The two days before the expedition was to be flagged off on 28 February saw a flurry of activity; last minute stuff that can only be done at the last minute, I guess. The UPM Advertising team had come with another stunner of a design for the car. By the time she was ready to be rolled out the Endeavour looked all set and happy to be on a tough 100 day haul. I could almost see her gleaming with pride and a bit haughty about her looks! Since I did not have any financial sponsors I had thought of a quiet get away from my residence in Alfa Serene, Cochin. But Mary of UPM Advertising and Kiran of Tyrex would have none of that. The latter suggested that the expedition be flagged off from his office cum workshop. Besides the location of the suggested venue being on the national highway, Chillax, the happening place in Cochin, could provide refreshments for those who participated in the function. Mary seconded that and that was that. Between Kiran and Mary they designed what should be done on the 28th. I only set the time for the flag off at 11am. Mary also insisted that I should address the press the day before. I was not too sure about that, since time was too short. However, when I got to the Press Club to book a slot I was given one just ahead of the Mayor’s address. That turned out to be a boon, for the attendance at the press meet was very good and interactive. The material that I distributed and the discussion came in for some handy press coverage.
The big day finally arrived. But my mind was occupied with thoughts of my granddaughter, Eva, going off to Botswana in April, where her father eagerly awaited her arrival. She had, since her arrival into my life in June 2013, substantially changed my outlook to life and provided a strong reason why I should grow old! Being a grandparent can only happen if you grow old. When I get back from the expedition she will be entertaining her father and paternal grandparents in Botswana. I have enjoyed every minute of her time with us. For me it was a time to enjoy the various stages of her growing up. The first time I held her in my arms I wondered how long it will take for her to walk! The progression has been rapid and each day she learned something knew that I was proud of. I wish she remains happy all her life like she is now; her radiant laughter and vivacity are infectious – dark clouds immediately lift when she says ‘Appa’.
Almost all the residents of Alfa Serene turned up by 10.30 am to wish me luck and bon voyage. Rashid, President of the owner’s association, formally handed over a bouquet. But he touched my heart when he met me earlier in the day and handed over a gift that would be most useful on the journey. The genteel Noor came home with three large Tupperware containers of dry fruits. The genuine outpouring of love and affection of the friends in the residency, cleaning staff, security personnel and ikka and itha, who have a tea shop just outside the building, set just the right mood to embark on a tough and challenging expedition.
By the time I reached Tyrex friends and family had gathered for the formal start of the journey. I was more than moved by the prayers and good wishes that came my way. Uncles, aunts, friends from my personal and professional life, were there and I felt blessed to have them there. A huge hug is due to Kiran and Mary for organising the wonderful experience. The event did create congestion at the location, but was managed efficiently. Trans Asian Shipping Services has been a major supporter of my endeavours in the past two years. Its CMD, Johnson Mathew, was there all through the function. Logos of Trans Asia, Tyrex, UPM Advertising, Kairali Ford and Easysoft were affixed at vantage position on the car. Record Drives…And Then Some! is a compilation of experiences of four solo expeditions. The book was formally released just before the flag off. The log sheet was attested and it was time for flag off. I took leave, individually, of all those who had gathered there. By the time I set course for the highway at 11.30 am my moist eyes could barely see the road.
Heavy traffic held me at various places till I reached Angamaly. But, I felt that the Endeavour was basking in the attention in got from other road users! At Vytilla and Idapally junctions people came over to wish me while waiting for favourable signals. Others wished with their thumbs up and many photographed the graphics. While waiting for a signal near Chalakudy I saw a young girl, riding pillion on her mother’s scooter, showing avid interest in the route of the South East Asian Odyssey. I was, however, dismayed to see her holding the helmet that her mother, as the driver of the scooter, should be wearing. I gesticulated to her that she should ask her mother to wear the helmet. Her response was that she would not wear it despite being told. The mother had made her daughter an accomplice in breaking the law! What can be worse than that? Why should the daughter ever listen to her mother, even if she was telling her what was useful to her?
The road from Cochin to Walayar has improved considerably in the past year. Four laning has been completed in almost the entire stretch and work is going on to complete the rest before the next monsoon. Hopefully it will all be done when I return in June. However, lack of proper road signages almost caused an accident. While negotiating the check post at Walayar I was rudely shocked by traffic coming headlong from the opposite direction on the same lane. Pre-warning of that lane being two-way will go a long way in avoiding near misses and accidents.
After a brief halt in Palghat and 220 kms, I reached the place where the first night halt was scheduled, the Michael Job Centre in Sulur, by 5.30 pm.