Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three Women in a Train and other stories

(with no apologies to Three Men in a Boat)
But our hats we doff to the four gallant German gentlemen we shared our tatkal compartment with but that comes later in the narrative.
So, back to the three women in a train and the weekend we stole from our lives to steal away into the mountains for a long promised, planned and plotted retreat.

For years and years the three of us, dearest friends of more than forty years had been talking of just going away for a while and catching up with those very forty years. Bela’s mother had this place in Bhimtal and every time we would meet up at some occasion or the other Bela would say “let’s go, the three of us one of these days to Bhimtal”. What with our full lives and different schedules, and though the spirit was willing and eager, somehow we never really got down to it. I still don’t know what it was that triggered the sudden decision that we would do it and do it now but we did it and how!!

I think it was the “now or never “ tone of the e mail that Bela wrote saying hey girls if we are going to do it then we better begin planning ! or maybe the timing was right, for both Sindhu and I wrote back saying we are game !! The onus fell on me to give confirmed dates during which I was not travelling for I am always doing just that and also with both of them based in Delhi I did have to figure out when I could get there and out of Bombay for a long weekend.

Dates were decided and marked upon the calendar, tickets were booked for the Ranikhet Express and every week updates sent by Bela telling us how many places we had inched up in the waiting list. Of course we were sure by the time “the” weekend came by we would have confirmed tickets. This of course was not to be for while our return tickets were confirmed we realised if we were going then we would have to resort to the “Tatkal” booking convenience the Railways were offering.

Eventually Tatkal it was and then it was rendezvous time at Old Delhi station. Late one Thursday night in September and amidst all the hundred and twenty thousand people and random piles of luggage and other unbelievable stuff covering every possible square inch of the platforms, the three of us managed to find each other and a coolie too who very soon threw up his hands in despair of course at our (to him) unreasonable demands. He refused to hang around till the train came and left us to our own devices with our bits and pieces of baggage.

We must have definitely attracted some attention for soon a couple of firang fellas squatting most comfortably beside their back packs amidst all that chaos and looking very much like the seasoned travellers that we, definitely were not, were giving us kindly looks and explaining to us that the train was yet to pull in so we would just have to wait and it would be no problem at all.

Taken aback by this obvious display of “ah! damsels in distress “ angle happening we re arranged the muscles and expressions upon our faces to look as nonchalant and travel wise as possible and moved just that bit ahead and out of their radar range.

The train of course as predicted pulled in and there was pandemonium as we tried to find the coach (it was right there in front of us mind you) our names on the Tatkal announcement, our seats and get the bags in too!! Hoping against hope that we would have decent berths and not the side ones ,we got in only of course to realise that for sure , as Tatkal passengers as wont to.we had been allotted three of those horribly cramped side berths , two on top and one below . No amount of remembering chirpy Geet on one of those very berths in Jab We Met helped make it easy for us and we had to reconcile ourselves to our lot .And not even a good looking Shahid Kapoor or any other “dude in distress” to take our minds off the disappointment of not having our First AC compartment.

Once we had finished tsking tsking and tchah tchahing we realised we had company across the passageway on the four decent berths that made up the rest of our space in the compartment. Our concerned firang friends from the platform already very interested in our situation and quite happily eager to be of service if required!!
Smiles and nods were exchanged, just that bit reserved and cool but by the time we were ready to turn in I suppose we had become friendly enough to exchange more than just pleasantries. And since we were bringing in Bela’s birthday almost as soon as the train pulled out, it was good to have some bass and baritone joining us when we warbled Happy Birthday to her .We found out that they were Germans and as one of them charmingly conceded, “hippies, old hippies” who came every winter and stayed on in the hills and they of course had to know our mission. Gallant eyebrows were raised in admiration and disbelief expressed when it was found out that we were friends for over four decades and obviously close to them in age!!

What was good to know however was that one was still fit and agile enough to clamber up, if not gracefully, then at least without falling off our perch as one of the poor guys in the next vestibule did . We jumped in startled shock as the man simply fell on his head and back while trying to get up and then sat in shock after that contemplating what would happen to us and that too with an audience of four (gentlemanly of course ) hippies !! But of course all went well and we settled in for the night waking up just in time to sense the change in the atmosphere – AC compartment or not we somehow knew we were in the hills – KAATHOGODHAAM said the board on the station outside and soon our still sleepy senses were assailed with the aroma and sounds of garam chai !!
Nothing, nothing to beat this ….as we stepped down and breathed in a lungful of the cool crisp air we were like this is it!! Our holiday has begun!!

I was coming to this part of the country after thirty five years; last having been to Nainital for my honeymoon in 1974. In fact the name of the train we took, the Ranikhet Express brought amusing memories back of this guy who kept telling us newly weds ‘ O Saab, Memsaab, there in that valley is Ranikhet where Kati Patang was shot. Rajesh Khanna was here, right here!! Oh those innocent seventies!! Newly wed husband by my side had not in anyway stopped me from going open mouthed in star struck wonder at this bit of trivia. Not for nothing had pictures of Kaka adorned insides of cupboards and bathroom walls. He was heart throb material those days like no one has since been ….

We got into a taxi and were in no time winding our way up to Bhimtal – it was so simple to get away was the thought that kept creeping into my mind, so easy! we were looking forward to three full days of doing nothing but eat and sleep and chat and chat and then chat some more and the three of us were champions at that.

The house was situated at a further elevation and the view as we got down and climbed the little pathway was breathtaking. The house itself was a treasure with all of dear Aunty’s special, elegant touches and we gave ourselves up to the pampering of the sweet couple who looked after the place.

What followed was nothing short of three days in Paradise. No meals to cook, no beds to make, no bathrooms to clean; no clearing up and no washing up!! Delicious meals, warm sunshine, snug razaais and occasional trips to literally greater heights.

Bela’s birthday lunch was this absolute treat at a little place she had discovered, tucked away in the valley. The food, the ambience, the service and the vistas – simply amazing. We ate and soaked in the atmosphere, drank to Bela’s health and thanked the universe for giving us this time together.

The next morning we drove up to Mukhteshwar hoping to catch the view of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayan ranges supposed to be visible from there. The clouds, however , reached before us and we were disappointed; but as we climbed on we did have quite a few awe inspiring views spread out for us.

At the famous Shiva temple in Mukhteshwar we met a young lad who appointed himself our guide for free and took us a little distance so we could get to one of the view points. Back at the Shiv Mandir the old lady ( the mother of the Pujari) seemed so sure we knew each other and kept asking me why I took so long to come and see her again : ) She actually greeted me as though she had all along been expecting me to come and said laughingly "chalo acchii moti taazi banke aayi ho " . ( I swore to myself that second I would begin my long suspended morning walks ..moti taazi indeed !! ) Her totally unaffected and genuine demeanour stirred something in me deep and caring ; she had so much love she gave so unquestioningly I stopped resisting and just gave in to her ministrations. Maybe we did know or knew each other in another life and there in that 350 year old temple she saw and recognised in me some one she had known before! It was amazing!! I succumbed .

We stopped for chai at a little place on our way back only to be welcomed by yet another friendly, easy going mother – son duo who rustled up the most delicious bhajiya and ginger tea for us. The people we met here, each and everyone in the mountains are just so openly and eagerly friendly and caring it does something to you; melts the wall of ice cities build around your hearts. Whether it’s the taxi driver or the boatman in one of the lakes or the boy and Mata ji at the temple, simple love is yours for the asking given with little nuggets of gyan no amount of experience or expense can get you.

And yes, the three women did eventually get into a boat too at the Naukuchiya Tal . A boatman with a penchant for regaling his passengers with all kinds of P J s took us around and by the end of the hour we had been subjected to jokes ranging from “cute” to “cute but coarse” and we were only too happy to be out of the boat and on terra firma. Surely our suppressed laughter and mild indignance at his ‘ Ji ek aur chutkula ho jaye” would have capsized the boat had we been on board for even one more second .

Before we knew it, it was time to head back home and good thing we were not in Tatkal ; the return journey was uneventful, our confirmed reservations in our comfortable First AC compartments giving us time to get back into Amma Mummy Memsaab mode.


Anonymous said...

Amazing article... i have been to Nainital only once and that was when i was 8 years old... Your tale took me back to that trip...

Another title could have been "Los Angeles de Charlie"..., pero donde es Charlie??

Beena Narayanan said...

Enjoyed the rendezvous in Nainital ...eh ?

Gita Baratam said...

Love you account of the trip and love the pictures even more. Never been to Nainital or Ranikhet myself. Just the names of the places sound so musical.


You gals seem to have had a lot of fun - it is remarkable that you have ben ale to maintain this friendship for forty years!!!!

Great pics - all three of you look great.

Sarumann said...

In the words of Liz Lemon, I WANT TO GO TO THERE!!!

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