Thursday, February 14, 2013

7 Jan 13 - Setting off - Cochin to Mangalore

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that “Normally, I do not get good sleep when I start an expedition”. Last night was no different. Fed up of twisting and turning many times in the bed I got up earlier than I had intended to and started re-checking if I had packed all that I had wanted to. Being the kind of trip it is and the possibility of not being able to do any laundry along the way I had meticulously planned clothes for 30 days – shirts, pants, underclothes, socks, night garments, towels, hankies, etc. Medicines had to be stocked too – for Blood Pressure, Diabetes (before food and after), digestion and a few minor ailments that could assail you (including the common cold) and possibly derail a trip such as this. A cold water shower and a visit to the St. Joseph’s church in Thevara primed me up for the 4 week long trip.

The ‘send off’ was slated for 8 am. However, my brother advised last evening that I should start a little before 7.30 am; the reason being an auspicious start before ‘Rahukalam’. Satheesh himself was not able to come over due to the presence in town of his boss. I informed a few friends and family who intended to be part of the ‘send off’ about the revised timing. Thus, Ummachan, a close friend, M.K George, my uncle, Baiju Nair, the reputed auto reporter and V.G Sasidharan, my erstwhile colleague in DP World, wished me luck and pledged prayers at the revised time. They also joined me for photographs and waved me off by 7.20 am.

I eased myself on to NH17/NH66; there was no pressure to race and make time. However, I wanted to reach Mangalore as early as possible to make up for the poor sleep last night. Tamilvannan, Chairman of New Mangalore Port Trust, had confirmed accommodation in the Port Guest House (GH). The distance was less than 450 kms and I expected to complete it within 8 hours, and thus, hoped to be ensconced in the Port GH well before evening. For the first time on this journey I miscalculated. I reached Mangalore after 8.30 pm, tired and a bit angry. The poor facilities on the road, the narrow contours where even a bicycle can derail you, indifferent co-users of the road and protesters of various hues made steady progress impossible. The major dislocation was caused by a DYFI youth march in Karivellur, between Payyannur and Nileswaram. There were floats and cultural programs atop trucks and various types of vehicles. While the crowd was well managed and regulated I was held ‘hostage’ on the National Highway for nearly an hour. As it was, the travel was excruciatingly slow, the crawl took the Mickey out of me; I got angry and it showed in my driving. Just beyond the procession of the youth – many in the crowd would certainly not qualify as ‘youth’ – I tried to catch up lost time, as much as I could. The speed limit on the NH17 is 70 km. I had noticed this with cynicism along the trip, for I wondered when and where I could attain such speed on this stretch. Suddenly, I found a posse of traffic police wave me down. I parked on the shoulder of the road and walked up to the Inspector who seemed to be in charge. He alleged over speeding. And, what was the speed? 71 kms!! I was so stumped that my eyes had to be gathered from the road and my throat, that had gone suddenly dry, would not help my words out. Finally, I gathered myself, with a major effort to remain calm, and told the Inspector that it had taken me more than 10 hours to travel 300 kms from Cochin to the place of alleged misdemeanor. While he sympathized with my condition he told me politely that he was only concerned about the speed at that point and nothing else. Imagine the injustice of it all. The road conditions are so poor that it does not facilitate travel at the speed stipulated and just when a stretch is clear the police radar steps on the brake! Should the State not enable first before throwing the book at a citizen? The narrow roads and the poor maintenance of it are a matter of serious concern. The State should follow the 3 Es of “Enable, Empower and Encircle”. Enable – facilitate the citizen by providing infrastructure that will combine speed with safety; Empower – educate the road users by means of strict theory prior to grant of license and use of proper road warnings and directions; Encircle – penalize the road users who step out of line irrespective of his/her social status. The speed limits are meant for everyone; they are not meant to be selectively used. It seems that one can travel at any speed and in any manner on the Kerala roads as long as one has a light – of any color – on top of the vehicle and a siren to top it. It is my observation that no city or state in India has as many Ambulances on the roads as Kerala has. Either we are a very sick people or are fond of using an Ambulance as a fast getaway vehicle! Private buses are a law unto themselves on the roads – they stalk and they lead you to the edge; but they can never be stopped for over speeding or rash and negligent driving. They have rich owners with connections in the right places. Hence, law and justice are only meant for the weak and those who cannot afford them.

Imagine my condition when I reach the Port GH after a stressful drive of 440 km in 13 plus hours and am told that dinner is not available. I had not eaten anything after the breakfast at 9 am, when I stopped to tune into Club FM to listen to my breakfast show with Shaan. I off loaded my luggage, freshened up and drove to Panambur town to be served cold chapattis and kurma. Hunger has a way of discounting cleanliness and taste. After the meal, when my stomach was full, I asked myself how I ate in that eatery!

Back at the GH I asked the attendant for the register so that I could make the entries and payment that would facilitate an early morning departure. The stay in the Port GH was peaceful as I was the only resident there apart from the two attendants.

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