Friday, February 17, 2006

Once upon a time in the East

Comments to yesterday's post made me all nostalgic about the good old days working for the Firm and made me decide to post a description of one such day that I'd put down a while ago.

The year is 2003. It's the 15th of August. I'm part of a team of consultants working in a manufacturing plant in the little known and even less visited town of J. in Southern Orissa. Flight connections out of this part of the country are scarce, and our usual MO is to get back to Delhi (our home office) is to catch an overnight train from the nearest railway station to Raipur, arriving there at around 7:00 in the morning and catching the 9:00 am flight out to Delhi. A trip home of roughly 16 hours door to door (assuming everything runs on time) which we undertake once every two weeks, alternating it with weekends spent watching the latest trash Hindi movies on the one television set in our entire guest house and a dvd player we managed to rent from a nearby town.

My thanks for this post to dhoomk2, friend, former colleague and fellow traveller on the expedition described here. He's the one who managed to find this mail among his archives.

3:30 am: Wake up on train to Raipur (am supposed to catch 9:00 am flight from Raipur to Delhi) Find train is stopped at station. Go back to sleep

5:30 am: Wake up on train (as above). Find train is stopped at station. Realise station looks familiar. Shake head. Go back to sleep.

5:35 am: Woken up by friendly co-passenger to be told that train has been stopped at station for two hours (bad), but will be moving soon (good) going back in the direction we came (very, very bad) because goods train in front of us has derailed.

5:36 am: Realise that am awake and not dreaming this. Arm hurts from pinch.

5:37 am: Realise that only course to pursue is to get down from train and make way forward by road

5:38 am: Realise minor flaw in plan: Getting down from train is difficult since there is no platform. Manage to jump down, bruising ankle on way.

5:39 am: Realise major flaw in plan: There is no road!

5:55 am: Running madly through field in general direction of thatched huts, led on by rumour of bus at 6:00 am. Feel like overloaded dwarf trailing Orcs through middle-earth.

6:00 am: Find bus. Talk to driver who confirms that he can get us there by 8:00 am (joy and happiness!). Talk to driver and realise that "there" is not Raipur but some place called Nuapada (gloom and despair)

6:00 - 8:00 am: Spend two hours crammed in leaky roofed bus clutching laptop going over semi-metal road while being a) prodded by umbrellas b) poked in the eye by enthu children waving national flags c) having said little children shoved on lap while parents look on suspiciously. Feel nostalgic about Mumbai rail. Vow never to eat sardines again, from sense of empathy.

8:01 am: Am overjoyed to learn that spine is still in one piece and not fragmented into 35690 segments as per earlier hypothesis.

8:02 am: Realise that Nuapada bus terminus is actually big field with a) two buses b) five cows c) three dogs and d) two rickety jeeps.

8:03 am: Thrust money at rickety jeep driver to take us to nearby 'town' of Khariar road as fast as possible. He takes off leaving trail of dust and assorted spare parts. Realise hypothesis on spine breakage could still come true.

8:04 am: Jeep driver stops for 10 minutes to fill petrol. This consists of going to neighbourhood pan shop and picking up jerry can from him. Make mental note to point out unique retailing opportunity to teams working for our Petroleum clients.

8:30 am; Arrive in Khariar road which is 'hayp' town and has choice of jeeps - Marshall, Qualis, Sumo. Pick Sumo. Are now on way to Raipur (finally) on actual tarmac (finally). Feel optimistic about catching 12:00 noon flight to Mumbai from where can travel to Delhi.

8:50 am: 5 km out of Brajbhol find that road has been washed away by annual flood. Look on hopelessly as driver searches for convenient tree under which to spend night.

9:00 am: Convince driver that, Heraclitus notwithstanding, flood will still be as bad t'rrow and we can't wait. Convince him to take other route.

9:10 am: Manage to motivate driver to get us there as fast as possible. Driver gets into spirit of things. Decides to make us feel more at home by playing Vengaboys album. Am now on way to Ibitza apparently

9:15 am: Can't decide what's worse - having an accident because of driving at 120 Km/ hr on semi-metal road or not having an accident and having to listen to Vengaboys.

11:15 am: Reach Raipur airport. Screech of brakes as mud-spattered Sumo comes to halt outside main gate. Quick unloading. Rush to airline counter. Airline counter closed. Mumbai flight cancelled because of Independence day. Next flight at 9:00 am next morning

11:20 am: Get Sumo driver to take us to hotel in Raipur. Realise all this time he was driving at 120 Km / hr wasn't because we were in a hurry. It was just his usual speed.

11:30 am: Check into Hotel Babylon. Try to ignore garish paintings all over walls. Room filled with flies, so spend hour swatting. Then open laptop and get to work.

9:30 pm: Halfway through work decide to take break and have a drink. Call bar. Find 15th August is dry day. Go back to work.

1:30 am (next day) : Finally done with work. Lie in bed feeling character build.

1:31 am (next day): Remember that am quitting in two months to do a PhD. Breathe sigh of relief. Laugh sadistic laugh. Sleep.

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Anonymous said...

..Quite hilarious...and a rarity..on your blog i must admit..
Keep it up dude..

sambar42 said...

You've read English, August, right?

Pareshaan said...

Great Post.

Ph said...

Ouch. That sounds painful. You poor thing.

The Man Who Wasnt There said...

ha rock totally!! Cant believe the amazing variety you bring into your writing!!
You should write a book .Really.

Falstaff said...

Anon: Thanks. I think.

Sambar42: I have, yes. And can assure you that that stuff is a lot more fun when it's a) fiction b) happening to someone else.

Pareshaan: Thanks.

Ph: It was, yes. Actually, I was coasting along fine until the dry day fiasco happened. We did finally manage to weasel our way around the rules (though this meant substituting the stiff vodka martinis I had in mind with some fairly insipid beer) but for a while there I could see the whole day flashing before my eyes.

Girish: Thanks

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