So powerful is the internal body clock that I woke up at 02.30 am for an 8.30 appointment. I used the time to redo my NE schedule and readjust the rest to complete the journey in 120 days. The left over portion of the blog for day 53 was also completed. I hit the sack again at 4.30 am and woke up at 8.15 and panicked, as I had to reach the car at the service centre at 9. I managed to get there, after breakfast, a half hour late. After a test drive and complete inspection the works to be done were identified. I was told that the car would be ready in the evening.
The next visit was to the Nagaland House. The ILP I had obtained was no longer valid for the dates it was issued for. Not wanting to take any further chances, I got two ILPs issued for 14 days. The staff at the ILP counter was extremely polite and co-operative. I had hired an auto from the service centre to the Nagaland House. The driver asked for Rs.350 to drop me at Maligaon! I decided to seek alternative transport and asked around. The private mini bus emerged as the best bet, which charged Rs.12 for Maligaon – a saving of Rs. 338.
The bus was jam packed and the roof of the bus was low too. I felt that I would either be decapitated or emerge from the bus as ‘The Hunchback of Maligaon’, if I did not find a suitable place to sit or stand. As it is, the option of finding a seat was immediately ruled out. I discovered a premier location close to the driver. There was a small square opening to let in light and air, which was slightly open. I opened it further and stood there, much like the gunner in a Tank. It helped me with views of the outside others in the bus were not privy to. Besides, it helped air and decongest my olfactory sensors that were assailed by odors, not so pleasant. While the conductor worked really hard to realize fares, from even people who were not so keen to pay, he was not enthusiastic about issuing tickets. While he collected tickets from a booth en route I did not see him issuing any tickets at all and not one passenger demanded it from him. Thus, the owner of the bus will never know the correct collection and one can be sure that the ‘booty’ will be shared among the three crew of the bus. This, then, is a universal problem.
From my vantage position in the bus I noticed that an elderly gentleman pointed to something written over the window of one of the seats and a young man promptly got up and made way for him. I could not make out what enabling statement acquired the seat for the gentleman, and he kept massaging his knees after he sat down. I surmised that the seat is either reserved for the aged or the handicapped. After standing for nearly three quarters of an hour I was keen to sit down. I saw a young person sitting in the seat from where another had made way for the elderly gentleman some time back. I caught the attention of the young man and pointed to my head. He got up reluctantly from the seat and I promptly plonked my rear end in the seat. I am not sure if the young man gave credit for the grey hair or to an unstable mind, so ambiguous was my gesture.
The bus wound its way through to Guwahati city. I saw the driver of the bus frantically gesticulating to drivers of buses going in the opposite direction. He got a loud response from one. Soon enough the conductor came to me and said that the bus has developed some trouble and that it will not be going to Maligaon. He asked me take another bus from the next stop and refunded me half the fare. All of us who were bound for Maligaon disembarked at the next stop. I took another bus for Maligaon and found that a short distance away from where I was off-loaded from the first bus the police was checking vehicles for documents. Either the driver of the first bus did not have the necessary documents or the bus was not authorized to do the trip.
In Maligaon I requested to consult an ENT specialist in the Railway Hospital. My batch mate and CCM, Nerwal, put me touch with Dr. SN Mukherjee, the MD of the Central Hospital, an effervescent person. Besides narrating his account of a recent visit to Tawang, he diagnosed my condition as a slight inflammation of the outer ear and prescribed medicines. I asked the good doctor to check my hearing. Using the Webber Test he determined that I have reduced ‘Absolute Bone Conduction’, a nerve condition, which is non-reversible. This arms me adequately to ignore the inconvenient! During a test in the Perambur Railway Hospital in 2001 the ENT specialist informed me that I have 16% hearing impairment. The number strangely coincided with the number of years of marriage. Going by that record I must have 25% loss of hearing now. The consoling factor is that the impairment is uniform in both ears; it proves that I do not play favorites.
The car was delivered, as promised, in the evening. The guys at the service station said that the car is in decent condition. All the oils and filters were changed in keeping with the requirement or major servicing. I headed from the service station to meet the IG (Administration), Mr. Chandranathan, a Keralite who has never lived in Kerala – his father migrated to Delhi in 1939 and he says that they were there before even the Punjabis. We ‘discovered’ a common thread – we both studied in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. He was kind enough to make the necessary arrangements to visit Kaziranga and Jorhat. Later in the evening the SP, Golaghat confirmed my accommodation in a GH and promised that he would try his best to organize an ‘Elephant Safari’. Ajay was not very happy when I told him about the ‘Elephant Safari’. I will not be surprised if he informs the SPCA to protect the pachyderm from this ‘weighty self’.