Sunday, September 27

High, low & in-between

You know... our problem is, we think too much

A sentiment I've heard hajaar times over & have personally expressed often during random walk-talk or pub sessions. The cavalcade ruefully shakes its collective head, smiles that tired "yes we know, but what to do now?" smile & carries on the conversation. The problem, as it were, seems to spring up an awful lot when we drift into the area of women, relationships & general risk-taking. But mostly women.

I am of the school who is generally accused of *ahem* 'thinking too much' & have been advised in no uncertain terms to chill the f%@k out. While I harbour no ambitions of living up to a 100, fit as a horse while being as mentally active as a colander, I do try to take the suggestion seriously so that I may see some grandchildren. Or, more realistically, the 'Ipod Telepathy'. On this weekend's bus trip to Pune, I brought along my mp3 player so that no stray thoughts would try and present themselves at the cranial doorstep. The bus driver (who may have something against passengers providing their own entertainment) had other ideas & proceeded to play 'Kal Kisne Dekha' at maximum volume. Now, while I am an admirer of Pearl Jam & Metallica, there is no way my puny headphones could compete with the audio system on the bus. My theory on the loudness is that it prevents any mortal with adequate hearing from falling asleep. Including the driver.

Trying to watch the movie was out of the question. Honestly, I tried. The chaps who came up with the picture avoided the sticky situation of a shady story by the simple expedient of not having a storyline at all. Indeed, from what I could make out, it was a montage of random people caught in various mysteriously vague expressions mouthing dialogues that Yorick's skull would have been ashamed to attempt. Stitched together with the customary song-dance sequences, the final ludicrous product was let loose on an unsuspecting but unsympathetic public.

With no books in hand either, it therefore was inevitable that thinking would happen...

Golden eyes, cats in the dark
Slink opposite me on the highway
All roads lead to Bombay
All bodies follow
Where do the spirits go ?

Does Purgatory have an expressway
& is it paved with good intentions ?

It is all very well to pontificate
On youth, chance & how these we profligate
Something we know, or not
Something we hide, or forget
Is to know if
We are chasing
Or are running away

At times, anger is good
It's blazing ferocity cleanses the detritus
False forgiveness, feigned friendship
Dampen the flame
But embers do not die
To those who preach about walking away, I say
Do not walk into the darkness
Without learning to light a fire
Or, accept that you need the embers
And live

(As you well know, thoughts come & go. The above are in verse to give some semblance of sense. If you understand or relate to any of it, then enjoy. Otherwise, well... I do think too much.)

Song for the moment: Indifference - Pearl Jam

Thursday, September 10

5 - Frail & Bedazzled

Even silence speaks - Hausa Proverb

The words I am about to type in this post are today just that. Words. They will tell you the facts but not allow you to understand the churning emotions that we waded through that long, black night. The facts are hair-raising enough so perhaps not all is lost.

To somehow heave your mind off it's bed, ready it begrudgingly to carry on in the face of physical anguish & then be told matter-of-factly that one bike rider cannot see in the dark... you know the trip just got interesting. And yet, incredible as it may seem to you, we carried on. The spirit of youth, that was us. How we did circumvent the minor hitch of Ketan's night-vision was -
  • Ashish riding ahead at a speed of 35 kmph at best.
  • I'm sitting behind him, with a ridiculously heavy bag on my shoulders.
  • Ketan is following us on his bike, even slower than us because... & get ready for this... he's not watching the road. No, what he's putting the strength of his ocular powers on is the tail-lamp on Ashish's bike.
  • Ashish concentrates on the road, avoiding potholes & trucks.
  • Ketan concentrates on the tail-light of Ashish's bike.
  • I concentrate on looking behind me once every minute, watching for Ketan's bike's headlamp.
  • Yes.
I see that scene sometimes, reader. Silhouettes of trees, of the bike behind me, of Ashish's helmet in front of me, a flash of the white road dividing strip... these are what remain to remind me of what we had done. Till today, I am incredulous.

At around 12:30 am, a sorrier bunch of individuals could not have puttered their way to the border. Where we found out that Ashish's bike did not have insurance papers. Which instantly put us on the shifty-eyed, shady smuggler-type list. The cops, realising that they were on to a good thing, asked us for every possible piece of identification. My British Council Library card (don't even ask) brought a hasty end to the night's amusement & we crossed over into Goa about 250 Rs. (Ashish, please clarify) lighter. Considering our हालत we should be forgiven for thinking that the journey was over.

You see, crossing the border does not mean the beach has kindly parked itself a stone's throw away. With more than a hint of desperation, your nose twitches for the smell of salt-air, your ear for the sighing of the sea. And the road goes on & on & on...

Eventually, we stumble into Calangute.

Ketan tells us that we are going to the Indian Ocean hotel. You will not be shocked when I reveal that we rode up & down Calangute village in the dead of night until even he was convinced that the hotel did not exist or more likely, had got up off it's foundations & had meandered away. The universe, having extracted its fun, arranged to have a Chinese tapri open, where divinity in human form directed us to a apartment-hotel in a quiet alley. We walked into our room & I put my head on the pillow. It was 2:00 am.

I awoke at 3:00 pm the following afternoon.

We had made it to Goa.


Song for the moment: Constant Motion - Dream Theater

Thursday, September 3

4 - No leaf clover

Long after adrenalin has given up on your body, it is dread-tainted thrill & stubbornness that burns in your veins, pushing you, your body & your mind way beyond their limits. Okay, I'm no authority on human physiology but that's what kept me going that day.

We'd been riding from 6:30 am on a hot October day. We had envisioned ourselves in Goa 12 hours later. So, at 6:30 pm, 12 hours later, we looked at each other's sunburned, weary faces & then slowly accepted where we were. In the middle of nowhere. The sun had set. There was NO ONE on the road & this is no exaggeration. Although we'd been making decent time over the day, the breaks brought on by the monstrously heavy bags had crept up on us. To now discover that our destination was at least 5 hours away... there was nothing to say, really. We rode on in silence. That is, until we got to some small decrepit town & halted for tea. It was bad tea, but that's not the point. It was 10 pm and sense ordered us to halt for the night & ride on the morrow.

At this point, I'd like to tell you something about Ashish, Ketan & I. (The aforementioned are free to dispute this if they want) Different people though we undoubtedly are, there is one point we do have in common. The vagaries of fate only make that gleam in the eye brighter, awakening the 'कीडा' (insect does not explain it satisfactorily). Outwardly, this manifests in a grin of impish, unholy glee.

That we were tired was beyond question.
That Goa was not a stone's throw away was indisputable.
That the highway was dangerous in itself was obvious.
That it was poorly lit, with trees cutting off any moonlight, made it scary.
That we could stop for the night was an option.
That we did not, is reality.

At the tea stall, what I remember about that discussion is that not one of us explicitly said we should stop. There was some hemming & hawing, some chin-scratching & some stretching of muscles beseeching for rest. And then there was a pause.

Until Ketan talked about why it was important for us to continue & how Goa was only a couple of hours away. We shrugged, thought about what we were doing & rode on into the pitch black.

What Ketan had failed to mention to us was that he was completely night-blind.

Song for the moment: Ghost riders in the sky - Johnny Cash

Tuesday, September 1

3 - Cool Confusion

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart

- Marcus Aurelius

Often, I wonder if that motorcycle-trip would evoke such strong emotion in us to this day, had it all gone according to 'plan'. The plan incidentally involved us sprawled lazily on a beach with a crate of Kings (a beer found only in Goa), watching the sunset. Which would have placed us on the beach around 6:30 pm.

We will never know.

At 2:00 pm we set off from Kolhapur, supposedly on our way to Goa, via the Amba Ghat. Now, over the years I've come to understand from experienced bikers that a 6th sense clears it's throat when something about the journey does not feel correct. Being the amateurs we were, that sense stayed stubbornly silent for about 2 hours. In that time, we made our way on to a highway that was rather bereft of vehicles & pedestrians. A very scenic ride, the highway cut through lush forest-land & meandered over heather covered hills. The superb lunch induced a pleasant soporific effect but any sleepiness was brushed away by a gentle breeze. What are popularly referred to as optimum riding conditions.

To this day I cannot explain why a faint stirring of unease seemed to ripple in the air when it did. We had been riding for over 2 hours & while there have been faint misgivings about the rather desolate look about the highway, we were also somewhat caught up in the scenery & the ride itself. I remember the moment clearly; we had come to a fork in the road, taken the right & stopped for a drink of water. A man strolled passed us, his limbs moving with the steady rhythm that suggested he'd been on the road for quite a while. On a whim, we asked him if we were on the correct road to Goa. He said we were on the correct road to Ratnagiri.

Whatever else Ashish, Ketan or I may be, we are not particularly slow in the head. If you look at the road map of Western Maharashtra, the road to Goa follows South from Kolhapur. We had been earnestly riding West. Even then, realising what had happened, we did not grasp the enormity of the distance that lay ahead. What we did was turn around, take the other road from the fork & hoped for the best. It was around 5:00 pm & the sun descended ever so slowly but surely toward the hills. Even as we rode on, we tracked it's position because one thought reverberated at the back of our minds - that we had been warned not to ride on the highways at night.

I could feel the urgency that had crept stealthily into our riding. We rode faster & a tad recklessly, all the while aware that dusk approached. Time & again, we calculated what our average speed had been, reassuring ourselves that we did not have to ride for much longer.

At twilight hour, in deepening gloom, 3 steadily tiring men on 2 motorcycles careened past a green signboard, looking out for one name. It said:

PANJIM - 350 km

Night fell.

Song for the moment: Highway Star - Deep Purple