That Crazy Cycle trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 4)

March 29, 2010

Road travel can be a very educative experience. For example, in our case, it brought vividly to us that India is a huge and diverse country. We were cycling across the Hindi heartland and only some 750 km. The sense of diversity was ever-present. Pure Hindi was rarely the language we got to listen those six days. We started our trip with Banarasi Bhojpuri which turned into Avadhi and its variants as we approached Allahabad. This metamorphosed into something reasonably similar to pure Hindi (khadi boli) as we got closer to the Kanpur area. This progressively changed in texture and tonality turned into pure “jat”-speak as we moved into Western UP on our way towards Haryana. I read later somewhere that in India dialects change every eighteen kilometers. That could be an exaggeration but I heard with my own ears those changing texture of “Hindi” during the six days and five nights I was on the road.

The trip broke another stereotype of the aggressive, uncouth North Indian. The North Indians we met were uniformly helpful, friendly and courteous. They would unfailingly deliver messages from one of the group to the others. They would politely direct us to the next big dhaba which served the best food in the area. And when one of our friends cycled off the highway into someone’s sugarcane field, he got rewarded with a hipflask-full of freshly crushed sugar cane juice. The flask got passed around the group that early winter morning and we happily sipped off the elixir! Cold, sweet and very, very, invigorating!


I have digressed from the sequential description of the trip. Well, for those who like the facts, from Sikandara we made it to Shikohabad for our night four. The police station hosting us for the night was in the heart of town. Which meant we have a proper meal in a restaurant. There is this side-story of one of our group getting into a scrap with the local people. But I do not have clear memories of that.

From Shikohabad we left for Mathura. This was to be the last halt before Delhi. Once we reached Mathura, we were tempted to cycle even further so that we could be as close to Delhi as possible next morning. And we found ourselves sleeping in Jaint police station. Yet another of those non-descript police affairs in Uttar Pradesh.

It was a usual early morning departure from Jaint and then a stop at Palwal, Haryana, for lunch. I still remember the lunch at Palwal. It was the first time ever I had some beer. One whole glassful! Since I had read somewhere that beer is had chilled- and my beer was not- I had insisted upon ice cubes being added to my glass. Much to the amusement of my more knowledgeable companions.


The entry into Delhi was smooth. We had covered 750 kms from Varanasi to Delhi without any major hitch. Not even a single puncture. Imagine we had together travelled something like 4500 man-kilometers over the previous six days and not one puncture. The puncture kit which was first on the list of must-have items when we were preparing for the trip went totally unused!

The only source of amusement was when the only Delhi-wallah member of our group decided he had had enough of cycling when he entered Delhi (at Sarita Vihar). He just chucked his cycle into an auto-rikshaw (called a “scooter” in Delhi) and went off!

The remaining travelers, all non-Delhi-wallahs asked their way around the mysteriously identical-looking roads of South Delhi and managed to reach our planned location for our stay, one of the hostels (was it Karakoram?) at IIT Delhi at Hauz Khas.

Three days of rest and recreation and we were ready for the journey back to Varanasi. Not on our cycles, of course, but on a train. The cycles were loaded into the parcel van of the train. Thankfully! As we readied ourselves for the practical exams!


PS: A few months after this expedition, one of the fellow-cyclists and I were returning after seeing a movie. Nigh show, of course! And then we realized that Los Angeles Olympics 1984 was starting a couple of days hence. We were feeling sorry for ourselves that we could not catch the inaugural ceremony live as those days (July 1984) Varanasi did not have any TV station. Suddenly it struck us, Allahabad did have TV facilities. And that Allahabad was only some 130 km from Varanasi. As we peddled hostel-wards, we had made up our minds!

Early next morning saw us peddling on the familiar highway on our way to Allahabad.


That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 3)

March 28, 2010

The Cyclists: Raghav Ranjan, Kamlesh Singh, Vinod Kumar, Rajesh Sethi, Satish Mittal, Anurag Subhash, Santosh Ojha

The pic you see above is the only one surviving over the years. This was taken at Raghav Ranjan’s house in Kanpur (mentioned in Part 2)

It is usual for a group of cyclists to get separated on the road. You start at the same time and cycle together for half an hour or so. Then one in the group pedals a little quicker than the others and soon is seen as a dot in the horizon. Then another one takes off while yet another decides to stop for relieving himself. In a matter of an hour the group is spread wide apart, by some five to seven kilometers even. How the group members get together in case of an emergency or for a meal, you will wonder. Remember those were those days there were no mobile phones. No STD booths either, not that these would have really helped to establish communication within the group. In a strange land what would the group do?

The land could be strange, but the lay of the land was simple in our case. We were all cycling on National Highway number Two (NH 2), a long, straight road connecting India from East to West. Unless of course someone veered off the road and decided to take in the pastoral beauty by venturing into the villages; which in our case it rarely happened.

Whenever the group got splintered and someone felt the need to group together, the one who thought was ahead would park at a roadside dhaba and wait for the others to catch up. If he was of the more cautious variety, he would request a scooterist travelling in the opposite direction to convey the message to the other group members regarding his whereabouts. Like “stop at the dhaba just after milestone which says Mathura 65” or “look-out for the tea-stall next to Bunty’s garage on the right”. The one at the rear would do a similar request to another mechanized vehicle rider, but riding in the same direction. “Tell my friends to wait for me at the next petrol bunk.” You will wonder how the messenger would know who he had to deliver the message to. With our NCC dress, our black cycles with the placards announcing “Cycle trip: Varanasi to Delhi”, the kit slung on the cycle carriers and our general mismatch with the looks of the local populace, we were not difficult to spot. In fact we stood out quite starkly!

Sometimes this separation would create dramatic results! I remember this episode when we were proceeding from Shikohabad towards Mathura. The sun was setting and we still had some three hours of cycling to go before we parked for the night. We were hoping to have a night-halt beyond Mathura- we would then be within a kissing distance of our destination, New Delhi.  Most of us were cycling in a bunch, there was one guy behind, but we were within sighting distance. There was one chap whom we had not seen for the last couple of hours and who we assumed was far behind us. Suddenly in the rapidly declining light, one of us saw a body sprawled on the roadside. A closer look revealed a body clothed in khakis, like ours. It was the chap who we always assumed was bringing up the rear! Sethi!

“Sethi! What happened?” we all exclaimed in unison.

“Leave me alone guys”, Sethi groaned. The chap was in agony.

“What happened?”

“My lower back hurts bad, I can’t move, just leave me alone. Carry on guys, I will manage!”

It was getting darker, and colder. And there was no way we could leave him alone. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Well we were on NH 2, but there was not a soul in sight.

Then our Captain Satish took charge. He hoisted Sethi onto the cross bar of his cycle and began cycling after instructing us to bring along Sethi’s cycle. Those of you who have experience of cycling would know that it is possible to ride two cycle together. You sit astride your own cycle peddling normally. You hold your own bike handles with one hand while guiding the accompanying rider-less bike with the other. Not difficult, if you know the trick. And most of us were good at it and we took turns at this while Captain Satish was coasting along “double-ride” with Sethi.

I now think of it and shudder to imagine what would have happened if we had not spotted him!

(To be continued)

That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 2)

March 28, 2010

And then we reached Kalyanpur Police Station.

The daroga (inspector) was a portly old man clad in his lungi and a chaddar. He was holding an object in his hand which he was diligently inspecting. His lackey stared at him admiringly. Our weary bodies were aching to find some place to sleep in when the daroga piped-up: “Kaun ho tum log, kya chahiye?” Our leader thrust the NCC documents under his nose and requested refuge for a night. “Thik hai”, he said, “so jaao”. Before we could figure out where we could sleep, he intoned ominously, thrusting at us the object he held in the dim lantern light. “Pata hai, yeh kya hai?” We stared closer. It was a crescent shaped object wrapped in gunny-bag cloth. “Abhi-abhi mila hai, kisika khoon hua hai issesey. Khoon. Samjhey, khoon. Murder!” Shivers went down my spine, a weapon of murder so close to me! The daroga had been busy sealing the knife for onward transmission. The lackey was nodding in admiration all the time as our group gaped at the murderous package.

There is a Hindi saying:”Raam- raam kartey raat beeti.” That was my fate. As I am sure it was for others too. I am sure we all dreamt of a khooni chaku slitting our throats as we slept in the verandah of the police station between our NCC-issued blankets.


Jaan bachi toh laakhon paaye”, I thought to myself as I peddled furiously towards our next destination. That was a lot milder one, and a lot more welocming. We were headed to for lunch at one our fellow-cyclist’s home in Kanpur. He had planned his cycle adventure to end there. We reached there just before lunch. We never had a more luxurious hot water bath ever before in our lives and what a sumptuous lunch it was!

Bye-byes done, we were off to our next destination. Sikandara.


It was past 10 at night when we landed at the Sikandara Police Station. A scary, decrepit old building. And we were tired and famished and extremely scared, NCC dress notwithstanding. After the Kalyanpur P.S. welcome we were now expecting the worst. And we were completely taken aback when the daroga welcomed us, albeit sternly. “Aao, aao.” He barked. “Kahan sey aaye ho?” Our leader showed him all the NCC documentation we had. And the daroga’s stern look softened a bit. I wonder whether he understood the documents.

And then dropped a bombshell: “Darr nahin laga, yeh Phoolan Devi ka ilaqa hai.” Phoolan Devi’s infamous Behmai massacare had taken place a few years ago. Here she had avenged her slight in the earlier years by gunning down dozens of innocent inhabitants of Behmai village. We were aware of this one. But none knew that Behmai came under the jurisdiction of Sikandara PS. One of us gathered his wits and said, “No, we were not scared. Phoolan is in jail now.” Indeed she was, taken into custody after much drama only a few months ago.

The daroga now actually smiled and offered: “Sona hai? Toh yahaan so jaao.” And he gestured toward a crummy looking room next to his desk. “bahut achha hai, bahut achha hai.” I was wondering whether he was referring to his own reaction or was referring to the room. He resolved the matter for us very quickly. “Yeh hamaarey thaney ka lock-up hai. Abhi thodi hi der pehley ek kaidi chhoota hai yahaan sey. Puwaal taaza hai bilkul. So jaao aaraam sey.” He was reassuring us that the hay on the floor was fresh and would keep us warm. As an added incentive he told us that the previous occupant of the lock-up had just left and the hay was fresh!

And then in a sudden fit of extra generosity he enquired: “Have you had something to eat?” In the urge to reach our night-halt destination, Sikandara, we had not had the time to eat anything. The evening tea and snack on the highway was the last we had had. We were famished, and we told him as much. The kind soul instructed his assistant to fetch us some aloo sabzi– the left-overs from their dinner. Said the generous daroga: “The sabzi is dry, add some water to it if you wish. And here is some atta, if one of you knows how to make rotis, knead the atta and there is an oven which is still burning. The cookery expert amongst us got down to kneading dough while the rest busied ourselves kneading our muscles with the aid of some Iodex. Some dozed off on the hay bed.

After a satisfying midnight meal, we all crawled onto our thick hay carpet, unrolled our NCC-issue blankets and dozed off to sleep.

(To be continued)

That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 1)

March 27, 2010

The Routs Map (red dots denote night halts)

It was one of the craziest activities I have ever taken part in. I cycled from Varanasi to Delhi by road. On a bicycle. In the middle of winter. A ride of about 750-odd kilometers. With hardly any support systems save for the few classmates as companions, a rudimentary first aid kit and some puncture repair paraphernalia. The plan was simple, simplistic really, on hindsight. This trip was undertaken in 1983-84 when we were engineering students in the fourth year of our five year course at IT-BHU, Varanasi. (Those days engineering was a five-year course in most places). There was a largish gap between our theory and practical exams and we decided to make good this opportunity by seeing the world a bit.

We had a classmate, Satish, who had done all the planning. We would leave Varanasi early morning on 29th Dec 1983 and reach Delhi on the evening of 3rd January 1984. Satish had not only done painstaking preparations for the trip but he had also gathered a bunch of seven of us. Six were to go all the way to Delhi from Varanasi while one would stay back in Kanpur, his home town. I was perhaps the only non-NCC guy in the group. With nothing to protect us but our youthful enthusiasm and those hastily acquired NCC kits. Those of us who were not members of the NCC enrolled as one, if not for anything else but to get the NCC standard issue gear; a blanket, a jersey, boots etc. And more importantly, a letter from the campus’ NCC commandant certifying us as bonafide NCC cadets and that others should help us in case we were in need.

We had decided that we will have one leader and who we would follow come what may. We instinctively knew that it would be chaos if we did not have a leader, a single person whose commands we needed to obey. Satish being the one who had planned the entire trip was the unanimous choice; and he was the “most-NCC” of us all! “C” certificate and all that. With a demeanour to boot.


We started our trip from BHU’s Vishwanath Mandir at 5.30 in the morning. We did have a couple of friends to see us off. Puja offered, photos taken, bye-byes done; we were off! The night before we left, some friends had come to wish me all the best. They all placed bets among themselves on whether I would  complete this journey. I was not exactly the physically active types, and hardly the type to cycle all the way to Delhi from Varanasi. Most of my friends were pretty sure that on day two I would be on way back to Varanasi, probably via a hitch-hiked return trip on a truck or worse still a dehydrated and fatigued apparition of skull-and-bones in an ambulance. I am sure some would have even replaced the ambulance in their imagination for a hearse. Since you are reading this post some 27 years afterwards, you know that I have survived to tell the tale.


The plan- our leader Satish’ plan- was to cycle about 125 kms a day and halt for the night at a police station. Our Day one ended at Allahabad. A government guest house was made available to us thanks to the influence of a friend’s father who was a senior government officer. So the lodging and boarding was well taken care of. But when we reached the destination we discovered that our bodies are made of the elements, lead being a prominent one. Yes, our legs were leaden! Most of us barely had the energy to park our cycles and we all collapsed onto the nearest horizontal space available. Satish went out to enquire about the dinner etc. When he returned, he announced the meal arrangements and also the time of departure for the next morning. Six am, he pronounced. A collective groan all round, but we had no choice. We had all agreed to follow our leader.


So Six am it was that biting cold morning of 30th December 1983. Seven idiots, with aching calf muscles donned in their NCC gear setting off for day two of the expedition. Destination for the night: Kalyanpur police station.

The first hour was a torture. All the muscles were groaning in unison. Head was telling me, go back you idiot. What are you doing here this winter morning on the highways of UP? You ought to be in your hostel bed in Varanasi curled up with a book on mechanical metallurgy, or thermodynamics, or whatever seizes your fancy. (I refrain from admitting here what really seized my fancy at that age). The heart rebelled: “You twit, you want to get back and prove all those stupid hostel-mates right by returning after 24 hours in the wilderness?” “No way, my heart told me, “no way”, as I continued to peddle on my old hand-me-down Avon cycle. I am sure the others had similar introspective chats with themselves. None surrendered.

After an hour or so, my body settled to the rhythm of peddling, my muscles found their strange abuse familiar. I was singing as I cycled along the highway. I still remember the song I would sing aloud to myself often during the trip: “Zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai; ek srimati ki, kalavati ki..”. That old song of Kishore Kumar from the 1962 movie Manmauji. Maybe it was the simple words, maybe it was the simple tune, that was the song I had used whenever I was asked by my seniors to sing a romantic Hindi song during my ragging days some three-and-a-half years earlier. Or maybe it was the song’s following line which- in those conditions- made me peppy. The line goes: “sewa karey jo pati ki..” I was far from having a patni, but the whole thought of a nubile woman massaging my calf-muscles at that time of the day was enticing. And it is this thought which made me brave on.

Another motivation was to have an hourly stop at the road-side dhaba to gorge on some sweets and some water. Mostly pedas or jalebis. Washed down with liters of water from whatever receptacle the water was held in at the dhaba. Amrit. Pure!

(To be continued)

Chanda o chanda

March 20, 2010

Mankind, ever since it came into being, has always held the moon in great fascination. That orb- or crescent, depending on the time of the month- of celestial light has always had its beholders awe-struck. Many-a-phenomena has been attributed to the moon; right from the ocean tides to the loss of sanity of humans (lunacy. Remember?). Many-a-calendar has been based on the moon (lunar year). Festivals are dictated by the phases of the moon. Some fall on Poornima, some on Amasvaya while the rest fall on days in between (e.g tritiya, ekadashi). There have been Chandravanshi dynasties. The moon has been the source of thousands of names: Chandrima, Chandradeo, Poornima, Chandraprakash. Many-a-lullaby has been sung by mothers coaxing their children to sleep: “Chanda Mama door ke…”, “Chanda mama se pyaaara tera mama”. Ever since 1969, man has also been travelling to the moon trying to figure out its mysteries. Remember Apollo 11? However, this post is not on lessons in astronomy, but on a lot more interesting area; the Hindi cinema.

Hindi cinema, or any cinema for that matter, uses multiple devices to make points. Maybe I will discuss the stock ones in another post of mine. One wildly popular one is the moon, chand, chandrama. That singularly potent symbol of romance and the pitfalls of it. Chand describes the lover’s beauty, sets up the stage for a romantic rendezvous and if the lover does not respond, or worse still the rendezvous does not happen, chand is resorted to for advice, support and sympathy.

The hero often likens his beloved to the moon. In similies or metaphors. That Guru Datt classic: “Chaudhavin ka chand ho” from the eponymous film where the hero cannot decide whether the radiance of her visage resembles that of the moon (chand) or the sun (aftaab). This one can fully understand, the beloved in consideration being the lovely Waheeda Rehman. If you have seen the movie, you will recollect that the song starts with a close-up of the full moon. But what about Mala Sinha in “Himalaya Ki Gode Mein”? Manoj Kumar serenades her wishing his beloved was as lovely as the moon: “Chand si mehbooba ho meri”. Manoj Kumar “acting” as only he can and Mala S. acting as only she can complete with the coquettish biting of her little finger, attempting to blush. Then there is this rambunctious Shammi Kapoor dancing around in a shikara in the hit movie “Kashmir Ki Kali”. He is clear that Sharmila Tagore, his beloved, has a moon-like face and with golden tresses to boot. “Yeh chand sa roshan chehra, zulfon ka rang sunehra”. To emphasize that they are indeed in Kashmir- and on Dal lake- he even likens her eyes to a lake: “Ye jheel si gehri aankhein…”. With his active gestures, there is never a dull moment with Shammi K around. Compared to this vigorous chand song, this one from “Saawan Ko Aaney Do” sounds really tame: “Chand jaisey mukhdey pey bindiya sitara…”, says an impoverished-looking Arun Govil to the preening Zarina Wahaab.

Sometimes chand even serves as an advisor, a sounding board. Like Sanjay “Abdullah” Khan asking the moon whether it has seen someone as beautiful as his lover. “Mainey poochha chand sey, ki dekha hai kahin…”. The beloved being Zeenat A. (And to amply clarify the question the director+set designer duo even place a crescent moon “hanging” in the sky which you can see through the window.) Chand, of course, does not reply. Zeenat does, though, through her coy gestures. She agrees with her hero!

See full size image

Sometimes the moon is compared to the lover’s beauty and is found wanting in comparison. The moon, then, has two option: either to feel shy (“Husn sey chand bhi sharmaya hai”) of Saira Rehman’s beauty, or sigh regretting its inferior looks: “Chand ahein bharega, phool dil thaam lengey…..”. That is Mala Sinha again! She is the one in focus while another Kumar serenades her- Raj Kumar!! I’m sure the Kumar’s have a thing about the seductive charms of Mala S. Samjhey Jaani??

Chandrama served as a reference point for the lover’s beauty and it is also instrumental in building up the atmosphere for a romantic rendezvous.

The sublime “Aadha hai chandrama, raat aadhi..” from Navrang built up this urge to an altogether different level. Never mind that the hero has an idiotic look on his face as he beseeches his beloved to complete their romantic chat, he did not want it to be truncated half-way. The heroine, Sandhya, is more interested in wiggling her hips and balancing that impossible seven pots arrangement on her head as the hero laments the slippage of midnight into day.

Decades later, Sanjeev Kumar gets a bit more physical and lassoes his beloved Shabana Azmi into joining him behind the local church where he has placed the chand he has stolen from the skies. Church, you wonder…? Well, this  movie is based in Goa and we have the great Sanjeev Kumar in Goan costume, complete with shorts encasing his ample posterior and a beach shirt.

Things were rather subtle in Chori Chori where Raj Kapoor and Nargis both agreed that they should both meet up in the sweet shadow of the moonlight, “Aa ja sanam madhur chandni mein ham..” That Lata/ Manna duet is an all time classic. As is the great romantic film filched from “The Roman Holiday”. Or was that “It happened one Night”?

In 1952, in the movie “Jaal”, Dev Anand beseeches his beloved on the beaches of Goa (complete with palm trees): “Yeh raat, yeh chandni phir kahaan..”. Never mind he was wearing a rather odd piece of clothing on these beaches… a full sweater!

Or even the song from the comparatively recent film: “Chand chhupa badal mein..” .

See full size image

If the hero had no guts to proposition, he would summon the moon to do the needful. As in this song from Shart: “Dekho who chand chhup key karta hai kya ishatey..”. The female understands and she reciprocates: Perhaps it says I am yours (“hum ho gaye tumhaarey..”). Some enthusiastic- and rather non-creative lovers- even liken themselves to the moon and the moonlight. “Mein tera chand, tu meri chandani..”. Or even the more modern “Chand mera dil, chandni ho tum” from the late 70’s movie Ham kissisey Kam Nahin. And some expressive ones say: “Chandni chand sey hoti hai, sitaron sey nahin….” Just in case you did not know that only the moon caused moonlight, never the stars.

Chand is also summoned to heighten the feeling of frustration of the lovers. Like the appeal of “Na yeh chand hoga na taarey rahengey”. Or “Chand phir nikalaa, magar tum naa aaye”. Or the intense- and incendiary- “Terey bina aag yeh chandni, tu aa aa jaa.” Dev Anand appealing to Waheeda “Khoya khoya chand, khula aasman..”. Or that last song ever of Mukesh from the film Mukti, “Suhaani chandni raatein, hamein soney nahin detein” sung by the bearded Shashi Kapoor punching the piano in a restaurant.

Chand also serves as the last resort of the loser, one who has lost it all in the game of romance. The ulitimate loser song is from Chandralekha: “Mainey chand aur sitaraaon ki tamanna kit hi…” The protagonist goes on to lament that while he sought the brightness of the moon and the stars, he got nothing but the darkness of nights (.. mujhko raaton ki siyahi ke siwa kuchh na mila..”)

Chand is sometimes summoned as a witness- an arbitrator really- to pronounce its judgement on the moony lovers. Like in this evergreen Hemant Kumar composition from “Miss Mary” sung by Rafi and Lata: “Oh raat key musafir, chanda zara bata dey; mera kasoor kya hai, yeh faisla suna dey..”.


When I was kid, I was taken to a show put up by USIS (United States Information Service- does it exist now?) where we saw a piece of a moon rock placed in an elaborate display case. As we exited, we were given a button which said “I saw the moon rock”. We were hyper-excited then and wore the button for the next few weeks. Now that I think of it, I realize that in Hindi cinema, the moon always rocks!


I must acknowledge the contribution of my friends Anshu Tandon and Sanjeev Roy who provided me lists of chand songs. And my thanks to Atul who celebrates in his blog his love for Hindi songs; go check it out: