26th October 2006: Bus to Nowhere
Seated in the mosquito-ridden soggy midnight bus, I reminded myself that this was a vacation. She was dozing off in the seat nearby, trying to rest her tired self. What else would you expect from a girl who sprinted across Chennai Central, like a shrieking hysterical madwoman, in the pouring rain—drenched—in search of an ATM? We were inside a luxury coach that played movies for the viewing pleasure of the overnight-journey passengers. The scenes from the highly dramatized movie were deplorable.
Two poor kids are standing in front of their dead father and sobbing. They are so poor that they do not have enough firewood to cremate the body. Drama sees new heights when one of the kids has a brainwave and uproots their neighbor’s fence for firewood! Oh, those scenes!
We had just had the dinner we had packed from Saravana Bhawan—yet another one—at the station. Our feet were blue, wet, and cold. I drifted into a deep slumber in a short while.
When I did wake up sometime in the middle of the night, I realized that the bus wasn’t moving. The drunk driver and the delirious assistant were having a huge squabble. The conductor was functioning as the negotiator in this whole affair. They had stopped the bus and moved out of the bus to settle scores, lest they woke up the passengers! Heated arguments continued in hushed tones, with the conductor peeking into the bus occasionally. During one such instance, he saw me wildly gesturing him to restart the bus, and that is how we got to continue our journey.
The rest of the night, well, whatever was remaining of it, was spent uneventfully. We woke up when the bus was dragging along some steep terrains of the dusty outskirts of Andhra Pradesh. We didn’t know where exactly we were. Her inbuilt navigational compass refused to work. I think feeling lost really puts her off. She craned her neck, tensed up and watched the trees running by and the dusty winding roads, looking out for some sign of recognition. Exasperated, she resigned, “All I can see are unreadable squiggles!!” Signboards that said, ‘Cyber’ or ‘Sai’ started making their appearance. Relieved, we now knew we were nearing Hyderabad.
The bus scrambled along winding roads through tiny townships. Grazing cattle and dusty kids. Market bustle and punctual schools. After that brief patch of civilization, we found ourselves in the middle of a desolate abandoned patch. And that is exactly where the bus stopped for a break. Under a solitary tree sat a man with a bored expression. He was running a tea stall and served some dangerous concoctions to his patrons. We coughed out the dust and swallowed the viscous liquid without thinking too much. Fearing a vicious attack on our digestive systems, we refrained from eating anything from there. The rest of the bus ride was uneventful (we weren’t exactly craving for an action-packed adventure either!), except for being subjected to further celluloid tortures on the DVD player.
We passed the Nagarjuna Sagar dam complex. It was beautiful. She said that this was one site she had not planned in my itinerary for my Hyderabad holidays. Oh well! We got down somewhere in the Old City. Her colleague, A, played angel that day, and decided to come pick us from the bus stop, and drove us home. His modest Honda City was surrealistically luxurious to our weary selves. She maintained polite conversation while I sank into the soft cushioned seats. But before I dozed off, we were already home. For a short second, we travelers almost kissed the smooth, white, tiled floor of her home. There was no electricity in the house. We thought it was a temporary power cut, until the distracting stench that emanated from the refrigerator caught our attention. She dared to open the fridge door.
White-haired coconut halves, fungi that almost seemed to bloom, and other food items on the steady path to rotting decadence, peered back at us. “Aww!” she groaned painfully. A left us in due course. We got down to cleaning up the fridge. On our hands and knees, we emptied the disobedient white machine. I couldn’t help but remind her that we were on vacation.
Evening wore off to twilight and further to night. We had cleaned, washed, and bathed. We drove down to a suave place called Fusion Nine and had a luxurious dinner. We pampered ourselves with fancy cocktails and exquisite delicacies. After downing a Sangreal and munching on some prawns, I was ready to curl up and sleep right there. Tomorrow is gonna be fun, she promised me.