Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ramagundam Rhapsody

Ramagundam Rhapsody (Rhapsody - joy, ecstacy, eagerness)

The police had shot down a few naxalites, breaking the cease-fire between them. The atmosphere was tense, & naxalites had called for a statewide bundh on Thursday, 20th Jan 2005, in Andhra Pradesh.

T V Subba Rao, Designs manager for our vertical, was to leave to Ramagundam, & I was to join him. Ramagundam is a small place, five hours by road from Secunderabad, not found on most of the maps one may have access to.

The traffic was thinner than I expected, & I reached airport at 3:45 P.M. Subba Rao ambled in at 4:10, & I waved to him. He waved & disappeared in the crowd, only to resurface next to me in a couple of minutes. The flight took off at 5:40, late by half an hour… The flight was rather boring, what with the plastic smiles from the airhostesses….

We landed at about 6:50 P.M. We proceeded to Imlibun bus station to get onto a bus that would transport us to Ramagundam. The journey by road would take about 5 hours… It took some searching by the time we found the bus.

At about 12:50 AM, Subba Rao shook me from deep slumber & announced ”We have to get down”. Since Subba Rao had already visited Ramagundam before, I guessed it wasn’t necessary to investigate. This, I would later learn, was a mistake. We got off the bus, looked around. Not a soul in sight, except for a couple of beggars sleeping on the platform. We tiptoed out of the bus stand, onto the highway. Silence ruled. I turned back to see if anyone else had alighted the bus with us. No luck. Now, I could read “Peddapalli Bus Stand” written in bold blue telugu script on the building. I would soon read on a milestone ahead, that we were 30 km from Ramagundam.

We did not know where we were, apart from the name of the place. We figured out that the best possible way to keep moving ahead was to halt a passing truck. Subba Rao was not interested in the idea at all. But I decided to give it a try, & may be once I get in to a truck, Subba Rao would follow, for the fear of being alone in an unknown place. I saw a matador coming my way, & decided against flagging him, as I thought it would be cumbersome for 2 more to get in. Then came a truck, & I waved my hand. To my surprise, the truck only picked up speed as he went past me. I tried another, & the same result. I was determined to stop the next one, so I waved faster. & faster the truck went. One trucker went almost to the other side of the road to be sure I don’t hop in. This happened several times. I guess all of them thought I was a naxalite… We started walking along the highway.

Welcome to Naxal territory.

After some distance, in the faint light available, we spotted an auto! An auto! “God must have sent it for us!” Subba Rao exclaimed. I only nodded. After some haggling, the guy agreed to take us to Ramagundam, at an astronomical sum of money. We agreed, partly because we were left with no other option, & partly because the cost would be borne by our company. Soon as we settled in the rickshaw, the guy let out a shrill whistle & out of the surrounding darkness surfaced six more men. They all packed into this rickshaw, & now there were nine people in the rickshaw. We began to compete for space with our suitcases. Subba Rao was sweating profusely even though the night was cold. I, on the other hand, was trying to pat myself on the back, for having decided not to take my camera along, but I could not, due to lack of space.

As the rickshaw picked up speed, the high bass, high treble high volume music system came to life, belting out one Telugu number after another. The rickshaw tore through the surrounding silence of the highway, with its sole light piercing through the darkness…

The worst of Subba Rao’s fears’ came alive when the rickshaw sharply turned into a narrow by lane along the highway. So did mine. I was thinking this will be the last time people will see me wearing clothes. But I was certain that they could not take more than my suitcase & clothes from me. The worst fear I had was to see Subba Rao without his clothes. The auto stopped with a screech. All of them got down, & so did I. Subba Rao seemed to be awaiting orders. He was hugging his briefcase (which contained his 2 years’ work) tightly, pale in the face. I heard a knock on an invisible door, & after what seemed like ages, an old man appeared. He smiled at the people outside. The driver of our auto broke the silence “7 tea, sir do you want coffee or tea?”
Tea, it had to be. I did not want to spend more time here, & coffee would mean that the old man would take more time. After that brief break, we all piled into the rick again. The loud music, the lone light…

In about 30 minutes, we reached Ramagondam. It was about 2:30 in the night. A little searching took us to the hotel. The room was filled with mosquitoes, cockroaches & the like. The window did not have shutters, but ironically there sat a window AC. I switched on the AC, which made all kinds of noises, & hundreds of mosquitoes were instantly released into my “room”. I managed to get some “kachua” coils from the hotel staff. Once I hit the pillow, I was oblivious to my surroundings.

I was woken up by the loud knocks on the door. When I opened my eyes, I found that the room looked spooky, with the smoke of the coil in the air. It was 8:00 AM & Raghu, our dealer in Ramagondam, was at the door, smiling. I grunted a greeting & proceeded to take a shower. Whatever sleepiness remained in me was washed away by the ice-cold water from the shower. No. there was no hot water facility available.

We proceeded to Singareni Collieries’ underground mines. My official work, thankfully, went off smoothly. We decided to test our product the following morning, as we were short of manpower. I was glad that my days work was over by 1 PM, & I could relax & catch up on lost sleep. When we came out, we heard faint slogans. “AITUC Zindaabad, CPI Zindaabad, CPM Zindaabad”. The workers had decided to go on strike. The gate to outside world was blocked by hundreds of slogan shouting employees demanding good quality gas masks. We finally got out by midnight.

On 23rd Morning, we were at the colliery again, testing our product. The performance was satisfactory. We headed back to hotel after the test. On the way back, I could not help but notice that the town wore a blank look. I enquired at the reception, the reason for the town to look desolate. A man sitting in the lobby volunteered, telling me that naxalites had called for a bundh. He asked me “Do you think this is good or bad?” I told him its good as long as no one is injured/hurt, & as long as it is not imposed. He asked me who I was, why I was there, what was the work I had at colliery etc., for which I replied. He asked if I worked for the government, & I showed my Wipro badge. I excused myself & proceeded to my room for lunch.

After lunch, I asked the boy who brought the lunch if the guy I spoke to in the afternoon was another guest. The boy hesitated to tell me. I tipped him 10 rupees, & asked him again. He told me he was Rajendra. I later learnt that a naxal leader of a local group is termed as Rajendra. Person may change, but Rajendra never changes. Kind of like the “Air Force 1” concept.

At 2:45 PM, we checked out the hotel, & proceeded to the railway station. The train was running 2 hours late, & we boarded at about 5:30 PM. I befriended a Nepali Gorkha lad from the Gorkha regiment. We discussed naxal menace in Nepal, as well as my own new experience. We alighted in Secunderabad at 9:10 PM, & to a rick to the hotel. I took the 9:30 AM flight to Bangalore. The flight got delayed, & I landed at 11:20 in Bangalore. As I walked out the airport, I was thrilled, elated & was ecstatic.

I am back.

HOME SWEET HOME




Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Queue

I was in the queue for almost 3 hours now. My legs were begging for mercy. The queue looked endless on both sides from where i was standing. April sun was too much to bear, & the baseball cap i was wearing was no longer comfortable, as it had soaked up my sweat. The cap was hot & wet, but was providing the necessary shade to my eyes. beads of sweat rolled down my forehead & cheeks, & the drops that found their way into my eyes had a cooling effect. I had been standing in the queue since 9 in the morning, after a heavy breakfast. I knew i would have to stand for a long time, but now it was obvious that it would be longer than what I hoped for. there was a lot of pushing & pulling, and at one point in time, i felt my lungs squeezed of air & i thought i would pass out, but i battled it out and regained composure. Finally, the que started moving, as if to challenge the snail in slowness of motion. What kept me in this queue? The promise of great fun once i had the tickets in my hand!
***
It was nearly 3 pm now, & i was almost in sight of the ticket counter. It was still about 30 feet away, but i knew that my chances of getting tickets were slim. I had to get tickets for the show. The girl i met yesterday in Ted's place had said she would love to be at the concert if she could get tickets. she was beautiful! her features reminded me of the greek goddess Venus, & her voice was something i could still hear in my ears. I was told her name was Frida... & got introduced to her & we exchanged our telephone nos. I promised her that I would call her this evening with a surprise. My heart beat so loud that i began to wonder if people around could hear the beats! Pangs of hunger brought me back to reality. I was standing in front of the counter. Finally, at 4 pm i had the tickets in my hand!!
***
I tried to run back to my car & make a call to frida from my cell phone, which i had forgot to pick up when i left the car. As i was walking to my car, i felt like somebody was pulling me to a side, & then i tripped over. The wait in the queue had drained me out. I drove straight home & hit the pillow, tickets still in my hand......
***
When I woke up, there were no tickets in my hand. Intead, there was a post-it stuck to my forearm. Ted wrote me a note, letting me know how grateful he was that i could get tickets for this show. He also let me know that he was taking Frida along to the show, as she loved to be at this concert. My heart sank for a moment, but i consoled myself as Ted was my best pal & i could part with anything for him. Anything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Experiences

It was a sunny day & the wind was strong. The purr of the engine, the wind splitting at the tip of my hair & the distant roar of an approaching bus was all that i could hear.Everything seemed to be control.I had a tankful of fuel, had topped up the engine oil & checked the air pressure in the tyres. I had stocked up on enough food for a days travel.Credit cards were in place.The road was open & i could see the bus now, through the trees on the side of the road, across the bend in the road. the road descended sharply& suddenly, which resulted in a momentary feeling of weightlessness.I started to negotiate the bend, and so did the bus. Suddenly, out of nowhere a mongoose was right in front of me, so i swerved to the edge of the road & pressed the horn switch. The sound of the horn was so loud that the startled mongoose jumped off the road and disappeared into the adjoining woods, and the bus driver moved enough out of my path to give me a safe passage.
I had beads of sweat on my forehead & my hands were trembling. Any mistake on my part would have resulted in the death of that poor thing, but I was also happy that i had a good horn that could clear the road for me......
I was entering a village so i slowed down a bit. There were some urchins playing marbles next to a tea stall. the sight of the tea stall made me realise how hungry i was, and i could feel on my legs the heat radiated by the engine, so i decided to stop for a snack.I looked at the watch. i needed to do no calculations.I was already 3 hours away from home.........
I pulled out my snack bag from my backpack and brought out the sandwiches, which were awaiting my bite.....mmmmmmm....everything tastes so good when i am hungry....
It was 15 minutes to 12 when i woke up...i had a tingling pain in my hand...i looked below and ..ANTS..they were there for what was left of the sandwich. i quickly started for the pumpwell on the opposite side of road when i heard a loud sound........the trees all fell to one side, and went upside down, and fell on their side again before coming to rest....& all i could now see was darkness......
when i opened my eyes, my eyes were cloudy, i tried to move, but could not. i was in a hospital with my leg in plaster. I dont know why a picture of the mongoose drifted into my mind........ & i cursed the car for not having a horn loud enough... It was so comforting to see my friend beside me.
Goutham

journey

The bus was crowded to the limit. I was wise enough to get in through the window, and get two seats for us. Gopal was sitting beside me, fast asleep with mouth open and eyes half open.anybody could mistake him for dead. There was a drop of sweat trickling down beside his ear.The bus started with a loud growl, coughed up a cloud of black smoke and started droning as it moved.it sounded as if the bus was mourning.
We were out of the town now and i could sense the sweet smell of wet grass.the trees & electric poles were steadily moving backwards.the cicadas shrill song seemed to envelope everything around. the bus swayed from one side to another as it took on the curves of the road. It was now cooler inside the bus. The sweat on Gopals face had dried up, but he was still fast asleep, unmindful of the noise around and movement of the bus. the woman seated in front of me carried a baby on her shoulder, and he was fast asleep as well.
Gopal was a short old man, nearing his eighties, a snow white beard which faded into his bald pate.He was not short, but age had bent his back and his shoulders drooped down unable to carry the weight of his hands. He was my best friend and teacher. when i was young, i am told he was the one who gave me a bath, played with me, took me to school and i even played with him. he told me stories of young princes winning battles, and he wanted me to be like them. he also taught me to climb trees and swim in the river.
In the distance, i could see the colourful flags of the annual fair fluttering high in the air. the air was filled with dust that rose from under the horses hooves. I could see the giant wheel now, with children in the buckets screaming and barely hanging on.....last year,gopal taught me how to ride a horse. I was fascinated by the magic show last year, so this year we would go there again.
The bus slowly came to a halt. People inside were trying to get out and those outside were trying to get in...i shook gopal and jumped out of the window. I thought i saw gopal smile at me.
almost everyone got out of the bus, but there was no sign of gopal and bus started to leave....i ran to the driver & told him gopal was still inside. he went in to check. i got into the bus from the drivers door.even though the door was high, i could climb in.
There was gopal, still in the seat, as still as a bone......he was dead.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Career crises

I woke up this morning high on enthusiasm, & went about my routine with the same zest. My ride to office was great, with pleasant weather to boot. I wished the office receptionist the way i always do, with a lot of emphasis on the word "good" in good morning. I was happy to see my pal in his seat already, looking busy. I walked down the aisle with a smile on my face. All the pleasant feelings lasted until i saw the moron in his seat. The smile turned into a grimace slowly & then into a frown. I opened my outlook & the smile returned. so many messages from my friends, great. somewhere nested within were a few mails from the moron & his like. I did not bother to read them. I too got down to looking busy.