The stay in the Railway Officers’ Rest House (ORH) was refreshing. I repacked the bags for the next week. The Railway Station is getting a facelift. One of the caretakers at the ORH mentioned, somewhat in awe, that the pavement is getting readied in time for the visit of the Divisional Railway Manager over the weekend. While clicking away in front of the Railway Station I found a person staring curiously at me, wondering what there is to capture of a mundane railway station facade that he sees every day! I asked him if he could take a picture for me. He was aghast. He had never handled a camera before and had never even dreamed of handling one. I explained how to hold the camera and handle the shutter release. When I showed him the result of his effort he was so happy that he flashed a brilliant 32, which remained with me for some time into the day – I had made my first smile happen for the day; two more to go.
One of the Guide books mentions Pondicherry as a screech – honk – screech – honk city. Very apt. The best way to get around is cycling. You will find zillions of cycles on the roads and with their upgraded cousin – the motorcycle – in the hands of the erstwhile cyclists, driving a four wheeler can be quite a nerve racking experience. The roads in the French Quarter are getting redone using heavy duty paver blocks; the rest of them are in need of urgent attention.
I had hung a raincoat over the headrest of the passenger seat since starting off from Cochin. As I had encountered brilliant sunshine all through the first five days of the journey I repacked the raincoat into one of the bags. Nearing Mahabalipuram the skies opened up and I had to retrieve the raincoat from the bag, braving the rain at Mahabalipuram! I put it on and the rain stopped – so much for man proposing and God disposing!
In 1977, as a student of Loyola College, Chennai I had cycled from Nungambakkam to Mahabalipuram with a few friends. We had started off immediately after breakfast on a Sunday morning on rented cycles. I remember the fun time we had there – Suresh Cherian, Mohan, Kalakkan, etc were excellent company during the trip. If any of them deny this trip I have some ‘exciting’ B&W photographs to back my memories! We got back late in the evening and I remember that the rump was sore for the next few days.
Despite having been to Mahabalipuram many times in the past I had not walked around and explored the place as much in detail as I did today. After the 5 Rathas and the Shore Temple I wanted to visit the rock caves and sought direction from one of the three guards at the Shore Temple. The conversation went something like this :
SJ: “How can you get to the Rock Caves?”
GD: “Sir, it is near the Light House.”
SJ: “How can I get to the Light House?”
GD: “Sir, it is near the Bus Stand.”
SJ: “But Sir, how do I get to the Bus Stand?”
GD: “Sir, go straight and then take the second left turn.”
SJ: “There is no straight road from here to take.”
GD: “Sir, the straight road is after you take the first right turn.”
Many of my friends had recommended a GPS system to get around during the journey. Being "Differently Abled" with technology, I believe in stopping and asking directions. If I didn’t do this, gems as the one above would never happen and it is these interfaces that enrich a journey.
As I left Mahabalipuram I heard a disconcerting sound from the front. I banged the dashboard for a while, thus expending my entire mechanical expertise on this one small problem. The sound stopped and I was proud of what I could do to solve minor problems of the car during the journey. My gleeful pride was short lived. Less than ten minutes later the sound made a resounding comeback and vigorous banging on various parts of the car refused to solve the problem. Upon reaching Chennai I took the car to a garage i was familiar with during my years with the Railways in Chennai. The mechanic, after the test drive, informed that the front wheels bearings have to be replaced. The earliest I could get the car after repair would be tomorrow evening.
Notwithstanding the repairs to the car and the slight gloom that enveloped my mind I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Suresh Balajee’s house nursing a couple of pegs of Single Malt and feasting on excellent food from Sangam and the Puttu and Kadala, courtesy Nimmu.