Yesterday was truly larger than life.
Well, it’s one of those times every eight weeks when I get to do a weeklong spell of night shift. My latest spell started three days ago.
And without my bike (Yeah, the Last Samurai isn’t back yet), I depend on the office car to drop me home. So, the car dropped me at half past two last morning and after a late dinner, it was three before I hit the bed.
Was up by half past six because my buddies had planned a day-long trip to Mahabalipuram.
I reach Koyambedu bus-stop. Neha just gets out of the autorickshaw ahead of me to tell me that our friend Preethi overslept and had just woken up. She would take another forty minutes to arrive.
Pornstar (no, not really, I just call him that!) lands up in the next ten minutes.
It was just the four of us who had planned the trip for Neha’s sake. She hadn’t been to Mahabs before. So, we kill time at the spacious Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) discussing The Terminal and Amma’s super strategy to impress the majority of the rural population that prefers buses to trains.
We are still at CMBT. Preethi strolls in with a copy of Da Vinci Code. “This is why I was late. I had set an alarm at six to wake up in the morning. I started reading the book last night and stopped only when the alarm rang. And I went off to sleep,” she said.
With no bus in sight, Pornstar and Preethi decide to have some fun at my expense. They buy two copies of the latest Ananda Vikatan. The youth supplement Ilamai Vikatan has me on the cover with a friend. Thanks to my actress friend Shalini I landed up there.
How did I land there? Flashback:
Shalini called me one morning last week to stand in for her best friend. The Tamil magazine wanted to interview her and her friends for an issue dedicated on friendship. Can a boy and girl be friends — that was the theme for the story. The journalist met us that afternoon, spent three hours listening to us, without taking down notes. Forget taking down notes, he didn’t even take out a notebook. He asked me for my name and informed me he would omit my surname. Finally, they took pictures of us and they wanted us to get closer. Familiar with the vernacular press and it’s sensationalising tendencies, both of us were a little cautious. At one point, he wanted me to put my chin on her shoulder!
Cut to Present.
I’m on the cover and my name according to Vikatan, is Nitish! But for the fact that I know the girl since she was in her Class 9, all other quotes attributed to me were all given by another friend. The journalist had obviously got the quotes mixed up and thank God, it wasn’t anything controversial. It was plain corny. The lines seemed straight out of a Vikraman movie.
So now, there I was in CMBT, with scores of people walking past me, with the odd one smiling at what my friends were upto. Pornstar and Preethi stood by either side of me holding the magazine with my picture in one hand and pointing at me with another. God! It was truly the most embarassing moment of the year!
I was amused and embarassed at the same time and nothing would stop them from putting the magazine down for the next thirty minutes. That’s how long it took before a bus arrived.
(Random note: How come there aren’t too many buses to Mahabalipuram on a Sunday morning?)
And it wasn’t too long either before it got filled up. Sixty seconds, to be precise, thanks to the kerchief-culture.
(Random trivia: The kerchief technique is widely followed in India to reserve a seat for your friend. Just jump on to the bus before it actually stops, find a couple of seats. Sit on one, reserve the other with a hanky!)
There were three others in the bus who had the magazine. Wasn’t I glad that my friends spared me the embarassment after getting into the bus! We just got one seat and Neha sat down. Thankfully, the packed bus started off soon and as it cut through the city, we saw the striking similarity between what we saw in front of us and that still from Swades which has Shah Rukh seated in a bus-full of colourful people. Truly India again!
(Random thought: Swades surely is gonna rock! Ashutosh seems to have got his pulse on the heart of India!)
So we started people-watching. There was this young lovey-dovey couple. The girl in a burkha was conveniently sitting in the lap of her lover and the two exchanged sweet-nothings, blissfully oblivious to the world around them! How you wished you were one of them! *sigh*
But reality was that there was this really old lady standing next to us, catching forty winks or more … yeah, standing!
Then, there were this bunch of giggly girls (who I suspect had seen me on the cover of the magazine) sitting in the last row of the bus. And there was this firang (imported) couple, who seemed pretty used to our journeys. Thanks to the chaos while boarding the bus, the woman was sitting in one seat and her husband in another. They didn’t try switching seats at all nor did they seem uncomfortable. Now, that’s the spirit of tourism!
After a round of feel-good talk about India, Pornstar started singing. After a while, he took out his phone and played ‘Ajeeb Daastan Yeh Hai’ in mp3. Technology!
Now, that was a truly defining moment. There are somethings you just can’t get by taking a car. It didn’t matter that we were standing. A bus full of colourful characters. A journey. Friends. Good conversation. Great music. Wow! Aren’t human needs simple?
So, there we were on board the bus of life and the destination didn’t matter.
We didn’t go till Mahabalipuram.
Neha wanted to check out Dakshin Chitra — the heritage village showcasing the culture of the Southern States in India first. So we requested the driver to stop at MGM and walked it from there. Just a five minute stroll.
(Random funda: There was a board outside Dakshin Chitra which said “Request Bus Stop” with a note to the drivers of all buses to please stop there. Funny!)
Little did we realise that we were to spend the day there. There was so much to see, so much to do. So many interesting frames, moments, things. So we got our fortune read — Kili Josiyam (where the parrot picks up the card on subtle hints from the astrologer) and Kai Josiyam (palm reading where the lady hardly seemed to pay attention to any detail and asked questions like favourite flower, a number between 1 and 12, name and age… all which I thought were completely unrelated to palmistry) for 20 bucks a head. We had Malai Coke (Tender Coconut) and munched on peanuts. We saw how this artist did glass-work through the blowing technique. We saw the bioscope which showed us glimpses of Thalaivar in ‘Thalapathy’ and Captain in one of those movies which have taglines like ‘Rude but not bad’ and lines like ‘Ithu high court illai, ithu my court.’ We almost saw puppetry, a documentary on the states of Southern India, plenty of handicrafts, pottery and weavers at work apart from the different styles of homes.
(Random mood-transition: This blog already reads big. Time to end story.)
There was plenty we did. True, life has no retakes. But thanks to Sony Handycam, there are replays. (Coming up, some video grabs from the trip.)
Outside Dakshin Chitra, another bus bursting at the seams zooms past us. But after a rather large dose of life, we just decide to take the easy way out. We spoil ourselves in the luxury of a call taxi that takes us home.