May the virus stop controlling us, and see you on the other side
In a way the most dramatic family holiday we had was when we drove around Himachal Pradesh in the 1970s and my five-year-old sister threw all our important keys down a mountain somewhere near Nicholas Roerich’s house. You can imagine the fun when we got back to Bombay, tried to get into our flat and found out that she’d “hidden them in a secret place”! In all fairness, she was only 5 but the trauma of being locked out of everything made her age little consolation.
O yes, that was the end of the holiday. It began with going to Delhi to find the mother and daughter duo of our three travelling companions had some very communicable disease (chickenpox?) so we were farmed out to some other people we never met because we hid for a week until they recovered, locked in a dark, desert-cooled room. My Mother, sister and I had never encountered such horrendous heat as a Delhi summer. My Father being Delhi-bred was distressingly sanguine.
Later, us three children and an adult parent got lost in a massive mist at Rohtang Pass. We wandered in circles till we heard the plaintive cries of the other parents, locals, whoever else was hanging around. After that we — the children — promptly got lost in a forest in Mashobra and got back to all the adult parents having massive meltdowns. We did not know really that they would be so upset.
We were with other adults and had a lot of Hansel-Gretel type fun getting back to four foaming-at-the mouth adults behaving like a collective wicked witch.
Then on the way back the car broke down and ran out of fuel, my Father hitched a ride on a lorry to get fuel while the other Father tried to repair his car. We drank water from little waterfall trickles and ate the halwa wrapped in sal leaves that passing lorry drivers kindly threw at us.
Of many holidays, that was the most exciting as a child. As an adult, it was off to Ranthambhore. In search of the mythical tiger.
My Best Friend carefully chose a hotel, taking price and proximity into consideration. The Internet was new those days. I mean this was really long ago. The hotel was basic but the clueless owners were fabulous and friendly. The menu had some interesting dishes like “penis soup”. We did not eat there much as a result. Although like most of tourist Rajasthan, you have to really struggle to find actual Rajasthani food. One night we treated ourselves to a fancy meal at one of those five stars. People heard where we were staying and sneered that usually that’s where their drivers stayed. This made us love our basic hotel even more. The hot water was the hottest ever in a cold Rajasthan winter — boiled on coal on the roof and pour through the pipes. Heaven.
But the problem was not the hotel. It was the tigers. Bill Clinton had recently visited and met several. The obvious “plants” at the five star all claimed that they had seen millions just that afternoon. Lies. Paid trolls before trolls were invented. Even worse, they looked like caricatures of PG Wodehouse’s descriptions of the Club Bore wittering away about his time in “Indjya” blah blah rubbish.
Tigers or no, the forest is awe-inspiring. Even if the Best Friend made me sit by the window so that if a tiger attacked, it could eat me first. True love. Luckily there were no tigers since they were mythical anyway.
But our fellow passengers on the Canter or Gallop or Trot or whatever equestrian thing that bone-tumbling light commercial vehicle is called all too real.
We had two competing acts on the tiger trail. One was a very circumspect but particular young woman who softly but firmly wanted details about everything we passed. Is that a leaf, why is that a leaf, what is a leaf? She slowly built up to what she was most interested in – the many deer we saw. Especially in sexes and their differences. Not antlers and stuff but proper details. As her husband crawled under the seat, the guide firmly but politely asked her to figure it out for herself.
The loudest performance was by the large contingent of fellow Bengalis who occupied the last few rows. They were also in our hotel. We met them in the very early morning laughing that their tea was not “phorsha” or fair or milky enough. Thus displaying both inbuilt racism and bad taste.
But the preview was nothing to the main performance. Forests are silent when you first meet them. Gradually, you hear the birds, the rustles in the undergrowth that could be so many kinds of deer or something more exotic. The guide asked for silence.
What a fool.
A few minutes into the journey and a loud cry broke the early morning mist: Khoka, kaane chaapa de! Thanda lagbe. Son, cover your ears! It’s cold.”
It wasn’t just the live animals, even the mythical tigers retreated.
In between these high decibel high pitched screeches, was the particular lady: er, so just how different is a male deer from a female deer.
Khoka! Listen to me!
Two days of this, and the Best Friend had enough even if she was brought up in Calcutta. She and her sister stayed back to help the hotel owners with their menu and sense of spell. Spinach soup, people, nothing exotic or interesting enough to tickle the interest of our fellow traveller obsessed with the genitalia of ungulates. Two of us booked a jeep for the day away from shrieking Bengalis and the mob.
No tigers appeared. But the forest was gorgeous. From the trees to the grasses. The crocodiles to the birds. The silence was mesmeric.
May all your holidays be as blessed. May you enjoy the cold weather and some invigorating seasonal penis soup. May the virus stop controlling us.
And see you on the other side. Goodbye 2021.