The winter was setting in; the sun didn’t burn your skin anymore. On such a lazy afternoon I was enjoying homemade food Maa had prepared so lovingly and painstakingly for me. I was back home after a year and half. And I was enjoying the pampering and all the attention that was showered on me, it was good to be home and relaxing. Living alone can be tiresome at times. But right now things were sailing rather smoothly, I had not a care in the world and I thought no thing could go wrong. But as the old adage goes – “Man proposes, God disposes” – fate unfortunately had different plans altogether for me. And just then I could hear the phone ringing, my father picked it up – there was a call for me from my boss – I was informed. I knew instantly what would follow next. As I feared I had to call off my vacation and report to my H.O. A.S.A.P. that is As Soon As Possible.
So despite my reluctance to tear myself off from this laidback cozy situation I found myself in I had to pack up my bags and get going. Under ordinary circumstances I would have happily boarded a train. But things were different now. I had orders. I should be at the H.O. A.S.A.P. That left me with just one alternative, one mode of transportation – taking the earliest possible flight. The ticket was duly organized but it wasn’t a direct flight, the route was Guwahati – Calcutta – Hyderabad. From Hyderabad I would have to take a bus or a train to my workstation in Bangalore.
I said my Good Byes with a heavy heart, boarded the flight and reached Calcutta exactly 45 minutes later, on schedule. Wait a minute; Kolkata I guess is the right way to say it nowadays. Somehow I always wonder why do we need to change the names of places we are so familiar with, we grew up with. Calcutta seemed smarter, Bombay sounds better than Mumbai as does Madras over Chennai. God knows one of these days New Delhi will become “Nayee Dilli” or something similar. But then these controversial issues certainly make good topics for discussion, Thank God.
Anyway, getting back to where I was – I reached Kolkata by 1.00 p.m. The scheduled stopover was 20 minutes at Kolkata, but we found ourselves stranded there for over an hour. Thankfully the flight took off again, but much to my fellow passengers and my astonishment the flight was diverted midway to Bhubaneshwar. We were stranded again for God knows how many hours! Reasons for the diversion were best known to the pilots, the air traffic control, the authorities and perhaps God! We were kept in the dark, the passengers were not important; we were not informed. Eventually the flight took off again and we reached Hyderabad, the watch showed the time as 11.00 p.m.
The delay was frustrating enough, but there was more in store for me to add my miseries. Waiting for my luggage near the luggage conveyor belt I spied luggage of various shapes and sizes rolling in, suddenly something caught my eye! As I stood there I couldn’t help but make a joke about a dilapidated suitcase with its handle broken coming towards me and gave a slight laugh even as I sympathized with the unfortunate owner. But as the suitcase came nearer and nearer I realized to my horror, that the owner with whom I so sympathized was none other than myself! The airline staff had broken the handle. I was angry. I wanted to yell at the airline authorities and let them have my piece of mind. But regrettably I had other priorities that I had to attend to; the suitcase could wait till later. Alas I had no other choice but to carry the suitcase like a musician would carry his harmonium and left!
Coming out of the airport, I took an auto and asked the driver to take me to the bus terminus. He of course took the longest possible route that he could master, as if he was showing me the “info-tech” city in the dead of the night. I felt like an alien in a new place as I realized the modus operandi of the local transport services – the way the tourist are duped when they come to a new place. Finally on arrival I found the bus terminus to be practically empty. I went into the enquiry counter and inquired whether I could get a bus to Bangalore. The man informed me in a cold matter of fact way that there weren’t any direct bus services at that hour of the night to Bangalore, however, I could get one bus that would cover at least half the distance. Consoling myself that something is better than nothing, I hoped into the half way bus. It was an old bus, maybe older than even my father! We were just seven people in the bus. We took off and the moment the bus was in motion it felt as if it would break all my bones and as if I was riding a horse that had suddenly gone absolute berserk!
We reached a small town around 4.00 a.m. in the morning and if you were to ask me the name of the town, I swear, for the life of me I cannot recall the name. As we reached the terminus the bus came to a halt, I got down and sat on one of the plastic chairs clutching the handbag and with my suitcase sitting next to me. Sleep was of course impossible I couldn’t get a wink. An army of angry mosquitoes came charging towards me, hovered and then attacked me from all sides making my plight all the more miserable.
Soon it was daylight, the terminus with gradually increasing activities seem to wake up. A young lad of about ten years of age walked up to me and asked if I wanted to have my shoes polished. “Polish my shoes?”! After the mammoth marathon, it really didn’t matter whether my shoes shone or not! All that I could think of was to reach Bangalore by hook or by crook. But then I changed my mind. There was something about this lad, which beckoned me – I gave in and he cheerfully started polishing my shoes. I observed he did his work really well; poor chap having to earn his living from such a tender age, I thought. Yet, he didn’t seem to mind. I started narrating my woeful stories of the day to him. He seemed to listen well with the occasional grunt, the nod of his head although, I am sure none of this was of any interest to him nor was it really his business – but he was a really good listener, he made his customers feel good.
The lad really impressed me. I wanted to freshen up and I asked him to look after my belongings for a while, as I reasoned, who else could I ask in this God forsaken place and that too at this hour. Although at the back of my mind, I knew very well that I was not doing the right thing, it was wrong to trust a stranger even a tiny one with your belongings in a strange place. But it was a risk I had to take. To my relief the lad had guarded my luggage like an obedient watchman. After I freshened up I gave him some money requesting him to get two cups of tea… TWO? He looked surprised. “Yes”, I said, “for both of us”. Initially he refused but when I said that he had really impressed and pleased me and that I was thankful for his help he reluctantly accepted it. The caffeine eased my tensed nerves somewhat and I was ready to board a bus to Bangalore again.
At last I reached Bangalore by 10.00 a.m. and resumed my duties A.S.A.P.- back to the grind, the same old routine started. Unlike at home where everything is so laid back, here the scene is just the reverse. Sometimes it seems twenty-four hours in a day is not enough. The most terrible thing about the whole situation is cooking my own meal, as you may well imagine after enjoying homemade food for a fortnight… my cooking skills waned even further! I had to brush upon that too! I swear, this is the only reason why I don’t like living alone. But I am not complaining as I get a lot of space to do my own thing, my own way. Well, let us be philosophical – you gain some and you loose some – that’s life – that’s the way it is!
When I was unpacking the suitcase at the weekend notice the broken handle again. I called the airlines’ office, a female voice answered and I lodged the complaint. She informed me very politely that I should visit their office with the suitcase and they would then look into the matter and do the needful. After I hung up the phone I thought for a while, by no stretch of imagination can one say that the airlines’ office is near my home or for that matter even my workstation. I realized I would have to take a days’ leave from my work just to take the suitcase to the airlines’ office, let alone the expenses involved. The odds were stacked high against me, it was better to be pragmatic and have it repaired myself.
The Commercial Street is quite near my place. I waited for the next weekend and took the suitcase to a small shop, repaired it giving it a much-needed face – lift. It felt good, now I have a suitcase perfectly useable on another sojourn to the Northeast, to my near and dear ones. But, that will have to wait for another day; now I have work to do, please the Boss, and obey his orders.
Its been two years now. I haven’t taken a vacation since my last adventure or was it a mishap?! Whenever I call home, my folks ask me when do I intend to visit them? I hem and haw never giving a direct answer. The very thought of the journey gives me the jitters; I do not know whether to laugh or to cry! I get vivid pictures of the broken handle, the endless delays, the ways of the auto drivers (duping me), the bus ride and the bevy of mosquitoes! Yes, I do prefer to sit back now. And oh yes, I do miss my mother’s cooking, the love and nearness of the family too, very very much.
If I have to another journey again and find myself having to overcome such odds, I’ll definitely put down everything in a journal, record every detail in black and white hoping that it will someday provide some guidelines to innocent travelers who is about to walk into such a trap or at least make a good reading material for some during such a sojourn. I wish them all the very best of luck as I wish myself the same and hope that someone up there will always look after them and not abandon them.