At the time of planning the road trip to London I had mailed the various Indian Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions en route. One of the first responses I had was from Ranjan Mathai, the Indian High Commissioner to London. He had expressed concern that he would be unavailable till 31 August – my original schedule was to return to Cochin on 30 August. However, with the slight change in schedule I was given an appointment to meet His Excellency on the morning of 2 September. Being a working day, Lal and I had to shell out nearly GBP 46 apiece for the return tickets as compared to just GBP 16 apiece just a few days before, which was a holiday. We had a most interesting time with the High Commissioner, who displayed a lot of enthusiasm to understand our journey. Aldwych House is a historic building in Central London. Vivek Thampy, Social Secretary to the High Commissioner, who coordinated our meeting with the High Commissioner explained a few important plaques in the building and also gave us a copy of the coffee table book that vividly explained the heritage building.
Ali, our benefactor from Kazakhstan, had requested us to spend some time, if possible, with Anandam Chechi. What an experience that turned out to be. She gave us explicit directions to reach the train station closest to her house, even changing a train en route, where she picked us up. The sprightly 80 plus entertained us over an hour with her life experiences. Some of them would even seem too bold for the present generation! Before dropping us back at the train station she gave us copies of the excellent books she had penned. She had been through a lot of emotional trauma in the recent past, losing her favourite son, which she said was restraining her from putting pen to paper. We spent more time than we should have to get back to Hayward’s Heath as we took a train in the wrong direction and reached London Bridge! Lal got into a flap since he was yet to complete packing. In the end we did reach the Kingsley home in time for the final bits and pieces.
We bade farewell to Julie and the kids before Anil drove us to Heathrow. The journey was done in better time than was anticipated and we reached the airport with a lot of time to kill. Before checking in we decided to get the check in baggage wrapped and paid a bomb for it – GBP 10 per piece! The check in was smooth and we got a window and aisle as we wanted. While moving away from the counter I realised that my shirt pocket felt light. I had lost something that had been a permanent fixture in my shirt pocket for over 8 years – a picture of Our Lady, the prayer to St. Jude and the photo of my parents. They were in a pouch and that pouch was missing. I was almost inconsolable for I believed that I had lost my Graces. I walked around the complex, all the places I had been inside the airport for almost a half hour. I could not find it. Later I rationalised that possibly it was His means of telling me how the Graces had worked over the past years and it was the right time to take leave of them. New Graces, new meaning to life; maybe!
The flight from Heathrow by Sri Lankan was on schedule and I spend most of the time partaking of the airline hospitality and watching movies. The connection at Colombo was met without any hiccups and the final leg of the journey to Cochin was largely uneventful. Trans Asian Shipping Services Pvt Ltd organised a grand homecoming with almost the entire top management turning up to receive us – they even wanted to organise a press interaction, which Lal was not in favour of since a section of the media had been most unfair in reporting the break up with Baiju. The highlight of the reception was the ‘Chenda Melam’. Maya, Ajay and Eva formed part of the family reception at the airport. The Press did not turn up at all. The drive from the Cochin international airport to my home in Alfa Serene was the most stressful of the past 80 days. It took us nearly 2 hours to cover the distance, albeit including a short diversion to offer thanksgiving at the St. Joseph’s Church at Thevara.
The epic journey had lasted 75 days –starting from Hotel Crowne Plaza, Cochin on 16 June and ending in Tavistock Square, London on 29 August. When I got back home I had realised yet another dream that had its roots in 1997. It drove home the fact that dreams, however big and dubbed impossible, can be realised if they are broken down into smaller practical units and pursued with unwavering passion. Not much time elapsed before I was asked if I had planned any other road journeys! It was a fact that I have outlined many. They need to be fleshed out and sponsors found to help. Amongst others, I have planned to travel extensively in USA and Australia. I have even made out an itinerary to drive solo to London and back. Then there is this trip to Indonesia by road! One of the trips I want to do, not far from now, is an 80 day trip around the world mimicking the Jules Verne classic, “Around the World in 80 days”. I consider the protagonist of the novel, Philleas Fogg, the first modern backpacker! Thus, there is no shortage of dreams and I have plenty of time on my hands to invest on them. But, availability of funds is another matter. Good Samaritans reading this and out there are most welcome to lend helping hands and shoulders.