My husband had some assignment at the southern end of Maharashtra and he decided to travel by road. Should I join? Hmmm? Well, why not? On work front, there wasn’t anything much exciting nor any pressing task. So I decided to take this opportunity. A minuscule break, but with no agenda (at least for me) whatsoever.
So I threw a few things together and hopped in the car. We weaved through the office-hour Mumbai traffic, crossed Navi Mumbai (New Bombay) and left the city behind. I put on ear-phones, shuffled my favourite numbers and sat back.
But a few miles later we noticed something odd – the cars in front were taking a U turn and were going back. At first we didn’t bother, but then our car came to a stand still — just like the rows and rows of cars in front of us — and soon, even behind us.
The sun was moving towards its noon-time zenith and it wasn’t exactly comfortable sitting in a motionless car. From the rows ahead and behind, people were stepping out of their cars and were discussing ….. discussing what? Isn’t it strange that whenever such public situation arises, total strangers (especially drivers) immediately bond like long lost friends or Kumbh ke mele mein bicchade brothers?
Rows of cars stuck on the winding roads of Western Ghats
Then on the scene arrived an angel on a bike, carrying news from the opposite direction. Naturally every soul in that never-ending car queue was all ears for some news …. any news arriving from the direction where it all had started.
“Patthar gire hain — there is a land-slide. Nothing can move till four or five o’clock in the evening.”
There was a mad rush to turn around, before the U turn or the express-way in the opposite direction also could get blocked….. we were not exception. Herd mentality — yes, we too were guilty! Nobody tried to verify what that biker said. How blind (& also deaf n dumb) can we get.
So we went back a few kilo-meters and took the now-rapidly-filling up old Mumbai-Pune road, abandoned since the easier, faster option of express-way was opened.
So the old,scenic route started winding up the ghats, unfurling old memories of childhood travels. But loosing oneself in the sweet past wasn’t possible, as the reality wasn’t all that rosy. The ‘curvaceous’ ghats and their steep, winding roads were causing naak mein dum for all the cars.
People usually generalise that city females find it difficult to put up with hardships. (being a female from city, I of course do not subscribe to this opinion – Absolutely Not). Applying the same (wrong) logic, the new age city cars were fast bucking under this sudden challenge.
There was a quickly spreading epidemic amongst the cars — with rapid succession they were falling victim to the ‘smokey’ phenomenon. Looking at the scenario we were getting more and more worried about our ‘old faithful’. Whenever we detected even a whiff of smoke, we immediately stopped and checked whether our ‘grand dame’ has got a whim of having a smoke.
One after other the cars were being pulled on the side for a breather, bonnets were opened to let out the clouds of smoke. The cars on the roads were anyway moving at a snails’s pace, so I tried to have a look at the open bonnets of a car or two. But in return I received dirty glares.
Well, well, how well the human brains perceive what exactly is in the mind of opposite person — especially if it has some dishonourable thought like taking a picture of the gaping bonnet full of smoke. So a dirty glare was a natural reaction, I guess. Suppose if we were in their place, with our poor baby having tough time? No, no ….. it was not charitable on my part even to entertain such thought. So mentally wishing ‘get well soon’ and ‘speedy recovery’ etc. to those coughing, spluttering cars, we inched our way, keeping our fingers crossed.
There the next problem stood in the form of a traffic police — No going further on the old road, take the old-new connect and resume the journey on the express-way. Everywhere, on all the levels, the roads in the ghats were completely jammed. I wondered how the drivers could differentiate between old and new roads?
So we were back to the point from where we had taken a U turn. The same slow motion process continued till the ghats ended. There we saw the real reason – an oil/petrol tanker had overturned, causing oil-spill. By then the area was made safe by spreading sand and gravel over the spill, so as to avoid any skidding. So much for the ‘Land slide’ of the biker messenger!
So the first half part of the journey we covered by car and the second part we completed by flight. Yes, we flew the rest of the way. You see, these professional drivers simply loath any kind of delay, they hate it when they get late ….. let the reason be anything.
So to make up the lost time, our charioteer just vroomed the rest of the way. There was so much to enjoy along the way — the total black soil, the swaying sugar-cane fields, the fully white, slim bullocks with long, pointed horns …… thanks to our dear driver the rest of the journey was simply a blurrrrrrrrr.
Even after our repeated reminders that we were not in any life and death hurry, he refused to ease his foot off the accelerator. At a point, I almost pictured myself wearing a helmet inside the four-wheeler. And no, it wasn’t a funny picture.
And this wasn’t my imagination, I’m pretty sure it was there — just above the rear-view mirror there was a sign flashing ….. Fasten –er, no, not fasten — ‘Tighten your seat belts…..we are taking off to the space!’
When we finally reached our destination, I realised that all this while I had been holding my breath!