June 19, 2006

Choose Your Own "Adventure"

Filed under: India — Chris @ 6:58 pm

It is 11:30 at night and you are in an autorickshaw with a young woman you have only just recently met, trying to get home from the bus station. You have spent ten hours on a bus, driving on rural roads and are exhausted and hungry. The auto driver has ignored the name of the neighborhood you have asked to go to and taken you instead to another dis-similarly named neighborhood with a similarly named traffic circle. You have no idea where you are and the driver seems to have no idea where you want to go. Do you: (a) get out of the auto and find some other way to get home, this guy is obviously trouble, or (b) give the auto driver a second chance, it was an honest misunderstanding?

You chose (b).

You give the driver a second chance. He starts driving. At times he seems to be on the right track, but he keeps veering off on odd tangents. You are pretty sure you have driven past your destination and are now moving away from it, but you have no idea where you actually are. Do you: (a) stay in the auto, the driver will figure things out eventually, or (b) get the hell out, this guy is obviously an idiot?

You chose (b).

You tap on the driver’s shoulder and tell him you want to get out. He’s confused by this, which is not surprising—he’s been confused about pretty much everything that’s gone on since you got in his auto. Do you: (a) pay the man what you agreed (1.5 times the meter), he did his best, or (b) refuse to pay the man, he hasn’t gotten you where you wanted to go and he has run up the meter well past where it would be if he had done so directly?

You chose (b).

You refuse to pay the man. After all, it’s his job to know how to get around in the city and he has manifestly failed to do his job. The driver jumps out of his auto and demands to be paid. You continue to refuse. The driver asks you to accompany him to the police station. Do you: (a) go with him, you’re sure the police will be able to sort this out, or (b) make an obscene remark about the driver’s mother?

You chose (b).

In so many words, you inform the driver that his mother was neither chaste nor hygienic. Speaking just barely enough English to negotiate fares, he stares at you blankly for a moment, gets back into his auto, and drives away. You and your female companion are now alone on a dark street corner. You do not know where you are and you do not know which direction you need to go. Do you: (a) hail another rickshaw, he’s probably not an idiot and its not like they’re all in cahoots, or (b) call the company car service, this isn’t strictly speaking a business trip, but you’re running out of options?

You chose (b).

You call the company car service. They know you well by know, having brought you home drunk from Tobi and Deb’s flat and taken you to Commerical St. when you wanted to buy a backpack and even dropped you off at the bus station this morning when you set of for your Very Official Company Visit to Some Waterfalls. You tell them what you think you know about where you are and they say they’ll be there within 15 minutes. Around this time, the autorickshaw driver returns with a policeman in tow. Do you: (a) apologize and pay the driver, there’s no hope of convincing the policeman that you’re in the right, or (b) tell the policeman exactly what you told the driver (omitting the choicest bits about the driver’s mother), he’s probably a reasonable man who’s bound to see it your way?

You chose (b).

You tell the policeman it will be a cold day in Hell when you pay the auto driver. He patiently explains to you that autos have meters and it is customary for the passenger to pay the amount of the meter when he or she leaves the auto. The driver says something agitatedly in Kannada. You say something agitatedly in English. The policeman sighs. Do you: (a) continue your argument, it’s clear that your position is carrying the day, or (b) give the driver his damn money, it’s only 100 rupees?

You chose (b).

In a spirit of great magnanimity, you hand the driver a 100 rupee note. He isn’t satisfied! He doesn’t just want the money. He wants an opportunity to regain his pride by seeing you through to your destination. Do you: (a) get back in the rickshaw, the policeman probably knows the way and you’ve all learned a valuable lesson, or (b) swear another oath on the driver’s progenitors and refuse, you’ve had enough adventure for one evening?

You chose (b).

You tell the driver just exactly what you think of his bloodline. He gets back in his rickshaw and drives away. The policeman also goes on his way. Five minutes later, the company car arrives and you climb in. After a half kilometer, you realize where you are. In another kilometer, you are home. You realize that if you had carefully studied your map, you could have managed to walk home in less than 15 minutes time. Do you: (a) curl up and cry yourself to sleep, or (b) hold it in, burying your resentment until you finally snap?


Hogenakal Follies

Filed under: India — Chris @ 4:35 pm

So, I took a day trip to Hogenakal Falls yesterday and it was ultimately a pretty unpleasant experience. The actual time spent at Hogenakal* was perfectly nice, as evidenced by my pictures. What I’d like to focus on in this post is the ten-plus hours we spent on buses.**

The trip down was actually not that bad. We went from Bangalore to Dharmapuri (which took about 3.5 hours) and from there to Hagenakal (just about 1 hour). The road from Bangalore to Dharmapuri is an only-mildly-pothole-y highway*** and the bus was never more than mostly full and often half-empty. The road to Hagenakal was more primitive and the bus quite full, but we were filled with the golden glow of anticipation for the great adventure before us…

On the way back, we decided to get on the bus to Hosur, which turned out to be a “shortcut”—in the sense that the general direction of our travel was always more-or-less “towards” Bangalore, whereas Dharmapuri is several dozen kilometers “out of the way”—though what may be “short” as the crow flies seemed like a pretty frikkin long way on winding, rural roads through small villages and around small mountains, along which the driver would often have to slow down and honk loudly while waiting for cows, goats, dogs, chickens, and—only occasionally—people to get out of the way.

When we started off, I was standing. This would not normally be a major problem for me, but I am about four inches taller than your average Indian bus, so I had to spend a lot of effort as the bus careened to not bang my head into the hand-rail and developing a major crick in my neck. Much to the people of India’s credit, I politely declined at least 4 offers of seats from sympathetic short people.

This lasted about 30 minutes, until a man and his wife got off, leaving a reasonably comfortable seat open along the aisle near the front door.

This lasted about an hour, until we pulled into a village and the lady seated by the window next to me got off. I stood up to let her pass and before I could sit down again, a man (let’s call him Ass Face) and his wife had taken both of the seats on my bench. When I looked at this guy, like, “What the fuck?!,” he just looked right back, like, “Can I help you?” Now, I don’t know if this is some Indian law-of-the-jungle thing, or whether this guy was just, well, an Ass Face, or what—though I will note that the ticket taker seemed just as flustered by Ass Face’s brass balls as I was.**** The issue was quickly settled by a young man behind me, who scooted over and offered to share his seat in a spirit of brotherly good will that must have seemed outlandish to our Ass Face.

Now I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there was one little problem with this young man’s seat and that was that the bus driver’s gear shift was where my legs wanted to be and the hump of the engine (which was hot!) was where my feet wanted to be (in the case that they couldn’t be at the end of my legs where my legs wanted to be (where the gear shift was)). So I’m sitting sideways in my seat and twisting to grab the bar behind me so I don’t fall on top of the engine as we teetered and tilted along the mountain roads. Meanwhile, the bus’s aisle is filling up, so I can’t even really put my legs there anymore.

This lasted another hour, at which point I leaned forward to let the ticket taker past me, only to find when I leaned back again that some lady’s ass was where my shoulder wanted to be. Now this Ass Lady (who at least had the good fortune to not have an ass for a face) was dug in, and wasn’t having any of my nudges and twitches, so I just twisted around into the least uncomfortable position I could find, with my legs not in front of me and my feet not on the hump and my shoulder not up Ass Lady’s ass.

This lasted about half an hour, until we pulled into another village and took a longish chai-and-chat pit-stop and Ass Lady along with a fair proportion of the people crowding the aisles got off the bus. I spent the last hour and a half of the trip to Hosur in the comparative luxury of the next seat over, where I still had to be careful not to put my feet where they wanted to be, lest they interfere with the operation of the gears, but where I could occasionally stretch out my legs when the ticket taker got up to move around the bus, and where I was seated next to Nandakumar, a very nice tailor from Bangalore who invited me to his house for dinner sometime.*****

With that, I’ll end my story. The trip from Hosur to Bangalore was relatively uneventful (though it did include a 9-year-old version of Ass Lady, who I nevertheless developed tender feelings for****** when the roof began to leak rain water on her head as she tried to sleep) and the trip from the bus station home is the subject of another post.

POSTSCRIPT: We didn’t even see the main waterfalls.*******

POSTSCRIPT 2: Would it make the above seem worse or better if I added that nearly the entire time (since we were on “super-luxury” buses) we were treated to low quality bootleg DVDs of Bollywood musicals at high volume?

* Or Hogenakkal, transliteration being as it is.

** Now you might say, “Ten hours on a bus? That doesn’t sound like a day trip to me. That sounds like a day on a bus.” And you’d be right. The culprits here are Tobi, optimism, naivete, and—oh, yeah—Tobi. It’s hard to imagine it could take 5 hours to travel 130 km (that’s about 80 miles for you metri-phobes). For comparison’s sake, it’s almost 200 miles from New York to Boston, with notoriously bad traffic, and 5 hours travel is on the high side of average. In India, you must bear in mind: (1) the roads are shitty and (2) the buses have the effective horsepower of a moped.

*** Woe, but were the potholes doozies! It might have been the suspension on the bus, or the fact that we were sitting in the back, but the potholes would literally send us flying out of our seats—several inches, in fact—only to come crashing down, wondering if all our vertebrae will still in their proper places.

**** A most peculiar anatomy had he, that Ass Face.

***** Is this the kind of thing that random Indians just disingenuously say they’ll do sometimes, or might this actually happen? Stay tuned.

****** Pipe down, sicky.

******* That’s according to Prasad. Who’s kind of a dick for even bringing it up.********

******** I say that in good fun, which I’m sure Prasad knows—one dick to another.

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