Anatomy of a disastrous Indian vacation, part 2

Here is part 1

In the previous episode: After an exciting, fun-filled flight cancellation experience at the airport, Ashok and gang found themselves at the Esplanade bus stand staring at what they were told would be a Volvo. Read on…to find out what it really turned out to be.

Background music plays.

(Break for Gopal palpodi and Ramraj dhoties ads)

The State-of-the-Jamshedpur Tata Bus was in front of us, a dark colossus in the Kolkata twilight. Well, not really twilight, more like halogenbulblight, but it was large, outwardly sleek and conspicuously lacking the lettering “Volvo”. On asking our tout if the Swedish had suddenly changed their phonetic alphabet to where TATA was now read and pronounced VOLVO, he admitted that this was not the real Volvo, but it was, he stated with a patriotic sparkle in his eyes, the Indian Bholbho.

That settled the matter. An Indian Volvo was good enough for us, and truth be told, the bus had an exterior design that suggested a transport that Messrs Zaphod and co would find suitable enough. So we coughed up the rather reasonable Rs 700 per ticket that was demanded and boldly stepped into the Indian Volvo, and that was when the adjective “Indian” transmogrified into “Afghani” because the inside of the bus looked like territory Messrs Laden and co would be rather familiar with – The Tora Bora. A dark, unlighted alley with occasional enclaves for seating passengers was before us, and we met the tired eyes of fellow Kingfisher passengers who had occupied all of the best seats.

We settled into our seats towards the back end of the bus, right above the wheel so that we would have the privilege of running shock absorber test cases for the next many hours. We tested the levers that leaned our seat back and were about to drift off into sleep when it hit us. It was the winter Arctic wind, and before hypothermia set in, I located the conductor and asked him what technological marvel was bringing us the experience of the Arctic at these warm latitudes.

“Sir. This is A/C bus sir.”

Lovely. That was excellent value for money, but a tad excessive, I thought. While the near-death experience of Hypothermia was exciting, edgy stuff, all we wanted to accomplish was to get to Siliguri while not being in a coma. Could he turn it down a bit, I asked.

“Sir. A/C off karne se joothe aur cigarette ka bodhboo ayega”

Ah. So it was either the devil or the deep blue sea, and I was inclined, like any other concentration camp inmate, to choose death by chilling over death by (ob)noxious odours. I came back to my seat and summoned those by-now-asleep brain cells that got me an engineering degree and put them to the task of devising a stop-gap solution to the arctic wind problem we had. They instructed me to round up all the window curtains and stuff them into the gaping hole that was the A/C vent. That seemed to increase the temperature around our seats by a few degrees, and keep us out of cryogenic stasis.

Just 12 more hours, we thought.

At midnight, I woke up to find the bus stalled, and several passengers missing. I got down and was relieved to find them smoking cigarettes and drinking tea from small mud pots. They were also discussing Obama’s economic stimulus plan. On enquiring the geographic coordinates of our current location, I was told that we were just a stone’s throw away. From Kolkata, that is. Alarmed at our pedestrian velocity, I located our conductor and asked him for a realistic estimation of our arrival time in Siliguri. He quoted a time that had mysteriously augmented itself by 2 hours.

“Road kharaab hai saar aur fog bhi hai”

Once the driver was done with his refueling (with Nicotine and Tea), we departed.

Just 12 more hours, we thought.

Several hours later, I woke up to find sunlight struggling with every photon in its body to get past a thick blanket of fog that I optimistically assumed was a result of being close to the Himalayan mountains. I was rudely corrected when a shop sign on the highway (“Pal Jerox”) notified me that we had just crossed the Ganga at Farakka.

I located our conductor again and informed him of this relativistic discrepancy. We seemed to be moving through time, but not through space. At least, not fast enough through space. He issued a frowned-upon programming directive, a GOTO statement that took me back through this post to the line where he had told me – “Road kharab hai saar aur fog bhi hai”. His current estimate for the arrival time was “X – C” where X = The unknown arrival time and C = current time.

Defeated, I notified the women in our gang of the latest developments, and they went through a complicated strategy session that most Indian women must go through while traveling through India – “Restroom planning”. Our society has a comprehensive all-round strategy exquisitely designed to keep women at home – a national obsession with giving birth 9 months after marriage, women-unfriendly workplaces, eve teasing on the roads and an atrocious public restroom system.

We had our breakfast at a dhaba in Dalkhola, crispy fried parathas with aloo gobi gravy. Delicious stuff, amply helped by temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees C. Anything tastes good in cold weather as long as it’s hot.

As is usually the case, time slowed down to a crawl as the bus trundled through the narrow corridor that separates Bengal from its mountainous northern part, and by 3 pm, 19 hours after we had left Kolkata, we walked out of the bus, like convicts being released after a life-term, and got into a Chevy Tavera that was to take us up to Darjeeling.

Rest in part 3.

ps: The background score is my adaptation/re-recording of Clint Mansell/Kronos Quartet’s “Lux Aeterna”, originally the soundtrack for the movie “Requiem for a Dream”. All layers were played on Garageband instruments using a regular Yamaha keyboard and a MIDI interface. I wanted to add some sort of a Natabhairavi layer on top of the G minor scale, but was too lazy to do it. Any of you musicians want to play around/remix this with other things, I’ve uploaded it to Jamglue