Thursday, 4 February 2016

Dr Jekyll, Driver Hyde.

Ashraf and Luqman on the beach at Byndoor
Don't be deceived by this gentle soul, quietly making sandcastles on the beach with his son. Put him behind the steering wheel and point him in the direction of the highway, and he turns into a force to be reckoned with! I recall at least five or six close reckonings from our first drive together. I don't recall any from the subsequent drives, largely because I kept my eyes shut!

I was later reassured by my cousin and his brother (henceforth referred to as the Schumacher Brothers) that this style of driving is de rigeur on the national highways of India and that "everyone drives like this here". It is, apparently, the done thing if you want to arrive sooner rather than later. (The way I drive, I would probably have taken a whole day to make the one-and-a-half hour journey). I think the point is to arrive while it is still light. Or at the speed of light. Or something like that.

Drivers break the monotony of their long drive by playing frequent car games. Their favourite is one that I call "chicken", but in the local dialect is referred to as "overtaking". It is most often played against large lorries who seem to operate in pairs:  one alongside our car, trying to prevent us from passing, and the other roaring towards us from the opposite direction. The highlight of this game is when your car miraculously slips into the little gap between the two lorries, and carries on going. I simply cannot describe how my heart leapt each time we were blessed enough to experience one of these special moments.

An anti-anxiety pill slipped under the tongue (of the passenger, not the driver) helps a bit, because it makes it easier to close one's eyes and resign oneself to one's fate. Having said that, this one survived several such highway drives, and returned home to Bangalore unscathed. So perhaps the Schumacher Brothers are right after all!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

From Bangalore to Byndoor

The beach at Sai Vishram Beach Resort, Byndoor
It was supposed to be the worst of times, but it ended up being the best of times. It was neither the spring of hope, nor the winter of despair:  it was late January, and to those of us who flew in from Bangalore, it was hot as hell. But it felt like heaven.

Last week, I took my first flight in fourteen years, to Mangalore, on the west coast of southern India. My final destination was a seaside resort at Byndoor, about 120 km by road.

This was also my first trip to Mangalore and its neighbouring districts in twenty years. This trip was special for me, not just for breaking my non-travelling jinx, but mainly because my father was born here, and I have many relatives living in the region.

The last time I flew in an aeroplane was back in 2002, when I left my advertising career in Bahrain and came to "retire" in India and be nearer my parents. Full of my usual and quite unnecessary fears, I had been dreading the flight. There was an emotional departure from the safe walls of my little Bangalore flat (well, emotional on my part:  the flat remained quite unmoved). I went armed with half a pharmacy, and left my Will prominently on my desk back at home.

The flight was just an hour long, and although it was one of those small propeller-driven planes that had to be landed on one of the world's tougher runways (Mangalore's airport at Bajpe has what is called a "table top" runway), it was a smooth and easy journey.

Then we got into my cousin's car to make the long drive to Udupi. That journey was a whole other story! My fear of flying has now been replaced by a more tangible fear of national highways.

Come back for more tales of this not-so-intrepid traveller's adventures tomorrow!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Is as does.

Bangalore Mirror, 18 January 2016, page 1

(Note: please see the post-script for a happier ending!)

It takes a special kind of stupid, I thought, after reading this article about a new luxury tax on hospital Intensive Care Units.

No, I'm not trying to insult the politicians who came up with this novel idea to fill coffers (and coffins). All they are guilty of is a large helping of greed, no doubt, sprinkled liberally with India's favourite condiment, corruption.

Stupid is out here, among all of us -- who will read news like this, tut over it for a while, and then at election time, do what we always do:  simply hand back the keys to people whom we know will do little more than drive our city/state/country into the same old rut, again and again.

Bangalore Mirror, a couple days later (forgot the date!)

A Happier Post-Script!

An angry Chief Minister makes me happy - was glad to see in the news a few days later, that our Siddu lost his cool when he heard about the new tax, and ensured that it was thrown out! Good for him.