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

33 Comments

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  1. I think the ‘Restroom Problem’ has less to do with the public restroom system and more to do with the design of the female bladder.

    Its almost as though that organ has a time delay switch which is flicked to ON at the start of any journey and is not switched off until the destination is reached in 150% of the time originally alotted to the journey itself. Any comments regarding this are usually met with a ‘Only women know women’s problems’ or ‘Getting there is half the fun da!!’.

    However its amazing how the male brain devises a workaround for the trip back by removing all liquids from the hotel room, and demanding that all bladders be fully empty before said return journey begins.

    Is ‘Holding It’ biologically impossible for fairer sex?

  2. Ohh! The tortures continued?

    Tora Bora indeed! *recalls many night journeys in such buses* 😦

    And err, Herr Scudie, are you not Indian?? Have you never ever visited India or traveled along its length? Have you not ever been exposed to the Not Holding it (?), Just Do It and the rest by Indian Males of various ages?

    Or do you mean the male brain-ed bladders are emptied before the journey and then throughout the journey too?

  3. Oh no. I predict a long-winded discussion on call centres servicing Nature corp. I am very tempted to censor Scudie’s comment, but I’ll let this go on a while to see if things get out of hand.

  4. I just chronicled an experience I had while travelling in TN 2 weeks ago. If you feel its offensive in any way, please do censor it.
    Ashok: Perfectly valid. There’s nothing offensive about your comment. It’s just the possibility of it being a bait for subsequent offensiveness from others. I just wanted to avoid a lengthy debate on the relative nephrology of the genders 🙂

  5. GREAT to have you back! I must have checked your blog a million times everyday while you were gone.
    I love siliguri too! I was in Bomdila for a few days (arunachal pradesh) and going to Kolkatta for a few days. I just got off at Siliguri and told my bus’ conductor that I’m not coming back. Best tour of my life. Beats Brussels.

  6. hehe.. why is there a problem doing it in the open? amean, while one does it, the others could be on the lookout and then take turns.. all this toilet planning sounds a bit absurd.. are we really so disconnected from nature?

    also, do you think this could explain why no woman has ever been sent to the moon?

  7. good post, waiting for part 3.
    i have had the great fortune of experiencing bholbho in kolkata and vaalvo in UP as well. in retrospect, manage to see the funny side of things, but hope i dont ever have to be in a ofghaani bholbho. bhy dont u soo the con-doctor for giving you phaals data?

  8. The RfaD soundtrack was a bit too much — that music makes anything sad, just like the Benny Hill theme makes anything funny.

  9. You must have written also about the beauty of the place , but the thing that you were unable to see the fog outside really suggests there were some problems or may be you vowed not to look out of the window I suppose.
    Ashok: The beauty stuff is in part 3 😉

  10. @Aravind: Aussie loos are good – much better than Indian public loos
    @scudie: Very surprised you dont know why women & children cant hold it in. Children have a small bladder & women after giving birth to these brats sustain permanent damage to the muscles used in ‘holding in’ (forget the name of the muscle)

  11. Ha, little did you think that your vacation chronicles would evince discussions on the public toilet sys in Oz, NZ and Ind!

    How many more parts i say? I like joining them all and reading…

    @susu chronicles: that wud be the detrusor muscle…
    Ashok: I was originally inclined towards a four part trilogy 😉 but I think I will condense that to three. One more part, that’s all.

  12. I am one of those miserable females who start missing a loo as soon as I’m out of range of one.
    (I do not spend my time at home in the loo.)
    Yes, this loo-niness has happened post childbirth. As a kid I thought my mom had a problem, now I know mist of us do.
    Wish I’d known you were in Kolkata- would have been thrilled to meet you.

  13. To Mr Scudie – I always thought it was the other way around..men who do not have control over their ladder and are ready to open the pipe anywhere. That is why you see more men in India creating the filthy environment.

    And regarding holding it out, if you had ended up having periods…you would really know the joy of not visiting the restroom for longer time.

    As previous posters already pointed out the problem of Pelvic floor muscles that loose their elasticity with childbirth.

    Then you would have the audacity to post such a comment.

    (P.S. I am not targetting the author or any other male population!!!)
    ——————————————————
    Thanks Krish for pointing out the problems in travel in a funny and ironic manner.

    Nice post. I am looking forward to part 3 of this chronicle.

  14. Hahaha! It would have been more efficient to stay put in Chennai and wait for the tectonic thing to take you to the Himalayas. It would definitely have been cheaper.

    Trilogy in three parts sounds eminently sensible. Waiting for the third…

  15. In my experience. it is we men who have lesser control over our bowels. Women tend to grim and bear it. For men, the nearest bush / forest / river / wall / roadside, depending on the urgency, will do the trick.

  16. Apologies for inundating this page with inane comments, but just wanted to make an observation. The Volvo bus has made a deep impression on the Indian public and entrepreneurs all over the country have done the best they can to address this without actually purchasing a Volvo bus.

    Seen in Bombay and around
    Volgo
    Volga
    Vulga
    Volov
    and my favorite
    Vulvo

  17. @naren
    I think Volvo is to buses as Xerox is to photo-copying.

    @krish
    Wonderful post. Reading about your travails made by day look sunnier 🙂

  18. Pingback: Tsk Tsk « Sottai
  19. Loved the relativistic discrepancy – Moved through time and not through space. Perhaps they should have bent the space or they could have simply stopped the watch. Some vacation you have had!

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