Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coorg – Just like that – Part 2

boulevard of mended dreams...

The first harbinger of the eventful journey ahead welcomed us in form of a construction barricade. The road was dug up so badly, we got the feeling that we’d reentered Bangalore. Well, it wasn’t so. After seeking directions from a surprisingly friendly cop, we continued.

Within less than a kilometer of traveling, the fifth passenger, hangover by name, woke up and was up to his antics. An elderly statesman at the office, a man who had fought and won many a battle with the consequences of excessive alcohol intake, had passed the mantra on to me during one of the sessions. Lemon juice with tender coconut water is supposedly the best way to murder a hangover. No harm in trying right? We pulled over at a roadside stall and downed two coconuts each with the refreshing citrus twist. We continued.

We were as much Coorgie as Sir Alex is an Arsenal fan. And it was strange that this fact dawned up on us only after crossing the Coorg border. “Where do we stay,” was the unanimous response to the awakening. The very resourceful Pooja dialed her manager, a frequent traveler, but more importantly, the guy with access to the internet. Two minutes later we had three contacts of guys providing home-stays. Home-stays are places that offer places to stay, with authentic local cuisine, cooked by the hosts themselves. After a couple of visits and examination of our wallets, we froze on Pompey Valley.

The good had lost its battle with evil by the time we reached our destination. The rusted gates eerily creaked as we pushed them open. We drove in with the car headlights providing the only illumination in the black boulevard. And then there was light. And then there were cottages too. It was beautiful. A very pretty lady welcomed us at the first cottage. We waited for a while before the owner, a gentleman named Thomas, joined us. After completing the formalities and conveying our needs – accompaniments for liquor and some awesome-sounding Coorgie dinner – we walked to our cottage.

We walked through dimly lit and sometimes, completely dark alleys. Our cottage, it seemed to us, was at the end of the world. And that apparently, was in Coorg. Though old, it was a neat and cozy peninsula surrounded by darkness, wilderness and enigma on three sides. It made the verandah a perfect setting for anybody with any dark affliction towards alcohol – cold and spooky. With rum, vodka, beakers of coke, sprite and scrambled eggs, we began a night that was to grow really old.

Darkness has a humbling effect on me. Despite holding the title an atheist, and at times agnostic, the absence of light invariably gives me a reality check. I despise the fear of the unknown with such vehemence when it comes to superstitions and religion – as how the sun was to our ancestors across the globe. But as the night falls, the fear of the unseen, which is far less respectful than the unknown, grips me where it matters. Our little veranda was surrounded by this very same darkness. It was a jungle out there. The noises of the wild along with the eeriness made a killer combo that would have made Hercules pee in his lion-skin loincloth. Anyways, Hercules is dead and gone, or perhaps fighting some multi-headed monster in an immortal cave in a Grecian head. That left me as the only one, prepared to pee in the modern version of the loincloth.

It took another 2 drinks for the fear of the unseen to vanish. It is amazing the kind of things alcohol can make you forget and the kind of things it can make you remember. And guess what, it even gives you a choice. It is this property of alcohol that makes me complacent. I might not have ventured into many junkie arenas (a little hash and a little grass is all that I have treaded on, by, with, in, and off), but the pleasure of remembering things you want to remember, and forgetting things you want to forget, is at its customisable best with alcohol. What possibly better rendition could any other intoxicant provide? Hence the complacency and therefore, the phrase – Alcohol is a man’s best friend. Fuck the dog!

The sins, fear of the dark and lust for alcohol, will have to wait for their respective and dedicated blog entries. That brings me back to the verandah at Pompei village.

p.s. Next up in the series, Mr. Thomas D’Souza of the Pompei Valley fame.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coorg - just like that - Part 1

I left Carnival at midnight. I was high. I was happy. I was satiated. I had a heavy mind to distract. A lost religion to reclaim. A life to look ahead to. I had done all that.

Carnival is a small and inexpensive bar in the heart of a pub-infested brigade road. Since advertising guys are underpaid contrary to perception, it was a favourite resort to many a creative mind. It was a colleague’s bachelor party. We drank to his life after marriage – the joys and the sorrows; the compromises and the sacrifices; the so many don’ts and the occasional dos. It seemed extraordinary to me, how the beginning of something as happy could mark the end of so many other equally joyful events. But love is blind and hence all the costs associated are hidden.

As the rum and coke united in my veins, the future lay dazed in front of me. What now? Now, if you thought it was the philosopher in me talking, think again. My mind was in quest of the next source of alcohol to keep me running. It was a Friday night and it was only midnight. I needed more alcohol. After intense introspection, a good friend’s home beckoned. I answered the call.

I summoned a rickshaw to go to Kasturi Nagar. It was dark and I had serious doubts about the intentions of the rickshaw driver. For all I knew, he would have killed me. But I would not die in vain. I messaged the details of the driver to my boss. In case I was unable prevent death, the killer would never go unpunished. However, none of that was needed. I was in one piece as I rang the doorbell.

A friend from Mumbai had come down. A good friend. He was fondly called ‘Doda’ during the hostel days. When the fondness grew, ‘Doda’ was often followed by a rhyming obscenity. It had been a few years since I’d seen him. I was happier. I had an emergency stock of liquor in my bag. A neat mix of Old Monk, coke and water. Muah!

We started drinking. In 15 minutes, we lost interest in music. In another 15 minutes, we found the confinement of the walls suffocating. In yet another 15 minutes, everything Bangalore looked passé. Hence we packed and left for Mysore. It was 2.45 am.

As with all spontaneous journeys, we did not have a clue as to how to get to Mysore. We had a tourist map. And for a long part of our journey, that was about all we had. There weren’t many willing citizens on the streets at 3am in the morning to give us directions you know. And moreover, men do not ask for directions if they have the minutest of ideas about directions. I was one of them. In my drunken haze, I remember taking my fellow travelers in a complete different direction for about three kilometres before a call centre cab came to our rescue. U-turn.

One among the four, Shiva by name, was the only qualified driver for three reasons. One being that the rest of us was drunk to our oesophagus. The second, and a very prominent reason was that he owned the car. Well at this point, you can argue that the car was as much his as it was his wife’s. Well, there comes the third reason. Wives are women and women can’t drive.

Doda downed alcohol as if he had just been released from solitary confinement in Gujarat. For those who do not know, Gujarat is a dry state. And it also succeeds a lot of profane adjectives associated with the non-availability of alcohol – impotent for instance. The bottle was over as if it were a matter of pride to finish it in 30 minutes flat. Speaking of flat, Doda was down curled in front of a shop after his alcoholic adventures - exactly an hour after the vodka exodus. I carried on. But then again, I had the advantage of not having a liver.

We reached Mysore at about 6.30 in the morning. Guides and hotel boys closed in on us like zombies from one of those b-grade horror flicks. I still believe that if I hadn’t rolled the glasses up, they would have eaten me alive. But rolled them up, I did; and hence am intact. After warding off the scavengers, we managed to get a large room, a ‘penthousish’ arrangement on the terrace. Shiva, who I consider an antisocial, was up and away for his masala dosa while we fell unconscious onto our rectangular pieces of heaven.

The sun was shining in all its glory when sanity woke us up. Mysore has its share of history for travelers. Tipu’s palace was one of them. Despite my memories of visiting the palace since time immemorial, Doda’s doggedness drove the car towards the palace. Th drive to the palace however, lasted only as long as a green board that hung above. It read ‘Coorg’.

to be continued...