On the eve of 2008 New Year I told a hapless being called “My room mate” that I took a resolution. After pausing to gauge his reaction, which was dismissive to say the least, I proceeded to tell him that I have decided to go on a trip to one of the many tourist destinations around Mumbai, all alone. His ears elongated a little, the moment “all alone” passed through them. He being my room mate for the past couple of years would automatically qualify him to enact the “roll on the floor and laugh his heart out” act, for - the monumental laziness I have shown from the time I passed out from collage would make this resolution (look like) a Joke, a Big Joke. Instead of making use of his privilege, the generous person that he is, encouraged me with just a skeptical glance. Buoyant by this better than expected reaction, I assured myself by quoting Paulo Coelho “Resolutions are like stars in the sky, you may not reach them but they will help guide your path”. With this I unknowingly removed the obligatory clause of the resolution, as I always do.
The first real good opportunity to make a lonely trip came my way sometime in the second week of April. If you had even remotely know me or any of the thousands or may be lakhs of BAH fraternity (Bachelors Away from Home) in
Anyway, my point is even though I don’t have anything better to do I didn’t venture to go until this particular weekend not because it is auspicious but because I didn’t want to add one more “weirdo” stars to my shirt. Even in this short span of life (surprising how at 13 you feel you have seen enough life but at 23 you feel you havent seen much) I have done enough things to be called an specimen / Weirdo. I didn’t want to add one more badge (sometimes the badges become really heavy) by making a lonely trip when I could have had an exciting trip with a group. So I waited for a day rather for THE Day when every one I knew would be out of city and this trip would look natural. I always felt that you would have done at least half the things you haven’t done, had you been sure that no one would notice (Mind you I am not talking about Freud ian things like murder and rape).
Since I am not a person with any social, economic and political stature, I didn’t know many people, but even then I had to wait for four months to find a day to say “All the people I hang around with during weekends are out of town so I‘d better go out of town to escape boredom”, where as the truth is I could have said the last half of the sentence on any given weekend. The second week of April is one such ideal time and I have decided on Wednesday April 9 i.e. two days in advance, to go ahead and fulfill my New Year resolution on the following weekend.
For a person who claims to be agnostic it is surprising how often I have placed faith in the uncertain and went ahead unplanned to the trips. But somehow this time it was different, I have planned the trip for two days. I bought a travel bag and some packaged food (mars bars, biscuits and chips) a day before the journey. I even found out train and bus timings, cost of tickets and accommodation details from the internet. In fact this was the first trip for which I have managed to put all the three essentials - blanket, towel and toothbrush in the bag. May be the thought that I was going there all alone was in a way responsible for this more than usual behavior.
As the time for my departure approached my thoughts began to waver. I have traveled alone but I have never stayed alone in a new place, in which I don’t know anyone, in which I have no purpose and most importantly in which people speak a language that I don’t speak nor understand. All of a sudden pessimistic thoughts began to fill my mud bag (read mind). What if I get robbed? What if I don’t find accommodation? What if I met with an accident? What if my health deteriorates? These thoughts began to take their toll on my confidence levels. I began to search for reasons to stop going ahead with the journey. I hoped somebody would call me and say that they are coming to see me over the weekend or that I would get a call from the office asking me to work over the weekend. I even hoped that I would not get the ticket since that’s one thing I kept till the last moment. But all this while even when the pessimistic thoughts have taken over my mind, something in me told that “if its not now then it’s never”. Now if i think back i realize that its the thought of missing the state of comfortable numbness, that i experience and got so used to during the weekends, that resisted the journey and not the demons of insecurity in my mind.
In life, facing the events that precede a situation is much tougher than the situation itself. you cant agree more, had you given a viva or a speech at some point in your life. This was no different and when the moment finally arrived, i was actually excited about the whole idea of traveling alone; I left early from office and got to the designated place of departure well before time. i got the first taste of reality in the form of late arrival of the bus; The bus which was scheduled to arrive at 9:45 Pm arrived at 11:45 pm - late by a whole two hours. This event at any other time would have made me glum and moody but as i said this trip was different and i remained cheerful and almost unconcerned, all the while i waited for my journey to start. The fact that there isnt anyone to listen to my tantrums must have made my choice, of being cheerful, inevitable.
I was one of the last ones to buy the ticket and was promptly given a seat in the last row, which made my journey a little painful as there isnt any reclining facility. The moment i settled comfortably in my allocated seat, i noticed a foreign couple sitting in the corner of my row, hand in hand and deeply in conversation with each other. This was probably the only moment of "weekness" that i experienced over the whole trip. This indescribable feeling is very close to the one you experience when you hear a melancholic romantic song. a moment when heart yearns and mind warns, a moment when heat is careless, mind is thoughtless and you helpless. Just before my glare turned into a stare, i turned my head 180 degrees, an exaggerated turn to show my indifference toward them. I looked out of the window for the next sixty to eighty minutes, without any particular thoughts in my mind. This act of sustained staring made my eyes heavy and mind sleepy, and it didnt take me long to slip into sleep. I slept well though i cant claim it to be a sound sleep, as i woke up almost, every time a vehicle passed by honking.
It was 6'o clock in the morning by the time i completely woke up. As i looked out of the window i realized that the bus was traveling along a beautiful gorge with a creek for company. Even when the bus crossed over a bridge to the other side, it was still accompanied by the creek, like a faithful companion. The hills are completely covered with greenery and the water in the creek almost still - the whole sean looked like a wallpaper. The sun which was just starting to come out from behind the hills added a little dark brown tint to the whole scean. In fact it was as if i was seeing through a brown glass. This gave a rustic and demure feel to the whole surroundings. A scean straight out of a Maniratnam movie. I opened the window a little and let the chill air inside. Morning freshness, holiday mood coupled with scenic surrounding and topped with freshness of dawn and chill air - Just when i was being transported to a world that i always yearned for, the bus in its attempt to muscle its way up the hill roared loudly bring me back to the world i belong, a world of cacophony.
The bus reached my destination at around 8 in the morning. I got down the bus and followed the people in front of me, without really thinking and with an air of confidence; for I already know from a tourism website that the whole place lies in less than 3 Km radius and the chances of me getting lost are remote. I was following a group of five students, who were constantly joking among themselves and gave me an impression that they are having lot of fun. That made me remember, some of the trips I embarked on, with friends during my college, when the thought of going on a trip with friends itself gave me so much joy that the happenings of the trip didn’t really matter. Those guys are in one of those moods when “a group of words”, not necessarily a sentence, would have them in hysterics. After a few minutes the group ahead of me, stopped to get their breath (I guess the metabolic activity is more when you laugh than when you walk) and as I walked past them, I gave them one of those “Been there, seen it looks”, which for some unknown reason made me feel great.
This is not a fairy tale it’s a travel tale, so how can everything go according to plan ? After walking for five minutes along the road after crossing that “Not in this world” group, I reached a junction of three roads, the one I walked and two leading into the habitat. The three roads are actually like the three arm s of a bisected 60 degrees angle, I kind of walked along the base (Sometimes the engineer in me just pops up and I just can’t help it). I picked up one of the roads out of hunch and went ahead trying to find out a place to stay. As always is the case, my hunch was wrong. There is no vacancy in any of the hotels. This being an extended weekend on account of holi, half of Mumbai has come down. I thought I was the only one cashing on the extended weekend, how naïve (If somebody else was writing he would have found “lack of common sense” more appropriate; that’s one reason why I prefer autobiography over biography, not that somebody would be willing to write mine). Interestingly no one said “its full” or “no vacancy”, instead they said “booked completely”, which sounded like “you should have booked before, you fool”. I started getting the same replies from the hotels on the bisector (I mean the other road). Just when I was loosing hope, I came across the best hotel in the place (I have already seen enough of the place to come to this conclusion), i thought everything has a reason, I didn’t get a hotel because I was destined to get the best, I was already tired and couldn’t really bother about the price. I went to the reception (yes this hotel actually had one, unlike others) and asked for a room. The receptionist paused for a moment and said something which would change my life for ever – “sorry sir, the rooms just got filled; you are late by five minutes”. That’s it - that is the moment, life changing indeed, when I told myself that I will never follow my hunch. I have decided that I had enough fun with them, and would do exactly the opposite of what I felt like doing (after all statistics speak for themselves). Before I left the reception, I called myself all kinds of names, for following my hunch. Had I taken this road I would have been relaxing in a comfortable room. I checked out a couple more, with the same result and all of a sudden the situation became desperate. I started hoping I will at least find a place to fresh up. I reached the end of the road and still didn’t find a place to stay. At the end of this road I again found two ways (its like a perpendicular on to a straight line). This time better sense prevailed and I asked one of the bystanders, if I could find any place to stay. He pointed at a battered building. I doubled up to the hotel and asked for availability and got a positive from them. The decrepit condition of the building and ready availability made me skeptical, and when I did see the room I almost blurted out “How much does this warehouse with bathroom cost per day?” Knowing very well that I don’t have the luxury and energy to say “No” he said 700 and for the very same “luxury and energy” reasons I said “I am fine” aloud and “with the dungeon” in a murmur. I was almost nauseated by the stale air inside. With great effort I opened the windows and let the fresh air in, which calmed me a bit.