Autoscopy 2014

Bandipur at Night

When we decided to make the road trip to Masinagudi, little did we realize that things could go this bad. In the time it takes to say the word “honeymoon,” things went from fantastic to horrible. Rani and I didn’t know each other when we got married last week. The first time we saw each other ten days ago at her parents’ place, we thought we were too young, too stupid, too immature – two completely different people thrown into the fray and told to live together and love each other, till death do us apart. And we weren’t brave enough to do anything about it. In whatever little time we spent alone, we tried our best to get to know each other as quickly as we could – I told her my hopes, dreams and ambitions and she was good enough not to laugh in my face. She told me that her passion were wildlife and Maddur vadas.

Well, as fate had it, we would experience both very soon.

The wedding itself was a very forgettable affair for me. She didn’t tell me, but I think she hated it too. There were too many people, too little space and the food was too bland. In the peak of summer, it’s never a good idea to cram too many people in a small space and not feed them well. But, it got done with, and the parents were satisfied that their duties had been completed. They were clear of their obligations and their only job now was to wait with bated breath and annoying interjections for my wife to push out a kid or two or three.

Being a mediocre, middle-class white-collar pencil-pusher, I did not have the means or the luxury to afford a fantastic honeymoon at an exotic location. I could afford no honeymoon and I told Rani this the day before we got married. I could sense the sadness in her voice as she told me that it was all right and that we could go sometime later, after saving up a bit of money. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that with my current income, the concept of ‘savings’ was as alien to me as color to a blind man.

A couple of days later though, a friend of mine told us that he was a member of a time-sharing holiday scheme and that he wanted to gift us a weekend getaway to Masinagudi. As a man whose best friend for long had been thrift, I jumped at this offer, told him how grateful I was (I was. I truly was!), and decided to surprise Rani.

I was still in the initial phases of the relationship – a phase where a lot of time and mental effort is spent in trying to surprise your partner with gifts of love and affection.

I didn’t tell her where we were going until we reached the bus station and boarded a bus to Bandipur. She was ecstatic with joy and hugged me so tightly that I thought I’d implode. I could see that she was happy. Though she’s a tough nut, I did see a few tears.

The bus covered the 250-odd kilometer trip in under six hours and I was thankful when it ended. Our only stop on the way had been at Maddur, where we had stuffed ourselves with the crunchy pieces of heaven known all over the World as Maddur vadas. My legs were cramped and my bladder was full and bursting when I relieved myself by the side of the road at Bandipur, oblivious to the odd stares. I thought to myself how lucky we had been to be given this break. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to get away from it all until I’d gotten away.

We hired a taxi from the station and started the 20-kilometer trip through the jungle to reach our resort. It was an expensive ride but we had no other option, given that the forest department would close down the roads at 6 in the evening.

The drive was breathtaking. The undulating roads and the clear blue skies danced a mesmerizing dance with the trees that lined our way. A herd of spotted deer waved us by and a group of monkeys looked on in curious disbelief as we drove. Soon, we crossed into the Tamil Nadu side of the forest and the jungle became thicker and thicker around us the deeper we went.

We were having a fantastic time. Rani snuggled up to me as the evening progressively grew darker and colder. With about five more kilometers to go, I thought nothing could dampen our spirits. That’s when I heard the dull, sickening thud that signaled disaster.

It’s a misconception that tires burst with a great big bang. They actually give out with a thud, and if the driver is experienced enough, he/she can manage the momentary loss of steering control. Our driver wasn’t and the little taxi lurched menacingly to the left before he over-corrected and sent us flying to the right, where our joyride came to a screeching halt as the car dove into a ditch, nose-first and stayed there. The sudden change in directions and the inertial forces acting on us as we impacted threw us forward, the front seat-back smacking the both of us in our faces with an inhuman amount of energy. Rani’s nose cracked under the impact, sending little bits of cartilage and bone gushing out with blood. My upper lip split and my two front teeth ripped themselves out of their oral prisons and flew into the air, and joined the million shards of glass and stone and metal hurtling about. The driver’s head arrested the momentum of his body against the steering wheel, and I think he didn’t have the time to let his whole life flash before his eyes before he died. The whole thing took less than 3 seconds.

As the sun went down and the night officially threw her cloak of darkness over us, we were too stunned and too much in pain to move or react.

It took me about ten minutes to get my bearings right and to realize that were quite vulnerable out there. I looked around at my wife, who was slumped in her seat. From the faint light of the remains of the dashboard, I could see that she was breathing, which was a relief.

I opened the door of the car, which yielded surprisingly easily, and stumbled out to the forest floor. I could hear the sounds of a million crickets singing around me, the occasional whistle of a bird going to sleep, the rustling of the dry leaves, which I prayed was due to the wind, and the occasional bursts of deafening silence. I was afraid. I was shaking uncontrollably with nervous energy and adrenaline pushed me to my feet. I hobbled over to the road and tried to spot any oncoming headlights. At the back of my mind was the knowledge that the forest gates closed at 6 in the evening but I kept ignoring it. Surely someone would realize that a car that had entered the forest hadn’t exited. Surely someone heard the sickening crash. All I could see was an ocean of deepening darkness on either side, punctuated by the ominous red glow of the car’s taillights.

I stood there for a long time, in the red glow, trying to figure out my next move, while my head reeled and my body cried out in pain in a thousand places. When I heard that agonizing cry of pain, despair and sorrow – a cry that would haunt me for eternity – I turned and ran to the other side, to my wife. I feared the worst. I reached her side and was about to open the door or smash the window if need be when I saw what had made her cry out.

I guess my teeth weren’t the only things that had dislodged when I hit my face. I almost lost my balance.  My legs felt weak and I held back a gag when I saw Rani, my wife of ten days, cradling her husband’s crushed head in her lap.

I really shouldn’t have done this trip.

Image Courtesy: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.in/

Habit Over Hate

Mumbai BeachFor those of you who have been wondering why MirrorCracked hasn’t been updated for two months (to the day), well, you can stop wondering. I am still alive, unfortunately, and I’m back in business. For those of you who assumed I had given up, for those of you who assumed I was dead and for those of you who just didn’t (and still don’t) care whether this blog gets updated or not, the least I can offer is a friendly wave.

I’ve been living in a beach town for a while now and working for an ad agency, setting up a business of my own and working on my third book, so arguably, I’ve been a bit busy. Add an ill-timed illness and brand new fuckers around, it does get a bit dicey to manage blogging time.

But anyway, here I am, exactly two months after my last post, itching to tell the world about my beach town.

For a while now, I’ve noticed that the town I live in has been mistakenly called many names and not all of them pleasant. It has been referred to as the Crap Recycler, The Widowmaker, The Land of Opportunity and, my favorite, A Triumph of Habit Over Hate.

I don’t think it’s any of those. The more I look at this town, the more I come to believe that it’s a small-time beach town that has had a sudden influx of different dichotomies:  randomly distributed pockets of wealth and penury, steel-and-concrete monstrosities and corrugated cardboard disguised as houses, intellectuals and dumbasses.

There are still remnants of the little beach town that it actually once was – the early morning air with the slight hint of seawater in it, the small lanes paved with tiles, thatched roof huts (if you’re lucky enough to spot one), tall coconut trees and the stink of freshly caught seafood. People getting haircuts and shaves on the pavement, the constant cacophony of the crows (which seems to be a trait of almost every beach town), and finally, the vast areas of mangroves that signal the edge of land all make up for a wonderfully misunderstood beach town.

Then there are the beaches themselves. Some beaches here have been overrun by people who, I think, have never seen a beach in their lives and hence empathize with. But others are pristine in their naturalness. Vast stretches of sandy shores devoid of any human pollution, the gentle lapping of the waves as they kiss your feet and the distant horizon where the unnaturally large sun sinks, throwing up a fascinating array of golden lights dancing on the rippling water…

There I go again, losing myself while describing the sea. The point I was trying to make is that all these things put together make this place a lovely little beach town which has all the beauty and serenity of any other place like Gokarna or Mahabs or even some parts of Goa, with all the amenities of a fully-developed city of money, power, cricket and Bollywood. It would help if we go past the negativity that is being spun into our lives by everyone who’s been here. Every newspaper, on an average, consists of 90% bad news every day. Murders, political scams, money laundering, government incapacities, road rage, traffic snarls, and other nonsense. Forget all that for a day. If you live where I live, try and overlook all that for just a day. Try and connect with the small-time beach town that it really is.

I live in Mumbai.

The Man From Nowhere

“See the nowhere crowd cry the nowhere tears of honour 
Like twisted vines that grow 
Hide and swallow mansions whole…”

— James Hetfield, The Memory Remains

He came from nowhere and he didn’t know where he was headed. He seemed lost, confused, a paper boat caught in a hurricane, with turmoil eroding the last traces of sanity and reason in his head. He was escaping, hopefully to a better tomorrow, but he didn’t know for sure. He wanted a fresh start, desperately. He didn’t know how he was going to achieve it – his bad luck seemed to have followed him here as well. Everything he tried seemed to fail, and fail miserably. He caught himself searching for straws to clutch at.

He vowed to find a muse, an inspiration, a candle in the whirlwind of his bad luck. He wanted to find the elusive abundance of good luck that had deserted him for so long. He yearned for the peace and tranquility that had been hiding from him. It was not a search in vain.

He met her on a hot, sunny afternoon and they regarded each other cautiously, unsure of just how much attention the other person warranted. She seemed harmless enough, but he was expecting his seemingly unlimited quota of bad luck to step in again.

“Been a while,” he said. Cautiously. Two tigers, one paranoid and the other indifferent, circling each other.

“Yes. How have you been?” she asked.

“Good,” he replied and they went on to talk about other things mundane.

Time flew by and a pact was etched in stone between them, unwritten yet indelible. It took time, obviously. It did not happen overnight. He began to experience her presence more and more in his life until it almost became an addiction. Over time, he started craving for her company. She became the beacon of light in the darkness that had clouded him. She forced him to embrace good luck again, though he never knew how she managed to do that.

He still had no destination in mind, but he knew that his journey wouldn’t be lonely anymore; the journey that he had started from nowhere and had seemed to head nowhere; the journey that she had spectacularly derailed and made more bearable. He had a lot of things to be thankful for. And for a million things more.

He had found his muse. He had found his share of good fortune. The man from nowhere was finally home.

Great Eggspectations!

Of all the curious things I’ve noticed about Mumbai, perhaps the strangest is the love this city has for eggs. Everywhere I go, I see a cart laden with egg cartons and a guy standing behind it, making omlettes and burji and toast. I come from the South, and people don’t really like eggs down there. Very rarely do I come across an egg cart in Bangalore. Over here, you throw a stone in the air, it is bound to land on an egg.

Mumbai Egg Guy

I walked up to one of these egg carts the other evening and ordered an omelet sandwich. As I munched on the little piece of heaven that seemed to melt in my mouth, I heard a voice behind me say, “You’re Nikhil, aren’t you?”

It was a woman’s voice and it sounded a bit angry, laden with attitude. My hand was frozen midway between the plate and my open mouth as I turned to face the voice. It was a strange sight that met me. A withered, old, toothless woman stood there grinning, with a heavy plastic bag in one hand and an empty bucket in the other. She was draped in a heavy shawl, too heavy for the weather here in the city, and a pair of the thickest glasses perched on her nose. Her bat-like eyes stared at me from behind those glass walls and her toothless grin grew wider as I turned. She looked vaguely familiar.

“How you are, child?” she asked me in broken English and I knew who she was. She lived across the hallway from my apartment, had three kids, four grand kids, and was married to a filthy rich younger guy, who was also the treasurer of our housing society. I had seen her around once in a while, when putting the garbage out or picking up my newspaper, and had smiled occasionally at her.

“Yes, I am,” I said giving her half a smile.

“Egg eating, are you?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“You eat egg at home, no?” she asked, suspiciously, furrowing her brows.

“Uhh, yes. I eat eggs at home,” I said, wondering what her issue was and why she was even talking to me.

“Ok, now. You eat egg at home and you do not throw egg shells in my kitchen!” she yelled. “Throw egg shell in garbage, child,” she added in a softer voice, with a smile and hobbled away down the road.

I stood there, stunned by her bipolar onslaught. I thought back to remember if I had ever thrown egg shells into her kitchen. Of course I hadn’t. I keep to myself as a rule when living alone in a strange city, and I had no good reason, yet, to throw egg shells into my neighbors’ houses.

So, that makes two curiosities in Mumbai that caught my attention so far – the love this city has for eggs and very eggcentric, crazy, old neighbors.

Hampi: The Great Escape

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog. Part of the reason was my persistent writers’ block. The main reason was that I had nothing interesting to write about. Sad as that may seem, I was living in mortal fear of having nothing left to write about. Then, on a windy Friday night, it all changed.

A call was made on my behalf to a travel agent and bus tickets were booked in my name to Hampi. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I can’t postpone my trip any longer. A loaded gun was held to my head and I was made to pack my bag and marched all the way to the bus station. I was violently shoved into the bus and the door was pulled shut behind me. I was on my way to Hampi, the cultural capital of the country.

I have a tendency to exaggerate a bit at times, and though my departure to Hampi wasn’t as dramatic as I described, it was still a decision I had to take despite a lot of leftover work. Half my mind was on my impending vacation and the other half was working on publicity strategies for my clients. I tried hard and put that part of my brain to sleep and told myself that I’d take it as it comes. I convinced myself that I needed a break. I looked forward to three days of blissful peace.

It was 6 AM in the morning when I woke up, jolted by a particularly nasty pothole and was aware of a painfully full bladder. I looked out the window and was stunned by the landscape we were passing through. in the dawn’s early, hesitant light, I looked at a river flowing in all her might, past the greenest trees I’ve ever seen. The scene was killed mercilessly by a burst of black smoke that the bus belched as it wound its way up an incline. I walked over to the driver and asked him if he could stop for a bit so that I could relieve myself. I was told that we would reach the final stop in under 20 minutes and that I should hold it.

I stood there, squirming in discomfort for the next twenty-five minutes until at last, we stopped for the last time at a place called Hospet. I rushed out of the bus before anyone else, ran out on to the other side of the road and experienced the second most pleasurable thing a man can experience by himself. With a satisfied smile on my face, I took a deep lungful of the clean, crisp village air and hailed an auto-rickshaw to Hampi, twelve miles away. I didn’t know it then, but my journey had just begun.

Mowgli Resort & Guest House

Mowgli Resort
Mowgli Resort
View from my room
View from my room

Hampi is a strange place, geographically speaking. The Tungabhadra river cuts the village into two clean halves, which are linked either by small ferry boats across the water, or, when the water levels are dangerously high, by a thirty mile road trip all along the river and over the dam. I had the privilege of taking the road trip.

The thirty miles seemed to pass in a blink of an eye as the auto-rickshaw tuk-tuk’d its way through small towns, smaller villages and some absolutely fantastic scenery. I saw a few semi-hot village chicks and waved at them as we went by, and saw them give me strange stares in return. We arrived at the Mowgli Guest House & Resort at around 9.30 in the morning and I dismissed my auto. I was quite surprised to find that I was the only guest there. I was even more surprised to find that the kitchen at Mowgli had been closed for a week and they were only now opening it up for me. Tourist season, I was told by the proprietor, did not begin for another month. I was early. Lucky me.

The guest house is a quaint place set in the middle of green paddy fields all around it, with a great view of the river. A typical backpackers’ destination, this resort and other similar ones in the area , boasts of an international menu at entirely desi rates. Imagine having a mouth-watering margherita pizza for Rs. 100! But, as luck would have it, being the off-season, the pizza wasn’t available.

I spent most of the first day lounging around, reading a good book and listening to the soothing sounds all around me – the insects, the birds, the wind and the river.

Scooty Streaking

The Scooty Streak
The Scooty Streak

I hired a Scooty Streak on the second morning and rode all over the neighboring villages. I covered almost fifty miles in under four hours, absolutely mesmerized by the landscape and the ruins. One of the strangest things I discovered about Hampi is the atrocious angles at which boulders sit on top of each other. It almost defies physics. it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in a long time. The open roads, the pleasant weather and the vastly amusing looks I elicited by the villagers all added up to a brilliant morning.

A three hour nap later, I went to a small, rustic restaurant that was quite ostentatiously called ‘Laughing Buddha’. With Bob Marley posters adorning the walls and ugly reggae music playing in the background, I sat by the river bank and had a very satisfying chicken sandwich and a much-needed cup of hot, sweet tea.

By the time I returned to my room late at night, I was highly satisfied and at peace. I was beginning to question myself about going back to Bangalore, back to my stressful life.

Hampi & Her Ruins

My Favorite Ruin
My Favorite Ruin

The last day was by far the most fascinating. I took a chance with the over-flowing river and paid a boatman a bit extra to take me across to the main city. After much hesitation and much negotiation, he got his boat out and ferried me across an angry river. I sat, clutching my life in my hands, as the boat rocked and threatened to topple over any second. Safely across, I met my trusty auto-rickshaw driver, and for the next seven hours, he took me on a comprehensive tour of all the sights of Hampi. The once-mighty Vijayanagar empire that now lies in ruins in and around Hampi is quite a sight to see.  For a glimpse of what I saw, check out the album.

I am constantly in search of peace, and more often than not, I mistake peace for momentary pleasure. Hampi is a place that has taught me quite a bit about peace and how to achieve that state of mind.

It is definitely a place I will keep coming back to.

Gokarna & Why I Go There

This one goes out to all those unfortunate, uninitiated and uninspired individuals. Get off your high horse and read this.

There may be a hundred reasons why a person goes to Gokarna. People looking to get laid, people looking to score and get high, people looking for a nice, secluded beach and people wanting to offer their prayers in India’s most sacred temple. I don’t know if there are any other reasons, and frankly, I don’t really care why people go there.

I go there for a totally different reason, and its none of the above.

I lead a difficult life. I need to balance my passion to work, my unceasing urge to travel and roam aimlessly across the country, my singularly fierce attraction to beaches and my bank account. Juggling these four volatile substances while playing air hockey with the family, the bosses, the peers, the juniors, the friends, the foes, the creditors, the goons, the loons, the whackadoodles, the geniuses, the crap, the stench and the slippery slopes of bankruptcy, unemployment and loneliness around every corner is taking its toll on my nerves.

There are very few things I’m passionate about, and those that I am passionate about, I am so with a vehemence unseen in anyone else, for anything else. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘do drugs’. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘sleep with women’. I do not go to Gokarna to ‘drink drinks’. I do not go to Gokarna to visit the temple and offer my prayers. I do not go to Gokarna for the sea food. I do no go to Gokarna for the rustic beauty of the village. I do not go to Gokarna to ogle at half-naked women lounging in the sun. I do not go to Gokarna because I love beaches and water. I do not go to Gokarna to swim in the ocean. I do not go to Gokarna to live. I do not go to Gokarna to die.

I go to Gokarna once every three months because I need to get away from the Greek tragedy that my life is fast unraveling to be; to clear my head of all thoughts – good and bad; to reboot myself. I go to Gokarna because its the only place on Earth that welcomes me without judging who I am or what I have done. I go to Gokarna because that is the only place on Earth where I am at peace. Completely.

I have a sea rock, which I call my own, ten feet out into the ocean, at Om Beach. Its a bit of a hike to get to the top of the rock, and once I get there, I sit, looking at the waves crashing into me on all sides, rising twenty feet high and spraying me with a mist of cold, salty water. I listen to the rush, the gurgle, the power and the wordless songs of the waves and as I stare out into the horizon, imagining a place beyond comprehension, where the sky kisses the ocean, I realize that I am peaceful, within and without.

Gokarna - kudle beachNothing of what is happening in life matters here. Time stands still for me, for the 48 hours I’m there. I put my feet up at a cafe, sipping sweet tea and reading a good book, or people watching on the burning, golden sands. I take a nice pleasant trek up to Kudle through thick brambles and open moors and I wade in the white sands until the sun starts to set. I walk back amidst the gathering darkness to Om Beach, walk all the way up to Half Moon and back again. As night descends around me, so does the peace, deeper inside me.

I need this. I can’t do without it. For the unfortunate, uninitiated and uninspired individuals, I recommend it. The only thing I get high on, when in Gokarna, is Gokarna itself.

How To Kill The Nerve Endings In Your Bum

It’s very simple, actually. Does not involve any major surgery, does not involve a great deal of torture. All it takes is a 6-year-old motorbike that has seen better days, a 220-mile stretch of a badly maintained road, total disregard for the well-being of your ass and the ability to risk peeing blood for a week. That’s all it takes to kill the nerve endings in your bum.

It was one of those Sundays that you wished was a Saturday. Wait, why does this statement sound familiar? Anyway, my friends and I decided to take our bikes out on a (very) long road trip this past Sunday, and it turned out to be a pretty amazing day. Except for the fact that I walked funny for two days after and couldn’t sit on anything for too long without my bum muscles cramping up. We were six of us, on three totally mismatched bikes – a Bullet cruiser bike, a Yamaha sports bike and a Bajaj Boxer. Yeah, the Bajaj Boxer was mine. (Non-Indian readers, FYI – a Boxer isn’t a type of underwear here. It’s the unfortunate brand name of a motorbike.)

We set out from Bangalore early, around 6:30 in the morning, and drove up on State Highway 7 towards Mysore. After frequent stops each half hour to regain blood-flow to our asses, we stopped for breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi, next to a place called  Janapada Loka. They had a south Indian breakfast buffet and I did not miss the chance to stuff myself with all the vada I could eat. After deciding on the route to Talkad, we headed out and cruised along for the next hour-and-a-half. The roads were so good that even my rickety old Boxer touched 80 mph. That’s around 65 kmph, and that’s her limit. She tends to get a bit ‘cranky’ if I push her harder.

Talkad - Shores of the Cauvery River

Talkad was a pretty neat experience – sat on the lake shore, ate an enormous amount of cucumbers and washed them down with some ice cream. A local guide offered his services and we took him up on his offer, and for the next hour, we were treated to the entire history of the place, and a running commentary of all the six temples as we walked past each one. This is heritage site, according to a recent government declaration and it was quite interesting to see 2000-year old temples being resurrected.

Talkad - A temple in the process of being excavated

We had our lunch at a local ‘mess’ in Talkad – it was the best lunch EVER because we had an unlimited amount of rice, sambar, rasam and papad. The taste was not too bad either.

Once we were done with Talkad, we got on to our bikes and headed south towards a place called Shivana Samudram. The roads were atrocious and my bike finally decided to call it quits. Twenty minutes of engine cooling time and an oil change later, we were back on the road.

There are two waterfalls in this place – one was a mile-and-a half walk from where we parked and the other was accessible by road. We were so tired that we decided to ride up to the second one, and were thoroughly disappointed by the thin stream of water that we could spot with difficulty at a great distance. We decided it was the best time to head back to Bangalore.

Free Beer to anyone who can spot the water fall

Four hours and a very sore ass later, we finally entered home stretch on the Bangalore highway. I dropped off my friend at her hostel around midnight and headed back home to a warm and comforting bed. I could not sleep on my back for two nights after.

All in all, it was a fantastic journey. Everyone had a great time and one of the highlights of the day was when my battered Boxer overtook the Bullet cruiser bike on the highway at full speed. I was at full speed. The Bullet was standing still on the side of the road.