A couple of months ago, I started traveling to Theni on one-day official trips twice a month. At first I couldn’t do without my laptop. I had to take it everywhere with me – to the school where I was to take classes, to the restaurant/mess where I dined and of course, to the room where I was staying. I couldn’t sit still in the room once my classes were done. I had to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones or some movie. I had to watch TV if I forgot to get the external Hard Disk. Or, I had to take a nap. I felt like I needed to make my trips more worthwhile and fulfilling in terms of how I spent my time after finishing the classes.
Last week, I made a conscious decision to travel without my laptop and without being glued to my phone. While I didn’t bring my laptop, I couldn’t stay away from my phone for long – it was a new phone and I was itching to try out the camera on whatever landscapes I could capture from the bus. I boarded the bus right on time at 20:25 from Adyar, Chennai. Since I couldn’t find time to pack or have dinner before this, I gobbled down the odd assortment of food items I brought with me – a packet of fried crisps, a banana and a sweet lime. Then I lay down, resisting the urge to pick up my phone and surf social media like a zombie. I looked out of the window. I read random shop names, kept spotting eateries where I wished I’d had dinner and was keeping a lookout for a dustbin near enough to attempt a moving dump of the banana and sweet lime peels that I had stuffed into the now empty packet of crisps. After a while, I gave up the idea of dumping the trash while still on the bus, lay down and closed my eyes.
A clear view of the night sky greeted me when I opened my eyes and looked out of the window again. It was a brilliant sight. When was the last time you slept on a bed with a view of the sky? Especially inside a moving bus, it looked even more enchanting. I was lying down facing the opposite side of the direction of motion of the bus, which had a very interesting effect on my view of the sky. I felt like I was on a rotating bed and the view was changing drastically with each turn. The clouds were moving across the moon with roughly the same speed as the bus, so it seemed like the clouds were shielding the moon from my view. What was fascinating was the colour of the sky – I had to look carefully to differentiate the clouds from clear skies. I urge you to spend some time one night, observing the night sky instead of being glued to your gadget of choice.
After a while, I took out my phone, wondering if I could capture the essence of what I had been staring at for the past fifteen minutes. I managed to click one decent picture, but it doesn’t even come close to the level of detail the eye can observe.
I tried to drift off to sleep, but I was prevented from doing so by an annoying senior-ish citizen occupying the lower berth right opposite to mine. You know the type of people who sneeze with that loud, unnecessary pre-sneeze shout, which is more powerful than the sneeze? Yes, that man was the very same kind. Each sneeze was seamlessly followed up with the quintessential Tamilian habit of saying “Appa!” as a universal exclamatory expression. The sneeze itself wasn’t annoying – the pre-sneeze and post-sneeze rituals were what irked me. Perhaps some graphs might help you understand this.
I was trying my best to ignore the sneezefest when the conductor came down the aisle, tapped my shoulder and said – switch on the TV, I’ve put a movie. Now, I don’t remember reading anywhere in the RedBus terms and conditions that if a conductor puts on a movie, I am obligated to watch it. I was about to dumb this down for him and politely decline this humble
request order, when the conductor pulled a Batman on me and vanished as soon as I turned around.
I wanted to lay back down but now I was suddenly curious about which movie he had put on. I switched on the TV and was greeted to some of the most innovative dialogues I have ever read (I am not versed well enough in Tamil to watch a movie without reading the subtitles). The one I can never forget is – “Is mother’s milk coke to you?”
I HAD to post that on Facebook. I couldn’t resist. I tried to wait for an equally epic line but in vain, although I did manage to click a picture of another interesting song subtitle.
I was woken up a while later, somewhere on the highway, for a restroom break while the bus fueled up. I took the opportunity to finally dump the trash that was now beginning to smell.
I went back to the bus and thought that was it – no more waking up till the morning. Well, wrong, since I was woken up several times by the compound sneezes and the random “Appa!” exclamations whenever that uncle stretched his limbs or adjusted his sleeping position. Also, the bus made another stop for tea/coffee at 3 am. The driver probably needed the coffee desperately to stay up for the remaining drive – or maybe he could have the “Appa!” alarm – I wouldn’t mind dragging that uncle next to the driver’s seat so he could keep the driver awake.
Tea at 3 am on a highway is a special experience. Especially if it’s a full moon and the restaurant/cafe has an interesting name.
The bus started soon enough, but had to halt when they realised someone was missing. There’s always that one idiot who doesn’t understand that 10 minutes means 10 minutes. After enjoying watching that guy chase the bus for a good 20 meters, wishing it was that uncle and that he would get left behind, I went back to a good night’s – “Appa!” – (sigh) sleep.
I woke up in the morning and, having slept reasonably well, attempted to take a few photos of the fields. Theni is a town surrounded by fields of all shapes, crops and sizes. The morning’s weather was extremely pleasant. Cool winds messed up my hair and made me look like a wannabe punk rock band member. But I did’t care. I never wake up before 8 in the city. Here I’m actually wide awake and full of energy at 5:45 am. The weather was that good.
My destination arrived soon and I went about the usual business of checking into a small hotel, freshening up and leaving for the school. I took care of the actual reason that brought me to Theni – finished all the classes – and headed back to the hotel room to take a short nap before going out exploring. I had been trying to identify things I could do and places I could visit in Theni instead of just staying in a room till dinner time – I could do that in the city. So I had planned on visiting Vaigai Dam, which didn’t seem too far from the town.
After the nap, I packed up and left for the bus stand to ask where I could get the bus. It turned out there was no direct bus to the dam and I would have to change buses twice to get there. So I did just that. Travelling in these inter-town buses is a noisy affair. The music would be blaring right on top of your head as you stand in the aisle and keep making way for others to go past you from both directions, during which your stuffed-till-it-bursts-at-the-seams backpack would be a huge hindrance. Travelling isn’t really travelling without this customary experience.
In the third bus, a man overheard me buying a ticket to the dam and asked me to let him know when to get down since he was going there for the first time. So I told him that I was, too, but hopefully the map should be accurate and in any case, I had already asked the conductor to give me a shout when it was time to get down. The conductor turned out to be useless, so I thanked my GPS and internet for saving me the trouble of getting down too early or too late.
Getting down from these buses is yet another experience – you have to be near the door and politely tell each member of the human beehive that you’re getting down at the next stop. Then the door-guardian bees will step of the bus and hardly leave you enough space to get down and out of the way before they attempt to climb back onto the bus while it has already started. There is a very Indian pleasure in chasing and climbing a bus for the first few metres it moves after every stop. Perhaps Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’s train chase scene inspired these millions to emulate the same model with local trains and buses – or maybe the other way round? We’ll never know.
Anyway, I crossed the road and decided to rehydrate myself with a helping of tender coconut water (elaneer) at the cozy looking stall on the corner. I realised, only after having noisily sipped the very last drop of elaneer, that I didn’t have enough change and neither did the stall owner lady. The man from the bus offered to pay for me. After pretending to decently refuse for a few seconds, I graciously accepted the offer.
I waited for the man and his friend to finish their elaneer, watching the chickens and chicks run about and peck at the ground. Then we walked down the road, making small talk till we reached the damn dam entrance. This time the man and his friend had exhausted their change on the coconuts, so I paid for their entry tickets. What goes around comes around.
I looked at my watch and realised I had barely five minutes to look at the place before heading back. I had to check out of the room, have dinner and be ready at the boarding point for the 8 pm bus back to Chennai. I was now regretting having taken a nap.
So I quickly bade goodbye to those guys and went to the bridge over the river, in front of the dam. I took a few pictures and even a selfie – I had until now hated selfies, but apparently I don’t mind them anymore. The bridge had a very nice view of the river.
I wished I could stay longer, but it was time to leave. I reluctantly started walking back to the bus stop.
I walked, trotted and then almost broke into a run. I didn’t have much time to spare – I had to get back to the room, check out, have dinner and reach the boarding point with no room for delays. I grew anxious as I waited ten minutes for the bus, but breathed easy when a share auto finally came my way.
On the way back, I observed all the fields and the yet relatively unspoilt towns around them. The weather was just right – cool, breezy and not at all humid. The weather could remain this pleasant as long as these towns didn’t explode in population and construction. It’s funny how humans bring about so much destruction in the name of construction. I started thinking about how people lived in earlier days, without electricity and internet – and how technology has actually made us regress our quality of life in the wake of its own progress.
I reached the room, checked out and had dinner in a real hurry. Only when I reached the bus boarding point, I relaxed. I lay down in the bus and flicked through all the photos i had taken, inwardly smiling and congratulating myself for the first time I had “travelled solo”. I was glad I didn’t bring my laptop, glad that I took the initiative to explore the place.
It was a day well spent, but I wished it had been longer. I still had an itch to visit Vaigai dam in its entirety. That, howeveer, is a story for another time.
Till then, in case I don’t see you – good afternoon, good evening, good night.