionado, P, drooling at the wheel at the prospect of hitting the apex on every curve, we arrived at Bylakuppe in good time. A peek at the Namdroling monastery and a satisfying meal of momos and thukpa followed. Refreshed and satiated, and with me back at the wheel, we hit the road to Madikeri. It seemed like the logical next stop. The road was just exhilarating. Sharp twisting curves, smooth tarmac, and a close and thick canopy of trees on either side. A light drizzle, just enough to wet the road and colour it a dark shade of grey; a colour made for an evening drive through the mountains, with the bright green of the foliage and the shimmering golden-yellow of the setting sun providing a mind cleansing backdrop. With crash barriers on either side of the road filling me with confidence on these curvy mountain roads, I let go. DS in the back got to work on the music, and started to play a song by Shubha Mudgal and Swaratma. As Shubha Mudgal opened her voice, I opened the taps and left the cares of the world behind.

Finding a place to stay near Madikeri involved us calling every home-stay whose billboards we we saw on the road and asking if they were available. On the 30th of December, our hopes were slim, and we surrendered to a tough search. But Veena came through. After calling several home-stays, and getting more contacts from them, she finally managed to locate a place a few kilometres from Madikeri. A place in the middle of a coffee plantation, and far away from "civilisation". What followed next may best be described as cultured debauchery. A proverbial round table conference. With two confirmed sort-of-sober people who could drive the next day morning, the rest of us discarded all responsibilities. But, there was a catch. This place was available only for that night. We had to clear out the next day. We decided to worry about that the next morning. But morning came much quicker than expected. But, unfortunately not for me. My troubled dreams were filled with sounds of diesel locomotives at full speed. After breakfast the next day, we had to set off. But to where?

DS suggested Mangalore, and I suggested a route via Kasargod. I wanted to avoid NH48 at all costs. With P at the wheel in one car, again drooling at the curvy roads, and me in a state not quite awake, the road provided a very exciting drive. But at places. In other places, the road proved to be some sort of hell. But P certainly enjoyed hitting the apex on every bend. I took the wheel back at a town called Jalsoor, much to P's dismay, as I had heard of the brilliant road that lay ahead. And that was not an exaggeration. Driving on that road gave me goose bumps. And Kasargod came too soon for my liking. After a lunch of the most delectable prawn curry at a place called Hotel Metro in Kasargod, and binging on cheap petrol, we set off on the death trap also known as NH17. We thankfully reached Mangalore before dark. After a brief circus when DS's car refused to start, we stopped off at an ice-cream place called Cherry Square for some much needed refreshments. But accommodation for that night proved to be elusive. As we had nothing to lose, DS asked the owner if he knew of any available place.

He did know of a place which was available. It was his own serviced apartment, not two streets from Cherry Square. We lucked out. Again. After dumping our stuff at the apartment, and a mild refreshment later, we arrived at a pub called Froth on Top. This pub holds fond memories from my college days, and I still believe this is the best pub I have ever had the pleasure to drink at. That I was to spend new year's at this place was just beyond belief. Beer arrived. And it was drunk hungrily. More beer arrived. True we had to drive about 400km the next day via difficult and untested roads over the Charmadi ghats to get to Bangalore. But at that moment it didn't seem to matter. The clock ticked ever so surely towards zero hour. And we waited, glasses in hand. Fireworks started going off around the pub, and revellers on the street drove by, horns blaring. The clock ticked closer. And we raised our glasses. Zero hour dawned, and as we drank MESCOM joined in the celebrations. With a power cut.