The 3 hours of rest at home rejuvenated the mind and body. After attestation I slowly got to the highway. It was dark and I was aware of the poor condition of the road in some places beyond Chertallai. The drive up to that point was just alright. I was not stepping on the gas, as it were, for fear of pot holes. Just then, a Ford Icon overtook me and I noticed that the driver was fast paced, yet steady. I decided to use the Ford as a pace setter and tailed him right up to Quilon. The move paid off and I was at the Trivandrum bye pass in about 3 hours. I called up Mr. Philipose Thomas, a retired IAS officer and a fast friend of my father and the family over the past many years, and asked if I could drop in for a short time. He stays near the Medical College. I used a link road from the highway to get to his place in a half hour. A hot cup of coffee was waiting for me as I parked and sought his attestation.
In another half hour I was in Hotel Leela Venture, Kovalam for attestation. I was made to wait for quite some time and I wondered if I had blundered stepping in there. I explained to three different persons my mission and was told that the head of security would take care of my requirement. As time dragged on I asked the front office, somewhat curtly, if I should move on. Then action happened. She got permission from someone in the office to oblige me. The half hour then proved crucial in the end. I had in mind that my destination for the day is Chennai, which meant that I had to do 850(the original schedule)+300(the backlog).
The next stop for attestation was Kolachel. The road was good, but narrow. While taking a turn at Kollamcode I realized that Mani has his shop at the place. The area seemed familiar too. I suddenly recognized his shop and drove in. I found Mani gaping as soon as he recognized me. I quickly explained why I was there and took his ‘anugraham’, for he was the one who taught me driving when he worked for my maternal grandfather nearly four decades ago; my Guru. Till I reached Kanyakumari he kept on ringing to find if I was on the right track! That’s a Guru’s concern. Very few places were open at Kolachel due to the Sankranthi holidays. I got into a margin free shop and explained why I was there. The manager, with gusto, asked me how he could contribute! I bought some biscuits and juices for the journey and accelerated to Kanyakumari.
The railway station at Kanyakumari was crowded. People were coming in by various trains to take a dip and enjoy their vacation. I almost ran to the Station Manager’s room. He immediately recognized me from the All-India trip, when I had taken his attestation. He quickly obliged me and I handed him a copy of my book, in which an interaction with him was mention. The roads in Tamil Nadu are fairly good. Even the village roads are well surfaced and maintained. This helps the farmers to get their produce to the markets as also link up to Universities and retail outlets for expert help and inputs. I had not heard of the place Uvari. However, Google Maps insisted that such a place existed! Milestones also directed me to Uvari, where I landed up at a church after 50 kms from Kanyakumari. I went in to meet the parish priest. He was away, but the assistant parish priest took me to his office and attested the log sheet. He apologized for not spending more time with me as he was busy with arrangements for celebrating the feast of the patron saint of the church!
I dropped in at the railway station at Tiruchendur for the attestation and was received warmly by the Station Master. The next stop was Tuticorin. I had no doubt in my mind that Vijayarajah would be the one to attest the log sheet there. An erstwhile colleague in Container Corporation of India (Concor), Rajah gave me elaborate direction to reach the terminal. Tender coconuts and biscuits awaited me, with all the employees lining up to greet me. It was an emotional reunion. I had to leave after a 15 minute interaction, after taking directions to Ramnad. The 130 km drive was smooth, but the access to the station was not so. It was already 6.15 pm by the time I stepped into the Station Master’s office. It took a while convincing him that it was okay to attest the log sheet. When I showed him attestations from other SMs, he asked me “why we should attest your journey”. When I asked him the number to call his boss, he acquiesced! Possibly the man was only trying to ascertain my credentials.
The sun was going down fast as I left Ramnad railway station. By the time I reached Kodikkarai (Point Calimere) via Mimisal it was past 10 pm. It was pitch dark and I was driving through a sanctuary. I wondered who I would find there at that time to attest my log sheet. Then I came to a forest check post. I explained to the watchman why I was there. He told me that I should proceed further at that time only if it was absolutely essential. I told him that I had to, to comply with the Limca stipulations. I also told him that I would need his attestation on my return and he agreed. I drove through the wild life sanctuary and my mind started playing tricks. I thought I saw animals quickly getting into the bushes as the headlights picked them up. Tricks or truth, could not ascertain. I kept on driving till the headlights picked up four youngsters talking animatedly under a small street lamp. They advised that I should turn back from there, else the car would get stuck in the sand. Who placed them there to guide me? After spending a few minutes with the four, when I was given directions to reach the main road to go to Karaikal, I drove back. I also took a few snaps at a location that said “Kodikkarai 0 kms”. The forest watchman was awaiting my arrival. He attested the log sheet and he was pleased with the snaps I took of him. In retrospect, I feel that one needs a strong heart to be in such places at such hours. The major concern would be a breakdown or a tyre blowout. There is not a person anywhere in sight for miles on end and it is dark, as dark can be. If anything happens, the only solution is to wait out the night in the car.
At the stroke of midnight I reached Karaikal. I saw a couple of policemen on patrol duty and asked for direction to the police station. The policemen became inquisitive and said they would pilot me to the station! They did and I found a super inquisitive station in-charge, who shot so many questions at me that all thoughts of driving to Chennai evaporated. The policemen even offered to get me tea at that time! I left a few admiring policemen standing when I left the station. I had to refuel. I reached an IOC outlet and filled up. Then, I asked the fuel station attendant if I could rest there. He showed me a place to park the car and asked what time I wanted to be woken up. What can you say of such helpful persons? In such circumstances, I also ask myself if I deserve such help. I settled into a deep sleep in the car by 12.30 am. The backlog remained at 300 kms and I had driven 850 kms in over 19 hours.