Musings on the Hawaii Chappal

August 1, 2012

The other day, during an utterly mindless and aimless browsing of the internet, I came across a four- year old news story. Bata announcing the sale of its brand “Hawaii” to a Brazilian company. Bata may be a Multinational (it is Canadian) but to Indians of my age group at least, Bata is (was?) very much Indian. Thanks to their excellent distribution network across smaller towns and those  very “modern” (for that era) Bata showrooms. These were the stores where black leather shoes were purchased at the beginning of the school academic year. They were expensive of course, all of Rs 35 (Rs 34.95 actually in true Bata pricing tradition; a “sub-nearest-rupee” pricing was long called Bata pricing) in the early seventies of last century. But what the hell, their shoes were widely reputed to be sturdy and resilient- up to a point at least-to the sturdy kicks we gave to the roadside gravel as we walked home in the evening from school. Parents knew their money was well-spent on a pair of Bata shoes. Money could be saved elsewhere like bargaining for the lowest rate for socks, vests etc. at the local hosiery store.

Anyway, coming back to the Hawaii which is the theme of this piece, the news of Bata selling off this “family heirloom” as it were was a bit of a shock to me. Hawaii chappals, those rubber slippers called “flip-flops” elsewhere in the English-speaking world were a part of growing-up those days. Kids in a middle class family ran around bare feet. With growing family affluence you were bought a pair of Hawaii chappals. Just like the relative affluence of a family moving to a toothbrush (from a neem twig). Or from the cooking pot to a pressure cooker. The surahi to refrigerator change was further up the socio-economic scale. If you do not understand what I mean you may not want to continue reading further.

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For those who still continue to read, and who may not have seen a Hawaii pair, let me describe them  to you. This footwear was nearly always white in colour with blue straps. I do not remember wearing anything but the blue and white combo. The white would get eroded over months of use and the underlying blue layering was exposed. That was still ok till even the blue wore off and all what you could see was the soil underneath. That was the time to replace the chappals. Occasionally the blue strap would give way. This was easily corrected depending on the location of damage. An errant strap-end which came out of the base could be refitted through some diligent coaxing with a blunt pencil or if broken at the joint where the two branches of the strap met (at the toe-hold) could be stitched up by the neighbourhood cobbler. It was utterly cool to show up with repaired chappals. And just in case the broken straps were beyond repair, you could have them replaced by new straps. The foot-wear seller would use an intricately-shaped tool which he would lubricate with some waxy substance to get the three ends of the new strap into each slipper. You could sometimes be in a situation where you were wearing a pair of chappals with the white base frayed and with spanking new blue straps.

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Hawaii chappals were the most comfortable footwear in the world. Ask me, I wore them for all my five years of my engineering classes. Except for the workshops where we were sternly warned to wear laced shoes, lest we hurt our toes.

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I have been travelling on work for the last 25 years. Initially, as a rookie, I stayed in lodges and cheap hotels and it was necessary to carry my Hawaii chappals while travelling. Always neatly wrapped in a sheet of the previous day’s newspaper and tucked inside a corner of my suitcase. When packing my bags home from hotels which did not provide the morning newspaper I would have to find some other means of wrapping them up neatly!

Over time, the hotels became fancier and they offered “carpet slippers” in a variety of designs and materials. But I continued- and I still do- carry my own chappals where I travel. It just makes you feel at home, does it not? You are no more in a different city,  you have carried the distinctively comfortable footwear along with you- your regular chappals.

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I still wear rubber slippers, but alas not Hawaii anymore. The wannabe Hawaiis come in a myriad of colours and materials. But what the hell, they are still reasonably comfortable!

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The pic above is stolen from the internet, I do not possess the blue and white Hawaiis anymore. Alas!


My Fav Childhood Mags: Parag and Nandan

December 1, 2010

We would get magazines in our house aplenty. Some my father would buy, some he would borrow from his college library. But when I was a kid, there were two magazines I looked forward to. Parag and Nandan. Lotpot happened when I was a little older, Chandamama (of “Vaitaaal and Vikram” fame) was too kiddish and Bal Bharati from the government publication house was too propaganda-ish.

There were some interesting “adult” publications as well. There was this “Dharmyug” which I would read only for its comic strip “Cartoon Kona Dhabbooji” by Abid Surti. Or for its occasional Cricket special, aka “Kriket Vishank”. In those times in the publishing world there was no formula more magical than having a cricket special. Ask Khushwant Singh, the then editor of the venerable “The Illustrated Weekly of India” from the same stable as Paraag and Dharmyug, and Dharmyug, the Bennet Coleman Group. Add to this another magazine from its stable, Dinman, off which I learnt the Urdu language. I have written about this earlier on my blog.

Nandan was more oriented towards “raja-and rani stories”, while Parag was a “modern-day” one. Nandan had stories about Raja Krishnadeva Raya’s courtier, Tenali Raman, while Parag had stories rooted in the then current times. Like the stories about Dadaji and Nanaji by Avatar Singh and the very poignant stories by Vidwan K. Narayanan. Avtar Singh was a sardar as his occasional pics in the mag confirmed while Vidwan K. Narayanan was a Tamilian as was evident from the address appended at the end of the story….“Gandhari Amma Koil Road..” A dead giveaway! It is a pity that both these writers died when they were young.

Parag had this cartoon strip called called “Chhotu-Lambu”, which was more often than not very hilarious!

There was a time in my pre-teens when Parag declared itself a magazine for the teens. And they began publishing articles which probed the lives of the teenagers. For example, a monthly story on the teenagers of the small town India. The series was called “Nagar mein ghoomta aainaa.” Or even stupid teenagerish stories. It was a task then to wrest the magazine away from the hands of my elder brother or sister who were both teenagers and hence had the power to shoo me off saying, “This mag. is not for kids, you go and read Nandan, Chandamama etc.”

I remember the mags would cost no more than sixty paise. Till the Indo-Pak war happened and a two paise “refugee relief” cess happened on all consumer products, including those consumed by kids, We now needed to pay sixty-two paise for our mags.

Over time- and I do not quite remember when- I grew out of my favourite magazines and dived straight into “adult” stuff like Mayapuri, Satyakatha, Manohar Kahaniyan. I thought I had had grown into an adult.

And now, when I think back, I wish I had the Parags and Nanadans close to me my bedside reading supply!


Our Lambretta Scooter: A Family Member

September 30, 2010

Our Lambretta

Pic courtesy Goldenscoots.com

Our family vehicle had an international design. Neither Japanese, nor Korean which are currently popular in India. Those are hardly international, they are Asian, come on!! Ours was designed in Europe, and that too at the most happening design center in the world, Italy. While most other people in our city, Jamshedpur, had mechanical two-wheelers (read bicycles), ours was a mechanized one, it ran on petrol and it had gears. My father, we call him Pitaji, rode a scooter, a Lambretta scooter.

This was in the 60’s and 70’s of the last century. Cars those days were a luxury. They were very expensive and consumed lots of fuel. There were just two makes available those days, Ambassador and Fiat. The pace of life those days did not demand cars. Two-wheelers were fine, mechanized or otherwise.

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Our Lambretta was a versatile vehicle. It could transport Pitaji to his college for his lectures. He could also ferry one of us siblings to school in case we felt too lazy to walk or to cycle.  Why only one, five of us could squeeze onto the capacious machine if the need arose. Like, for example, visiting the local mela, or the odd dinner where the entire family was invited. You will wonder how four could “fit” in along with father.

The youngest (hence the shortest) of us would stand in front of Pitaji holding the handle close to the speedometer. Or clutch the metal “wall” below the handle if one was short to reach the handle. Sometimes even the shortest in the group was tall, tall enough to block the view of the rider. In which case he was instructed to tilt sideways so that his head did not come in the way of the rider’s line of vision. And if he got a stiff neck as a consequence, he or she would be commanded to crouch down, now holding the sides of the aforementioned metal wall! This too was uncomfortable, but it made for a safer ride. The person next in age/ height would squeeze-in right behind the rider on his seat. The remaining two would arrange themselves on the pillion seat. There was some jostling for space, but it would settle down soon enough. So now you see, 1+(1+1)+(1+1)=5. Neat equation, one rider, and four passengers! This was a little bit of a trouble of course, but this situation was a lot better than the prospect the city’s erratic bus service.

Did I say four passengers? There could be a fifth one too perched on the “stepney”, the spare wheel affixed nearly horizontally at the end the scooter body. Clutching passenger number four fervently!

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Lambretta did have competition, and that too from another Italian-designed scooter, Vespa. But in no way did the Vespa match the charm, elegance, sturdiness and reliability of Lambretta. We thought the Vespa was a puny little scooter, hardly the stuff which could ferry a family around. And, horror of horrors, it had only three gears against Lambretta’s four. Weakling! The poor Vespa had its stepney affixed vertically. So not only there could be no additional passengers, the two riding on the pillion would be even more constrained for butt-space! The Vespa was hardly the one to bear the burden of running a family!

Now consider our Lambretta. It was as close to being a family retainer as any inanimate object could be. (But I would hate to call it inanimate). Groceries over at home? Never mind. Just hop onto the scooter, rush to the market and carry back a few jhola-loads of groceries. Atta chakki and its load? No problems! Gas cylinder exhausted? Carry the empty one to the local gas cylinder depot, bribe the depot agent a few rupees and you are back home with a filled cylinder. It just took two of you to do the job, one riding the scooter and the other clutching the cylinder- empty or filled- depending on the direction you were travelling. If the pillion rider, the one who held the cylinder between himself and the rider, was smart enough, he would wrap the cylinder in an old sheet or towel lest it soiled his or the rider’s clothes with its rusty exterior. If he was smart, and strong enough, he could hold the cylinder on the “stepney” with his arms splyed backwards gripping the cylinder.

Like any family retainer, faithful or otherwise, the Lambretta too had its dark moments. It would sulk, it would growl, sometimes even failed to get “kicked” into life. Like it would not start, or it would stop midway abruptly, for some random reason! Solutions were ready at hand. As a first step, you could tilt the scooter towards yourself and give it a few furious kicks. More often than not, it would purr back to life. If this did not work, you had to just remove a side cover of the scooter, yank off the spark plug and clean the relevant parts with an old shaving blade, or a screw driver, scarping off the dirt settled into the crevices. You, of course, would remember to blow away the loose debris with light taps of the plug on the sides of the vehicle. The careful ones employed a handkerchief to unscrew and hold the plug as it would be hot. Either of these solutions, or a combination of both would solve the problem. If not, then there was the friendly neighbourhood mistry (mistry a local term for a mechanic), Mantu, who would take care of more complex things like carburettor cleaning or engine re-“boring”.

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Over the passage of time, both Lambretta and Vespa vanished. First from the market and then from the roads. Interestingly enough, the companies which bought the rights to the designs of these were Indians. Lambretta being bought over by an Indian government undertaking and Vespa’s design by Bajaj. Scooters India sold Lambretta as Lamby and then as Vijay (and variants thereof), and true to the nature of the PSUs then, the product died. Bajaj named the scooters as Bajaj, and it flourished. And how!! The waiting list for Bajaj scooters ran into 8-10 years, the premium to be made on selling a Bajaj scooter could fund a wedding. But that is the stuff for another post. (Remember the ad slogan, “Hamara Bajaj?”) However, Bajaj scooters had to be phased out- the scooter market was over-run by motorcycles, bikes from the Bajaj stable being one of the chief culprits.

And with the passage of time, Pitaji migrated from Lambretta to Bajaj. And through the years his brood of six moved away from Jamshedpur. Either after marriage or for pursue higher studies. When Pitaji reached his mid-seventies we persuaded him to dispose off his scooter. We were worried that if he got injured in an accident the recovery process could be painfully slow at his age. Finally he did sell off his scooter.

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Now if Pitaji has to venture out of the house, he walks. And if mai has to accompany him, they take an auto-rikshaw.

Over the last few years, we have offered to buy him a car and hire a driver. He has refused our proposal all this while. He says, “I have now graduated from two wheels (scooter) to three (auto-rikshaw). There really is no need to move to four-wheelers.”

And then he adds wistfully: “Those two-wheelers were actually quite nice”.

I agree.

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Reflections on small-town journalism

August 1, 2010

Returning to Bangalore from a trip to Jamshedpur early morning last week, I stopped by at an A. H. Wheeler news cart at the Tatanagar railway station to pick up a newspaper. What struck me was the plethora of choices. In Hindi and English, both. There was “Dainik Jagaran”, “Prabhat Khabar”, “Hindustan” and some others in Hindi and “Hindustan Times” and “Telegraph” as the English language choices. I had a four-hour long train journey to Howrah ahead of me (travelling from Jamshedpur to Bangalore is painful, it consumes the whole day; Jamshedpur to Howrah and then a rickety taxi-ride to the airport and then the long flight), and I ended buying virtually all the broadsheets on offer. I was sure I would have a co-passenger keen on borrowing. I’d rather lend an entire newspaper than end up sharing sheets of it as was common in the good old days.

(Mercifully, no one asked, maybe in A/c chair cars it is not a done thing!)

Browsing through the papers I realized they were like any other newspaper. There were important news stories on the front page followed by local (Jamshedpur-based), regional (Singhbhum-district based) and state (Jharkhand) news. It was a pleasure to read the local news from Kadma, Sonari, Bhuinyadih, Aazad Basti, Kharangajhar etc. The news itself was like in any other city paper, road accident, dowry death, elopement, murder etc. It was the fact that I was reading news reports about something which happened in-and-around the place I grew up in was exciting enough.

Silly stuff, you say? You wonder why I am making a great deal about it. Right?

So listen!

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I grew up in the Jamshedpur of 60’s and 70’s. It was a pretty town, with lovely tree-lined roads, street lighting which always functioned, crime rates were low, and on 3rd March, the birthday of Jamshedji Tata, the founder of the city, we all got sweets from TISCO management delivered right in our schools. You could drink the water off the taps (it was so clean) and power-cuts were rare. There was little traffic on the roads, the bulk of the commuters were cyclists. There were hardly any motorcycles and the ones who could afford it would buy a Vespa or a Lambretta scooter. Cars were rare. There were good schools and a great large park (Jubilee Park) right in the center of the city. This idyllic world had just one problem, there was no local newspaper.

Jamshedpur those days was a part of Bihar and the only two newspapers published in the state were “The Indian Nation” in English and “Aryavart” in Hindi, both from Patna, published by the same house. But Patna was twice the distance from Jamshedpur as compared with Calcutta. So it was the Calcutta newspaper most households subscribed to. The venerable “The Statesman” with a masthead in Gothic script was the newspaper we subscribed to. Some families took “Amrit Bazar Patrika”, I think it is defunct now. The Bengalis of Jamshedpur, and Jamshedpur had many such families, would buy “Anand Bazaar Patrika”. The Oriya-speaking community would get “Samaaj” published from Cuttack. Those who wanted to read their news in Hindi and could not stand “Aryavart” of Patna would buy “Dainik Vishvamitra” published from Calcutta. In short, most communities would get their daily news fix in their desired languages.

But there was a catch. The newspaper reached us from Calcutta only in the evening, around seven pm or so. It did take a long time for something to travel some 250 kms from Calcutta to Jamshedpur!

Not that we minded it. We, the neighbourhood kids, would do our homework well in time. When we heard the newspaper-wallah’s cycle bell tinkle- he had a special symphony, tring-tring, triiiiiiiing,  tring-tring we would all leap out of our homes, accost him and take our respective newspapers even before he would chuck it at our door-steps.

Once home, the newspaper would quickly get apportioned among all the eager readers in the family. The outer sheet with the headlines, the sports page and then the rest of it. I, for one, would always try to get for myself the sports page. That was the only way to see the score-card of the previous day’s cricket as one would have missed the commentary, the previous day being a school day.

“The Statesman” being a Calcutta newspaper, had considerable news of the city. We would know what exactly was happening there. Right from the success of Satyajit Ray’s “Goopy Gyne, Bagha Byne” to the bands playing at Mocambo and Peter Cat on Park Street, to the reports on football matches between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to the latest offerings in New market. Even the comings-and-goings of ships at the Kidderpore dock! I first visited Calcutta when I was some 18 years old and I thought it was all too familiar, just that I was seeing the city physically for the first time.

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It is not that Jamshedpur did not have it own newspaper, it did. There was a weekly tabloid called “Azad Mazdoor” which I am sure most Jamshedpurians would never have heard of. While it called itself a weekly, I am not sure if it was indeed published every week. I think my father got it free- thanks to his friendship with the editor- and the paper would show up in the mailbox once in a while.

The big newsletter from Jamshedpur was the in-house magazine from TISCO, as Tata Steel was then called. It was a stylish, glossy, black-and-white affair published in two languages: “TISCO Samachar” and “TISCO News”. While this was meant to be an in-house thing, considering the profile of the city those days. Most were “company employees”, hence virtually each household got a copy. My father was not a TATA employee- he was a college professor- and was not entitled to a copy. But we keep ourselves informed of TATA’s corporate activities by borrowing copies from relatives and neighbours. “TISCO Samachar” was full of stuff as any good in-house magazine should have. The inauguration of a new mill, the record production by a Blast Furnace, visit of Chairman JRD Tata to Jamshedpur, suggestion awards (“Sujhao Puraskar”) given to employees (so-and-so has improvised on the coke utilization process resulting in a saving of Rs five lakh annually and he gets an award of Rs 10,000) and the all-too-common community development projects undertaken by TISCO.

The excellent production quality of “TISCO Samachar” has one useful application after it was read, it was used to cover books! Nice, strong and glossy sheets. One more. It was rumoured that one particularly lazy relative of our’s would serve roti and sabzi to her kids on sheets of the journal. This was to avoid washing dishes after the meal. Lazy, but brilliant! TISCO’s image has always been squeaky clean, be it their corporate performance or their in-house journal!

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I return home to Bangalore late night and when I wake up in the morning I see my family sprawled on the dining table devouring their quota of daily news. Over time, the number of papers we get has increased manifolds. There is this ubiquitous “Times of India” which gets subscribed to for the simple reason that it is ubiquitous, you have to read it to stay up with the Joneses (or, in India, with the Kapoors, Patils, Bannerjis, Reddys and Pillais). No choice there! I need to know the local news even better, so “Deccan Herald” is a must, I am the only person in the family who reads it. We started on the newly launched “DNA” newspaper just to check things out, and my wife got hooked onto it. There is this mandatory “Economic Times” for me, cant crib about that. And now the TOI chaps have begun giving the obnoxious tabloid “The Bangalore Mirror” free with the the paper. So we have reams of newsprint delivered to us at the crack of dawn now and there is enough for all of us, including the maid servant and the dog. Ok, we don’t have a dog.

Maybe I should get one.


Of Money-plants and Manjha: the Joys of Recycling

June 10, 2010

If you have not grown up wearing your older sibling’s clothes, this post is not for you. If you are the older sibling, then perhaps you may have grown with your trouser folds getting lengthened by the friendly neighbourhood tailor who took job-work to unravel the bottom seams your trousers. Also called “alteration”. In the place I grew up in such gentlemen had painted boards outside their establishments announcing loudly in bold fluorescent colours: “Ultration”. If you have experienced neither, please do not continue; this post is not for you.

One of my pet peeves as I was growing up was to wear clothes which my elder brother had discarded. There was nothing wrong with the garment- mind you- it is just that the thought of wearing my brother’s used clothing was abhorrent to me during those days of growing up. My teen angst was at full flow at this “injustice”. I would think of all the nasty things which I would do to my brother’s clothes just to avoid wearing them. I tried one of these nasty things once, I slashed with a shaving blade a tear along the length of the trouser. No avail, the tear got darned by the same alteration specialist. And the trouser was back with me again. If I ranted about the frayed collar, the alteration specialist would turn the collar around and make the shirt as good as new, or so he and my parents claimed.

If you identify yourself with what I have just written, then perhaps this post is for you.

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I grew up in late 60’s and early 70’s when India was still in the clutches of Nehruvian socialism. It was the time when my father had to join a long waiting list for a watch, an HMT watch. When a Bajaj scooter meant a wait of at least eight to ten years before it was delivered. And more importantly, my father’s salary as a college teacher was not good enough to provide lavishly for the family. Supply in general was meager in the country those days, money backing the demand was even more scarce.

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Given the general mismatch between goods’ supply and ability to buy goods, recycling was the order of the day.

Let us take for example the humble incandescent lamps which were the commonly used lighting accessories- fluorescent tubes (then called “Mercury light”, or “Markari lite” in the part of India I was growing up in) were not affordable. Hell broke loose when the lamp- called “bulb” colloquially- fused. Each member of the family would blame the other for this colossal disaster. “You have been switching this bulb on-and-off so very often” was the accusation. And then the eldest amongst us would be summoned to resolve the problem. The concerned would climb up to the bulb affixed on the wall socket. A study table would be arranged right under the errant bulb and a “stool” perched atop the table to facilitate ease of access. Multiple hands would hold the table as the rescuer clambered atop the stool and removed the fused bulb. He (it was always a he) would peer into the innards of the bulb and check if the filament was long enough to be fixed. He would shake the bulb around- a twist here and a rattle there- hoping the broken ends of the filament got realigned. There was a sigh of relief if he could manage this or a gasp if he finally declared that the filament was broken to pieces and there was no way that he could get the bulb working all over again. The “rescuer” would gingerly alight with a  doleful look on his face, mindful of the general gloom prevalent in the crowd below. The crowd soon cheered up as they realized that they had found a new receptacle for their botanical pursuits, a planter.

The top of the bulb was carefully decapitated to leave a gap between the- well- the bulb of the dead bulb. Water was filled in, a botanical specimen placed into this water-in-the-bulb and the bulb was suspended along the sides of the living room wall. What a lovely decoration for the drawing room! And the afore-mentioned plant was more often than not the creeper, “money-plant”. What an appropriate specimen to reflect the aspirations of a middle-class family!

And when this planter failed, the bulb was used as a fodder for “manjha” for the kite sting. It was crushed to powder and added to the gooey mix which served a coating to the thread used to fly kites to give them their murderous edge.

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My school, run by Roman Catholic priests, had this periodic campaign to get the students to get old newspapers from home. The class which could get the maximum kilograms of newspapers would be declared the winner. And we would go around with fervor to collect as much as could for the benefit of the class. Sometimes the organizer would get creative and ask us to convert the newspapers into a packet. Our school was asking us not only to collect the paper but also to do some value-adding work with it viz. converting them to envelopes. A packet to dispense medicinal tablets in, for example. Now this is basic origami and we all were familiar with it.

By the way, if you want to know what happened to the old newspapers, here is the answer; they all showed up as packets- called “thonga” in Jamshedpur- at the local grocer’s shop. That is, if they were not appropriated as text-book coverings.

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Old cotton sarees were recycled as bandages and swabs and much else. Empty plastic bags of milk were milked further to generate some additional revenue for the family. Remember those pouches stuck to the wall next to kitchen sink awaiting the local kabadi-waalah? Aluminum caps of milk bottles were used likewise. Used rubber bands from the mithai boxes from the local halwai (“sweet-marts” in my town) adorned the end of pencils and served as emergency erasers. Old shaving blades were used as pencil sharpeners. Old diaries as dhobi account books and old calendars as books coverings. Discarded clothes were handy in buying steel utensils. And the reverse of used envelopes served as rough paper. I am sure you can think of several other recycling stuff.

What about the used- and utterly emaciated- bars of bathing soaps, “Jai”, Lux” “Rexona”, “Moti” and “Hamaam”? These were dutifully used as hand-cleansers after nature’s call. “Potty-soaps”, if you will!

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Unfortunately the one thing which cannot be recycled is the experience of living in those times!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

(concluded)


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)