Last evening Joe and Linu had brought me a Puran Poli, the local delicacy. I had ‘saved up’ a half of it for the morning. The Poli and a mouthful of water set my sights for the SH60 – Jhakre and Joe had coached me till I could have got to the highway blindfolded. The tolled SH60 is reasonably well maintained to negotiate it at decent speeds. The villages and small towns en route dampen the speed a bit. After Ahmednagar, which came within an hour of starting the trip from Aurangabad at 7.30 am, I stopped just as the ghat road began at a restaurant for breakfast. It was amply evident that they had not served a customer before I happened along. However, I was served a huge helping of Poha and a cup of tea.
Even the ghat roads on SH60 are wide and well maintained. The undulating roads that have been cut through short hill faces are a fascinating drive. The sun’s rays falling on the jagged rocks provide an ideal background for adventure sport. I was scheduled to take the Express Highway from Talegaon, near Pune, to Mumbai. For this one has to turn off at Shikrapur and reach the Urse toll booth via Chakan and Talegaon. This bit of road of over 50 kms is a rough drive. One has to cut across the NH4 and go across to the Express Highway toll booth. As luck would have it, the Expressway was closed and had remained so since 9.30 last evening. An LPG tanker had started leaking at the toll booth and the entire area had been cleared of vehicular movement. Police and personnel manning Emergency Services were all over. I was told that as the time of restoration of traffic on the Expressway cannot be estimated I should take the NH4 to Mumbai. I came back to the intersection of the NH4 and burnt rubber on the Mumbai route.
I anticipated heavy movement on the NH due to closure of the Expressway. Even then I reached Lonavala in good time and looked forward to picking up some Chikkies. I was reminded of the fantastically tasty Chikkies Mrs and Mr Gopal Mohanty had packed for me while leaving Kolkata. While the taste buds were reminiscing and sending salivatory signals to the mind I came across the access point to the Express Highway short of Lonavala. I took that and let rip on the fantastic Expressway, forgetting in a trice the tasty Chikkies. I rolled down the window and let the slightly cool breeze deliver a few rapid ‘slaps’ on the face. Mohammed Rafi and his classic renditions, accompanied by a mental treat of Shammi Kapoor gyrations, were the ideal ingredients to hit a high on the road and through the tunnels. In a short while I passed Panvel and felt bad that the Expressway was over.
I had set up an appointment with Jose Mathew, my erstwhile colleague in DP World and an excellent friend, to meet for lunch at his Vashi residence. From Panvel he ‘virtually’ guided me through to the Vashi market and his residence without any confusion. It was a treat to meet Mrs and Mr Jose, their daughter and son, Alan. I thoroughly enjoyed the company for more than two hours over a couple of alcoholic ‘stress buster’ shots. The short eats more or less filled the tank but the Appam and Fish Moilee, the Cabbage ‘thoran’ and rice, etc found their way unassumingly down my throat to meet their respective appointments with enzymes.
Girish Pillai is the DRM of Mumbai Division. The only bachelor of our batch and hence, the one with peace of mind when the rest of us have our minds in pieces, stays in Budhwar Park – the swanky uptown residential complex of the Western and Central Railways. Staying with Girish is a ‘habit’ I picked up many years ago in Chennai. These days I do not even ask him if I can, I just do. When I was transferred to Chennai in 1990 from Palghat I shacked up with Girish in his Sterling Road flat till I was allotted one in due course. His flat was the ‘adda’ (den) for all of us who wanted to spend a few peaceful hours or even days, feasting on Karupiah’s recipes. Karupiah was Girish’s granite faced Man Friday with exceptional culinary skills who served up short eats and main courses at lightning speed. When Girish was posted in Mumbai prior to the present assignment I was a regular visitor from Cochin. Over the years, Suo Moto, I had assigned myself space in his family!
Girish had invited a few batch mates for dinner. SCJ, Anup Prasad (apart from being a railway colleague he was also my course mate in Delhi University) and KP Bakshi (our batch mate in IRTS who joined the IAS in Maharashtra cadre in 1982) arrived as appointed and we had a wonderful time till well past the Cinderella hour. Personal experiences and anecdotes interspersed with serious discussions diluted the alcohol and digested the short eats. Dinner came and went in similar manner and I hit the sack just as the digital clock silently sneaked past the first hour after midnight.