lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On arrivals

I awoke with a jerk and a sense of disorientation that lasted for as long as it took memory to kick in. I checked the time; it was almost four in the morning. I debated going back to sleep and decided I might as well get up.

I don't set alarms or follow the clock much. When you don't have a decent watch and have to rely on your mobile phone to act as timekeeper, alarm clock and more, you can't be bothered mostly. I sleep lightly on train journeys, anyway.

The train pulled into a station as I finished brushing my teeth and running my fingers through my hair. The attendant told me it was Vizag. I was surprised. "This early?" I asked. "Oh, it always arrives early," he said. I wondered why the railway timetables don't say so and lead me to think it will be a quarter to five in the morning when the train chugs into the station.

I got off the train. It was dark illumined by the station lights, and my first priority was to get something hot down my throat. The leashes and wheels on suitcases have done more to Women's Lib than anything else has, I mused, as my suitcase followed me on my walk down the platform.

I don't drink tea on journeys. Bad coffee can be drunk and tolerated but bad tea is blasphemy. The instant coffee was horrible, but at least it was hot. I carried the paper cup and walked to the exit, being accosted by taxi wallahs and auto-rickshaw wallahs. Where did I want to go? Did I need a taxi? Did I have a hotel reservation? I ignored them as I sipped the alleged coffee.

He stepped up then. A small man, wiry of frame and sprightly. He didn't address me as 'Didi' or 'Madamji' or 'Sister'. "EkkadikeLLaalammaa?" he said. I threw my cup of the so-called coffee into a garbage receptacle and mentioned the name of the hotel.

"Oh, Daba Gardens," he said. "I will take you there, ten minutes at the most."

I wandered over to the inquiry counter and asked how far the hotel was from the station. He looked reproachful. "Twenty," he murmured. I glanced at the sleepy clerk manning the counter. "Oh, that's about right," he said. And he added that I could haggle and bring it down.

Dawn was still a while away, and it's a new city out there, not my familiar stamping grounds. "Fifteen." I said, half-heartedly. "Padandammaa," he said, taking charge of my suitcase.

It was dark out there. Street lamps and hoardings provided flickering light. He deposited my suitcase on the rickshaw and helped me up. He adjusted his shawl and climbed on the saddle and we set off.

Dogs complained about intruders and other dogs answered from the next streets. I heard a few roosters crow. There was a huge pumpkin coloured crescent moon up in the sky and I tried to figure out if it was east or west. I gave up soon enough and wondered at the quiet streets and the near silent pre-dawn cityscape.

I needed to wake up better than the instant coffee managed. As I rummaged for my cigarettes and lighter, I remembered that I packed the lighter out of habit, what with having had airlines confiscating both cigarettes and lighters if I carried them in my hand luggage.

"Anna," I said, "could you stop at a paan shop or something?" I explained that I needed to buy matches.

"Evee terichundavammaa," he said, fumbling in the folds of his shawl and perhaps shirt and pockets therein. I had to agree, as there didn't seem to be any small shops open.

He turned around and handed me a box of matches. I lit my cigarette and tried to return it. "Tava daggirae unchandi," he said, as he climbed down to negotiate a gradient.

We arrived at the hotel. The guards directed him to stop at the gates. Clearly, cycle rickshaws weren't posh enough to go right in. We walked up the drive. He brought my suitcase up to the reception and gave me change for the twenty I gave. I checked in and asked for more coffee.

My sisters arrived later. They had taken cabs from the airport and paid three hundred odd for each vehicle. They had a hard time getting out of the airport. I didn't gloat about the fare I paid but I did smile to think of my own arrival. I still have the matchbox, I intend to keep it as a souvenir.



Anonymous Ash said...

If this is the prelude, your break must have been wonderful, I must say. Welcome back Lali and do tell more. Did you get the Suri?

10:30 pm  
Blogger Shirsha said...

Uhmm, am gonna blogroll you, it's fun reading your stuff!

12:26 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

What, you are back before we could miss you? Bumming matches off rickshaw wallahs, for pity's sakes, Lali. Give us more travelogues, do.

7:46 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- No, I didn't get the Suri. Bought Cooking with Pedata, though.

Shirsha- Hi, welcome and pleease go ahead and blogroll me. Nice to hear you are having fun reading my stuff. I call it fluff, myself. :-)

Rajesh- Sigh. I am tempted to give you a whack. I haven't written for eleven days and you think it's too soon? Bah!

3:00 pm  

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