How my country helped me to reach the Andamans, in true Indian fashion…!

My insanity for diving has brought me back to Havelock after 2 years. This time, 2 years back, i was learning the ropes of the trade with DiveIndia. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, since then. Has it? Probably. Let me see, I weigh the same, look the same, behave the same with increased irrationality and keep myself sane under the pretext of thinking life will turn better. Or worse. 

So, technically no water has passed under the bridge. Not even to compare with the Narmada waters being released by the dams. 

So here I am, back at Dive India, to polish my skills underneath water. Now, getting here has been a problem. Our country’s international a.k.a national carrier, the Air India, the soulmate of the country’s inherent bureaucratic issues, delayed the Port Blair flight from Chennai by 6.5 hours. Yes, now I can happily add water under the bridge!! Stuck at Chennai airport at 1.15 AM, arriving from a late night flight from Ahmedabad (Air Costa decided to play safe this time), i was looking for hotel options. Now, travellers go ga-ga about the newly built airport, but not me. The infrastructure may be India-class (that’s what I like to call airports in India achieving the National standards. Oh, again, some more water!), there is an absolute dearth of traveller help desks. 

When I asked around, here’s what I get for an answer from a night cop on duty – “Saary Saar, yelp desk wonly Yinternational yairport saar, staaaaaaff prablem saar here, no hear to us saar, no discusion only yimplementation saar! Pleaze kaal da hyotel saar, pick you up here they will saar, ok saar, thank you saar, vannakkam saar!” 

The speed with which the cop said all this and dismissed me in a matter of 6-7 seconds – Even the Rajdhani train will start demanding reservation in the “anything super-fast category”. Also, the side-nodding of the head by the cop when he was saying all this – makes one feel like, imitating it and leaving as it is, having made up one’s mind to understand what he said, whether one understood or not! 

So having understood that the airport wasn’t going to extend its yelp desk services, I called the Radisson Blu, which is conveniently parked near the airport, asked them to send a car to pick me up. (See how conveniently I took the cop’s advice) The car took a longer time than expected. It was heartening to know the chauffeur knew basic English. He apologised for the delay and whisked me away from the yairport. 

On the way to the hotel, I saw the reason for the delay. The road towards the airport is getting built, so are a flyover and the metro rail infrastructure. The traffic was stuck for 5-6 kms together. So, if one is headed to the airport to board an international flight, one needs to leave 4 hours earlier to the departure time. I know what a fuss this can turn out to be in India. Concerned parents stuck in the traffic, going towards the airport to drop their son/daughter – “I told you to get ready early, see now we are stuck here, what will we do if the university does not allow him/her inside the college because he/she missed his flight???” So the payment of exorbitant fees plays no role in making a judgement here. 

Again, some more water. Being a Metro, the only time the city can repair public infrastructure like roads or flyovers is night time. But they fail to understand the Metro is a transit point towards many international destinations. The traffic will get worse, nastier and still no dearth of blaring horns. 

During check-in at the hotel, i was quite put off with the you-dont-know-this?? attitude of the duty manager. Every time, I dared to ask a question, pat came the reply with a tone that would put the questioner’s mind into quandary – should I have asked the question? Well, in his defence, he expects visitors to be returning travellers a.k.a legal guardians of the room they always book at the hotel. In my defence, lessening my purse strings was definitely not worth the guy’s obnoxious treatment. 

Next morning, I succeeded in getting through to the guys at DiveIndia at Havelock – only to know that the last ferry service from Port Blair to Havelock is at 2 PM, the same time of my arrival at the Port Blair airport. Huh! Lesson learnt, Air India, thank you so very much! 

Grudgingly boarding the flight to Port Blair from Chennai, I wondered what other surprises lay in store for a nutcase like me. Stuck in Port Blair, I asked the cab driver, Nagesh, to take me to a hotel of his choice (partly because I wanted him to be on time the next day to board the ferry) which was quaint, small and an extremely non-existent wi-fi, advertised otherwise. Whenever I asked about the status of the wi-fi, there was a standard answer – “Soory Sir, only at reception”. So the other connected routers must have expired out of jealousy. Imagining the boredom facing me, i turned to sleep as the solution, waking up when I thought would be a perfect time for a walk through the market. I had ascertained the weather here beforehand, bringing my trusted umbrella. Rains do make a good scene in the islands, but those single piercing drops on the eye, keep you from thinking straight. 

Returning from the walk, I ordered Room Service – plain dal-rice combo. Ok, water reduction. It serves, to be healthy during such torrid times. So torrid, that I decided to indulge in a little curd. When I took that mouth-watering spoon of curd-rice, the sugar hit me so hard, i hurled a silent abuse. Then I realised, that was yoghurt. I had to pour, not sprinkle, pour salt over the curd-rice to make it somewhat tasty. Dinner saved, healthily. 

Nagesh had told me about the food served by the restaurants in the vicinity, being only vegetarian as there was a temple nearby. How religious. So religious, that the restaurant of the hotel I stayed in, went to the extent of serving fish and non-veg. So this hotel must be just outside the temple’s I-have-you-in-my-sight boundaries. Its like the Lord’s weapon reaches to a very small boundary limit. Apparently, the long hands of the law doesn’t apply to the Lord. 

The next morning, I left the mysterious wi-fi hotel to the jetty, armed with a sandwich to satiate my hunger pangs. I imagined my sandwich to be of all exotic kinds starting with a mashed potato or a veg grilled one. Turns out my expectations were really, really, high. It was three slices of bread, weirdly cut, with jam whitewashed in between. How convenient. For the guy who made these (I aint calling him a cook, let alone a chef, thats like asking Metallica to play pop music), it was a matter of convenience than service. “Bread will be weirdly cut and Jam will be applied like paint, in due course after serious discussion between my I-just-got-up-from-a-slumber-dont-disturb-me head and I-just-got-up-from-a-slumber-why-should-I-exercise hands”. 

The ferry, is a good 10 min walk from the jetty entrance. As Nagesh is unloading my luggage, he hands me a green coloured cloth bag. “You have to do one smaaal work for me, sir, please give this to Saheb at DiveIndia”. (Saheb was my instructor during my learning-to-dive days) We Indians love depending on each other, especially for passing on luggage items. Now when you are manoeuvring the 4-wheel Samsonite suitcase, with the dive kit bag on top, this addition leads to a big quandary. I figured out how to tackle the luggage, when I was disembarking the ferry at Havelock, which means, my over-enthusiastic brain cells were working in the background the whole journey of 3 hours from Port Blair to Havelock! However, that was not what was troubling me. The same brain cells were primarily arguing how quickly the wheels of the suitcase will break into pieces, considering the deplorable approach road to and fro the ferry. Luckily, the wheels survived. And me too. I couldn’t even imagine lifting that Yokozuna. 

When I stepped inside the ferry, i felt pain searing near my ankle. The bolt casing near the steps had cut and made off with my skin. Buggers, no common sense had they, the designers of the ferry. If not in the centre, place it somewhere at the side or the front side. Hunting for Dettol, a boat assistant helped me out. When he asked me the reason of the cut, I explained what happened. Now this is what Indians feel insulted at – never give their workplace a reason of injury/spite/disgusting feeling/crappy behaviour. The look on the assistant’s face was enough for me to grab the cotton and Dettol and disappear, muttering a word of thanks, on the way.

Disembarking at Havelock, i took a good 20 mins to exit, fearing the Yokozuna factor. As I scanned the waiting area outside, for the familiar DiveIndia board, there was none. Out came my cellphone, to enquire. Whilst dialling, i heard a shout – “DiveIndia!!!” I looked up to see a guy dressed in Auto-Rickshaw driver uniform. Well, I thought to myself, the only insane diver in the full ferry, with a delayed flight and a missed ferry, has to be the only person arriving at DiveIndia at that time. Away he went, through the familiar roads of Habelock (as the Bengalis here call it) – there is a new cycle track on the roads, which surprised and impressed me. 

When I checked in, Vikas, the lead instructor, knowing about my situation, arranged for 2 dives, despite the late arrival. So, despite the agony, Indians always have a silver lining in their life, somehow. After boarding a flight on 3rd September 2015 at 2230 hrs, I reached my destination on 5th September 2015 at 0930 hrs. 36 hours of waiting time, a stay at a 5-star and 1-star hotel, varying type of transport modes & varied behaviour of my fellow countrymen. When I dived later in the day, I forgot that it took me 36 hours to reach Havelock & dive, instead I remember the water under the bridge and said, “All’s well that ends well!”

The drifting begins….

Here I am, after a year and a half, trying to complete my mission of getting some meaning of my life. It has been this long for me to get back to writing, so the topic has to be something that catchy, to drag me back to the art of blogging!

Drifting was something I learnt during the movie “Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift”. After watching that, I tried by hook or crook tO drift in any car I drove. This included the car of my parents, which luckily fell to my charms and notoriety of drifting. The cars also included a Hyundai Getz and uptil recently, a Chevrolet Beat.

But how did this nutcase begin the maverick and insane idea of drifting? And whose car? Read on, pirates…

The year was 1997. I was 13 at that time. So for those of you doing the math, I’m 27. My dad, in the summer of 1997, took me out on a drive in our old Maruti 800. This was one of the models before the euro 2 model turned up, so it had a crown atop (other words, a place to keep the luggage at the top). As it would have been, I denied to step outside in such heat (now you know about the lethargy habit). But my pa convinced me to come along.

So I was sitting next to him up front and we soon hit the highway… I had no clue where we were off to! In those days, I loved the gear changing mechanism, so this time around, I tried to change them whenever my dad needed to do the same. I dunno what got into my nut infested head, I started pestering him for the steering wheel, an opportunity to unleash the beast from my adrenaline pumping thoughts.

As all dads, he refused and asked me to stay put. After a while, we were crossing the Narmada dam reservoir bridge – the reservoir construction was nearing finish, the water would be released in a month later. I have no clue what struck him,but he swerved the car around and took the muddy path next to the bridge and we were going down, down, down till we hit rock bottom and the car came to a halt. I stepped out and I found myself staring at the longest canal I have ever seen in my life, through which millions of litres of water started flowing a month later till today.

I was mesmerised. I could hear the imaginary water splashing the sides and raging towards me like the truck in terminator 2 which charges towards the young kid on the bike. The construction workers thought that we were just a bunch off crazy onlookers, but it was turning out to be the Best outing ever.

Finally, my dad turns to me and says,” ok, kushal, I am giving you a chance to drive the car” I was like what! And my insides started jumping with glee!!! I ran to the drivers seat and started the car without seeing which gear it was in….and ye can imagine the lurch it gave. Oh, I am dead, I thought! But pa was fine and he said it’s a car,not an army tank!

And then began the craziest and the best drive of my life. A 13- year old boy with his 48 year old father, driving a Maruti 800 at full speed in the Third gear(!!!!)in the middle of the great, huge and intimidating Narmada canal. It was a scene straight out of a movie, I was screaming with joy and my dad was having the time of his life looking at me enjoying the thrill!

And that is the exact and precise reason why I still drift in any car given to me… The screech of the tires takes me right back to the canal in the summer of 1997!!!! Till now, whenever we cross the canal bridge, my dad always asks,do you remember the scene???

How can i not, though I was the actor in the scene, the direction was his!!!

Cheers!

“Twilight”ing all the way…

Twilight. The time of the day, immediately followed by sunset. The rise of the vampires. The time when Narasimha comes to the defence of Prahlada, to turn the bowels of Hiranyakashipu inside out.

I never really thought about this word, except when there were quite a lot of references to the Hiranyakashipu story. That was the only occasion when i heard it being spoken or even get an inkling of. So when i saw a movie being out, at the cinemas, with the same word as its name, i was intrigued, as to what exactly the film beholds. So i was like, how hard can this stuff be? So i booked the ticket online (yeah, courtesy, bookmyshow.com, which i think doesnt show seats whenever it requires to give its patrons some) and went gung-ho and curious.

Before i booked the ticket, i had a walk-in through the “making” of this movie. I was taken aback, to find that it was a vampire story! Man, i would have to be ready for nail marks on my arms… Anyway, so at the cinemas, while waiting for the vampire to come and bite my head off, i kinda imagined what the storyline would be… would it be the same? some hotshot dracula lands on the ground with a big “thud” and sucks out the blood from the neck. or would it be total bloodshed with the human actor, possessing God’s power (ha ha ha), slaying the dracula into pieces and then saying, “Pity he had to go, after all, only a dracula can kill a dracula…”

Enough of curiosity, i said, BLOODY HELL START THE MOVIE. Let me count the number of victims this time! Enter Kristen Stewart, a very weird teenager, who thinks the word “weird” is something really cool. So this lady joins her Dad in Forks (thats a name of the county, fictional, i hope so.) because she doesnt want to be home alone, when her mom tours with her ever-touring boyfriend.

She joins school, and encounters the Cullens, a family of vampires, headed by a doctor of the county, Carlisle Cullen. At this point, i was like, what the shit! begin the action, just do it, man! and this attitude of mine, this great curiosity, the great expectations was quashed in just three seconds. Enter Robert Pattinson, the quintessential vampire hunk! The chemistry between Pattinson & Stewart when their eyes met, is drooling and sizzling.

After this, I was like its a bloody VAMPIRE ROMANTIC MOVIE! the movie completely deviates from the usual propaganda these vampire movies usually have. For the first time, i saw a vampire playing the piano…! and that too, in a really classic way! they dont sleep, they eat vegetarian (animal blood, that is..) and they play baseball, just to find out who is the fastest! Jesus Christ!

But believe me, the flow of the story is something that grips you not from the start, but when Pattinson enters and blows everyone’s mind. No wonder the girls go drooling over him in public…! The cinematography, the dialogues, the story, the acting, every damn thing is in place and simply rocking. For me, the best scene would be when Pattinson takes Stewart to his home and introduces her to his parents and other siblings. The scene details, how the family is cooking italian food, for Stewart. They watch some cookery show on TV and then cook.

This movie just doesnt make sense to a person who thinks vampires mean only bloodshed and death. After seeing this movie, i believe that a vampire can have a human side to it too. It can give love and affection too. In case i encounter a vampire, obviously i wouldnt be shouting, “BE HUMAN!”

I think the movie just gave a fantastic direction for me to think about the kind of stuff we usually see of hollywood dracula. Totally different and yes, totally maverick style.

The best dialogue, Pattinson saying to Stewart,” I dont have the strength to stay away from you again”. Stewart says,”Then Don’t”. Can it BE any more simpler?

Cheers,

Kushal