I had promised Sudhir last evening that I would drop by at his house by 6.30 am for ‘bed’ tea. I was there on time as I could not sleep a wink in the night. The boys in the ORH provided hot water as confirmed the previous night. The splitting headache was certainly not the right companion for the longest leg I have undertaken during the journey. At little less than 700 kms I was a bit apprehensive as I started out. Sudhir stays in the new Jaipur area, which is extremely well laid out with wide roads, excellent street lighting and clear sign posts. Hence, with the directions given by Sudhir I reached without have to retrace. Sudhir and his Man Friday served me a hot cup of tea that masked the headache a bit. By 7.15 I was well and truly on the NH8.
I took the NH8 from Jaipur to Kishengarh, then NH79 up to Udaipur bye pass and linked back for NH8 to Ahmedabad. If I say that the road was excellent it will not be appreciated unless I mention the distance covered and the time used up - 680 kms in a half hour over 8 hours, which included three breaks covering 45 minutes! The wide roads, superb surfacing, good road discipline, regular sign posts and an early morning start ensured fantastic speeds. At times I deliberately slowed down as the odometer registered 120 kms plus.
Manoj Shasidharan is SSP Rajkot. I knew him as a student in Chennai when I was in the Railways. I only had to request for logistics support in Ahmedabad and the red carpet was laid out. I was provided a ‘must do/should see’ list too. He made arrangements for stay in the IPS Mess and detailed Sunil Nair as my ‘guide’ during the stay. Sunil met me en route to the city and piloted me to the place of stay. The IPS Mess is excellently located on the banks of the Sabarmati River. The premises were enlarged by reclaiming some of the river front through municipal landfill. In due course this property will benefit from the Sabarmati River Waterfront Project of the Municipal Corporation. Watching the sun setting with the peacocks and hens foraging their meal is in itself a calming experience. I decided to leave the sight seeing for tomorrow and try out typically Gujarati food for dinner. Sunil agreed to do the needful.
A few members of the Ahmedabad Kerala Samajam, including its President, Mr Mohanan Nambiar, came over to the Mess to welcome me to the city and to interact for a while. It was told to me that the estimated Malayalee population in Ahmedabad is about a lakh. They had only positive things to mention about Gujarat, particularly the governance of Modi. What astonishes them is the fact that not even a man day of work is lost due to labour or political disturbances. They told me how Gujarat worked when the BJP had called for a nation wide strike recently. There are no posters, flags or banners of political parties or trade unions to be seen anywhere. When one of the Ministers of the present Kerala cabinet visited Ahmedabad he bemoaned the ‘lack of political awareness’ among the Gujaratis and blamed it for the non-use of democratic means of protest. The worthy did not appreciate that people are encouraged to work and make surpluses instead of ‘protesting’ and distributing poverty.
To get to Vishaala we drove through the Dilli Darwaza area (the market signifies the season – now the market is full of stuff for the kite festival) and Juhapura, which is referred to as ‘Mini Pakistan’ for the overwhelming Muslim population. The number of cars outside the restaurant indicated the popularity of the eatery. Sunil had done the reservation and hence we did not have to wait to be allotted a table. As we entered the restaurant I noticed the mounted photographs of Indian cricketers, who had visited the eatery when India played in Ahmedabad recently. There’s a lot happening at the Vishaala; it’s not just a matter of food, it’s about enjoying the experience. Sunil, Shanker (the driver) and I visited the puppet show where we witnessed a most fascinating show of folk puppetry. The highlight was the leaping snake which almost saw me back in the car. The folk singers kept us entertained while we downed the welcome drink. Then it was time for the main ‘show’ – the food. One is expected to squat on the floor in front of a low table. That was a challenge for me. I got hold of a short stool and made myself comfortable to enjoy the local cuisine. The plate was soon filled with Tepla, Bhakri, Rokla, Dhokla, Sukhdi, beans curry, papad, pickle and Phulwadi. Small containers of cabbage and peas, kadi, salads, buttermilk, chutneys and butter bedecked the table. I started with teplas plastered with ghee and worked through the fine meal, leaving the kadi and buttermilk to be enjoyed by the others at the table. Extra helpings of tepla, beans curry and sukhdi fell prey to the enzymes in due course. Kichdi mixed in ghee was washed down with jalebis! A bowl of ice cream and mukhwas (saunf) to freshen the breath were the last two in the long list of wolfed items. The restaurant has a Museum of Utensils, ‘live’ weaving of silk saris and stoles, sale of handicrafts and a display of the various awards the restaurant has won, and deservingly. The dinner at Vishaala was a completely new, mouth watering and enzyme arousing gastronomic experience.
We wound our way back to the IPS Mess after visiting the Manek Chowk, which is reputed to be the second biggest gold market, after Mumbai. This market transforms into a food court after 7 pm. The shops close and the frontage is used to hawk fast food – all veg. The place is jam packed even on a working day. I was told that the shopkeepers are paid rental for using the frontage of their shops after business hours. A crowded schedule is in store for the morrow.