I didn’t have much time to sleep but what I got was quality sleep. I was ready to leave at the break of dawn despite going to sleep an hour after midnight. Since the restaurant was open I thought of having breakfast before starting off. After loading the luggage into the car I ordered a paratha, thinking that that would be available in quick time. As it transpired, the restaurant staff kept telling me that it is getting done fresh and the fresh paratha arrived 30 minutes later when I was almost on the verge of flying off the handle. The portion was hot, oily and so large that it took me more than normal time to get to the end of it. It was tatsy indeed!
It took me slightly more than two hours to motor the 180 km from Kolaghat to Balasore. The road was excellent and that was a surprise to me. I was apprehensive about this stretch because I had found it in the most awful condition in May when I was returning from the South East Asian Expedition. Just after passing the town I saw a long queue of vehicles stuck on a straight stretch of the NH45. It could be an accident, I thought, and overtook the trucks and moved along the empty lane and realised that traffic had stopped on both sides of the road. When I reached the head of the queue I realised that the situation was more serious than what I had thought. It was an agitation by villagers who were protesting for a right of way through the structure that had divided their cropping lands. The newly built NH had divided homes and farm property and many lives had been lost on that stretch when attempting to cross from one side to the other on the surface. The demand of the locals definitely seemed justified and many of the youngsters told me that they had agitated three times before blocking the NH and every time the district administration had agreed to get the matter resolved. Months having passed with casualties going up they were in no mood to relent this time. They alleged that the district administration was in cahoots with the NHAI and delaying the execution of the underpass. They insisted that the Collector should come to the site and give a personal assurance. In a short while a posse of policemen arrived. I tried to reason with some of the leaders that I had an appointment to keep in Visakhapatnam. They coolly told me to inform those who were
waiting for me that I would be late! I asked the policemen if they could help me. They told me to reason with the agitators. The number of agitators swelled by the minute. Tarpaulins were spread on the road and men, women and children were all raising slogans. Videos and stills were being shot for news channels and newspapers. That made the agitators’ resolve stronger. Even two wheelers were not permitted to go through. Only vehicles with sick people were allowed to go through. Hooliganism also started to rear its ugly head. After four hours of agonising wait I left the agitation spot after the agitators were mollified and they were sure that their mugs would be on TV later that day!
After the vexatious journey yesterday it was a carpet beauty most of the way between Kolaghat and Visakhapatnam, 820 km. The scenic brilliance and the enjoyable driving experience was only rudely interlaced by an agitation of villagers near Balasore that was just described and an impassable queue of trucks at Ichchapuram, the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border.
The evening belonged to Thulasiram Nair and his Kerala Kala Samithi friends who accorded a grand reception, the warmth and welcome of which will linger for very long.