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Road Trip Part 2 May 21, 2006

Posted by espritnoir in Humour, Random Thoughts....

(Apologies for posting this so late…Hope you enjoy this…!)

Afternoon siesta over, all of us men who had stayed behind for the night, decided to get some shopping done ahead of our impending trip to Patan, the town where the engagement was the next day. No ladies or kids in tow, six men – three of us cousins, our two uncles, and one extended family member – decided to explore Baroda in whatever little time we had. So we drove around the market place, looking for sweets to carry for the engagement, and kolhapuri chappals and mojaris (traditional types of Indian footwear) to go with our Indian ethnic wear for the ceremony the next day. One of our uncles, a local, took us to this small dim lit lane, where 3 or 4 footwear vendors had their displays lined up on the pavement. After haggling for what seemed like hours, between the six of us we got nine pairs of mojaris and kolhapuris. I think the guy shut his shop early that night. Shopping in Gujarat without haggling is like killing the joy out of shopping. Gujaratis, like the Chinese, just love a good bargain. I think they love bargaining, more than the sale or purchase itself. I have come to a conclusion that if they don’t haggle, both the buyer and the seller feels cheated out of some great exotic pleasure that they would have otherwise derived from the sale. But I’ll get into that some other time. Time to move on.

One thing I must confess here. There’s a certain thing about small towns that I really like. They always have a unique flavour of their own, a local charm, if you will, that makes it stand out from the rest. Especially to an outsider from a city like Bombay. A metropolis can undoubtedly serve you everything you wanted on a platter, but almost always at an intangible cost for your dreams, a hidden cost that is dearer than the tangible price you pay for it. Bombay can make you emotionally jaded at times. I’m not saying the city hasn’t got a spirit; a true Bombaite / Mumbaikar will never accept that. Scrape off the grime and dirt, and underneath it all, the city is all heart. It’s just that amidst the daily race for survival, the small things get hidden beneath the millions of masks the people have to change everyday. That’s something you don’t have to worry about in small towns. Sometimes, small town do change their original personality and start losing touch with their own identity, and that’s a sad thing to happen. In my opinion, it happened with Pune, though I’m sure more Puneris will not agree. But I don’t see that happening with Baroda. Well, not yet anyways. The quaint little town, like so many others in small town India, seems to have sprung up overnight, instead of being built with thoughtful planning. And as a consequence, it still retains an old town feel and look to it. It may have been possible that only the area I saw in the twilight was that way, the rest of the city may be different altogether. Maybe I will go there again sometime, and write some more about it. Definitely in the winters. No more Gujarati summers for me.

Well, come Sunday, and we were to leave at 5:30 am, but a funny incident (funny, only in hindsight) involving my cousin, the bathroom and an overflowing tap that refused to be shut, and soon threatened to flood the house behind us delayed us by almost an hour. Put six men in a bathroom with faulty plumbing – mind you, none of us have every fixed anything beyond a loose TV remote battery cover in our lives – and suddenly everyone’s an expert plumber. Thirty minutes trying to fix the leak, but no success. Somebody suggested shutting off the main water supply. No such luck, that doesn’t work. Back to trying to fix the tap. Its now an ego struggle between the lifeless tap and the men who won’t give up. Tried stuffing the mouth of the tap with a cloth but the mouth’s too narrow. Back to the wet drawing board we went. In the midst of the chaos, my uncle and cousin managed to knock off the tap with a wrench and spray the water all over the bathroom and beyond, effectively giving the rest of us a second shower. Finally we plugged the pipe with a thick piece of wood, in a move that involved cutting off a branch of a tree in the courtyard, with a Swiss Army Knife! This reduced the flow of water to a harmless trickle. Ten minutes spent congratulating each other on a job well done and passing out the cigars, and twenty minutes cursing the guy who messed around with the tap in the first place, when we finally realized we were behind schedule by over three quarters of an hour.

Finally, 6:40 am on Sunday morning, we left for Patan, where the engagement was to going to start at about 10:30. Four hours to go, and having been told that the distance between Baroda and Patan could be done in 2.5 hours tops, we were relaxed. So, we start off in shorts, t-shirts, and floaters, generally looking like a bunch of yuppies in search of a watering hole on a Saturday night in Goa. We’ll get there and change, no big deal. Well, that was the plan anyways.

So, we were finally off. The journey to Ahemdabad was pleasant, and fast, as it was an expressway all the way through. The fun began after A’bad, where we realized that none of us knew the road ahead to Patan. Well not exactly anyways, we had been asked to ask directions and find our way. So, after the first turnoff out of the expressway, we look around for people to ask for directions. 6 guys, mind you, asking for directions. This is bound to get interesting.

As we pass through ‘The City of Flowers’, Gandhinagar, the capital city of Gujarat, we look around for somebody to ask the directions. First guy we meet, we roll down the windows and ask him for directions. Well, at least my uncle from Bombay did. Let me tell you one thing about my uncle. He is one of the coolest dudes around. Real fun to be with on most occasions. And quite sporting. And claims to speak Gujarati. When I say that, I mean he speaks Gujarati the way people say Arnold Schwarzenegger can act. Ask Arnie goes beyond “I’ll be back”, he’s quite entertaining to watch. Totally unintentionally, of course. Same’s the case with my uncle. He speaks the Bombay version of Gujarati, which is a bastardized mix of Hindi, Marathi with a smattering of Gujarati thrown in as a garnish. It’s miles and miles away from the actual dialect spoken by Gujarati people in remote interiors of their home state.

So, a conversation between my uncle and the locals we meet along the way goes something like this :

Uncle (with a cocky grin on his face, stating “I’ll have us on the right way in a moment”)
Avo, Patan jane mathe kauno rasto che? Rough translation : “Sir, What road goes to Patan?”

Villager : weofpw ejpjwfwfmfmwe j fpwefpw ejewfk wfwjefwekm dk. Saamjhi gyo?
Translation : There is none. My uncle is completely taken aback by the volley of Gujarati that the guys just threw at him. But to save face, he pretends he’s understood everything, and smiles back to him, and says, “Okay, now I know where we are. Move on ahead, and I think it’s the next left turn.”

So, we roll up the windows and move on ahead, hoping that what my uncle “translated” was right. After one and a half hour of asking directions in Gujarati, and driving numerous locals up the wall with our absolute understanding of their language, we were hopelessly sidetracked. At that point, two HUGE truths came and struck us bang smack in the face.

One, this uncle couldn’t understand one word of the super fast-paced Gujarati dialect that these guys spoke!

And two, sleeping in the back seat of the Scorpio, was our uncle from Gujarat, who spoke and by that logic, presumably also understood, the local dialect! In the midst of all our idiocy, nobody had thought of getting him to ask the directions!!!

After individually hitting our foreheads with our hands, the rest of us finally woke him up, and told him what he needed to do. The hero that he is, he put his head up, mumbled something in Gujarati, (and when the other uncle didn’t understand a word that he said, we knew that we had found the right man for the task!), and promptly fell back to sleep again.

A few minutes later, the hysterical ranting of the rest of us brought him around, and he finally got up, and asked some people around for some help. And got us on track. And promptly fell back to sleep.

With all the diversions, and tea breaks and other nuisances, by the time we saw the first milestone, that said “Patan : 20 kms”, it was almost 10:10. The women, who were already at the venue, had been calling us every six and a half minutes, since 9:00 am, trying to figure out where we were. The engagement was about to start in about 20 minutes, and we were still on an isolated piece of road, about 15 kms away! God, were we in trouble!

As we were getting closer to the final destination, horror of horrors, we realized that we were still dressed in almost our chaddi – baniyans, and dared we enter the engagement like that we would most definitely be quartered and killed, first by the girl whose engagement it was, and then what remained would be fed to the dogs by our respective family members.

So, there’s only one thing to do. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. We found the next isolated spot on that road, and possibly for the first time in the history of Patan, six grown men, discarded their yuppie fittings, for ethnic formal wear, about 10 inches off the road! Our modesty was only protected by the limited cover offered by the SUV, and the assorted trees and shrubbery around. I’m sure the couple of locals who passed us along the way, probably thought we were either a bunch of lunatics, who got our kicks out of undressing in public, or a bunch of thugs changing into our costumes before pulling a heist on the local petrol pump. The fact that we stood there in our shorts and ganjis, hooting and waving out to them as they passed us, didn’t help higher us in their esteem either.

So, a result of quick thinking, and making the great wide Patan landscape our changing room, combined with some deft driving on the last stretch of our journey, to avoid some cattle, goats and other assorted four-legged beasts, who came out of nowhere to try and delay us further, we reached the venue with five minutes to spare. From then on, things flowed along smoothly, the engagement went off great. Lots of photos, lots of sweets, and tons and tons and tons of ice cream. I have never seen so much ice cream being fed to somebody as the couple was fed by all the family and friends. In all I think they must have been forced (very lovingly, and all in jest, off course) to gore down about 2-3 litres of icecream. God, if I ever get married in Gujarat, I’ll make sure there is no ice cream on the menu. Or aamras for that matter. At all!

Well, from there on, things were quite sedate. In the evening, we said our goodbyes to the other family, and took proper directions from them to find our way back. Luckily, they gave direction in Hindi, so everybody understood, and we managed to make the journey back to Baroda quite smoothly.

A night halt at Baroda, and the next morning, we left for Bombay. Nothing much to report there. After 2 days of driving in the sun, running around to find chappals, packing gifts, fixing overflowing taps, dressing up on the roadside, too much of icecream and aamras, and of course the engagement, we were all pooped out. All in all it was great fun. When all of us family meets up, there’s never a dull moment, and this road trip was no exception.

The only thing that kind of put a damper on spirits was a news that we got on our way back to Bombay. Soon after we had just crossed over to Maharashtra, I received a phone call from my mom, who had flown back to Bombay the earlier evening, to check up on us. Apparently, a couple of hours after we had left Baroda, some communal tension had sprung up there, and a curfew had been declared in parts of the city. Over the next few days, lives were needlessly lost in the city, as the dark side of humanity raised its ugly head. Sad, how some places and people that seem so simple, and welcoming one day, can suddenly turn into cold and heartless, in such a short time. All my sympathies to the innocents that got in the crossfire.

Well, that’s about that. The wedding’s probably going to take place in December in Bombay, so there may be no road trip. But all of us will be getting together once again, and I’m looking forward to all the craziness then…



1. Anonymous - May 22, 2006

I see you make a habit of being late for peoples’ engagements!! Am somewhat heartened that this is a general trend that doesn’t reflect on me in particular 🙂
Guess Who?

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