Sunday, 4 July 2010

A wedding + roadtrip, and some disappointment..

The wedding + roadtrip:

Two very good friends of mine, Sooraj and Asha just got married. I'd been pretty kicked about it since the time Sooraj called with the news that they're getting married, and had decided immediately that i was going no matter what. i'd been wanting to do a roadtrip on the bike as well, since it had been seven months since i did a serious long ride. this was the opportunity, and i guessed sooraj wouldnt mind since he's already set the bar with his delhi-kerala trip. Pgt agreed to ride pillion, since he'd been saying for a while that he wanted to come along on one of my trips. whether he'll come again for another one is a different matter, but go we did.

The plan was to head via coorg and hit the northern end of kerala at kasaragod, and then ride south on NH17 to kanhangad where sachin lives. From there on i would be without a pillion since the two of them would head to kannur by bus for the wedding, while i'd make it on the bike. Sooraj had arranged a resort for all of us to stay the night, and about 15 people from NID were already there to begin the festivities. The ride there was pretty uneventful except for a bit of rain once we crossed the kerala border. Coorg, as expected, was stunningly beautiful in the rains. it was glorious riding all the way to madikeri, with green rolling hills on either side and small sleepy towns punctuating the ride. the misty mountains on approach to madikeri made my day, as we shot through them covered in a light spray from the morning drizzle.

Once the roads took a sudden turn for the worse, we figured we had crossed the kerala border. the flurry of checkposts soon after confirmed it. we played hide and seek with a snaking river all the way to kasaragod, and then landed at sachins house for a sumptuous lunch cooked by his mom. the animal kingdom had taken quite a hit on their population to feed us that afternoon. i headed off immediately after lunch for kannur, and made a halt at payyannur where sooraj lived. Now, i have a constitution's worth of rules for myself when it comes to bike trips. These vary from the intensely pragmatic to the ridiculously arcane. and on each trip, i end up breaking at least three or four of my own rules. the rules i have regarding prior trip planning are usually always broken, but this time in addition to those, i broke a big rule that i had. 'Never ride to Kerala'. One reason was that most places i wanted to ride to in kerala would take me via my home town of cochin, where the risk of running into someone i know was a bit high. i couldnt ride home since my bike would be immediately impounded and my name would be deleted from the ration card. the second reason was that the traffic in kerala is insane. i take public transport as much as possible when i'm there, i dont quite think im enough of a maniac to survive driving there. plus, it'll add a few years to my age overnight.

so this time, that rule was broken, since i wouldnt be driving much in kerala, and kannur would mean that i dont have to go anyplace where there's a chance i'd run into someone i'd know. my pre-trip planning was sloppier than usual, and i neither had a toolkit nor any spares. i got sloppy on that count because the bike had never given up on me on any trip so far. well, this time she did. at payyannur, the bike wouldnt start anymore. so the groom-to-be, his brother and their friend came to my rescue and eventually we managed to start her up. at this point, i decided to visit sooraj's house anyway, and catch the argentina-germany match there. the story of that is dealt with in the second part of this post.

overall, it was a fun wedding. it's always nice to see the couple happy, instead of looking grim (which ive seen quite a few times elsewhere, by the way). sooraj was grinning like an idiot, and asha had her sweet smile as always, and we the friends were rapidly switching between making bad jokes and eyeing the girls in the auditorium. it was nice to have caught up with some old friends, and it was nicer to have made some new friends. with the wedding out of the way, it was time to head home. the next day was an all india-bandh, and since that would mean no petrol pumps, i couldnt risk a ride. so, right after a nice wedding sadya, i started off for bangalore. and i wished i hadnt.

each trip is difficult in one way or another, but this one was something else. as i made my way up the winding mountain roads on the ghats, the sky grew ominously grey. i rode as fast as i dared, aiming to cover as much distance as possible before the rains hit. that may have been a disastrous decision, in retrospect, since i was smack in the middle of nowhere when it finally started raining. i was surrounded by thick forest, there was heavy fog in patches, the last sign of civilization was about fifteen kilometres ago, and the road still kept climbing higher. since there was no shelter of any sort, i decided to keep riding in the rain, climbing higher and higher on the twisting road, with all my lights switched on so the oncoming trucks would see me. it was about four in the afternoon, but seemed like six thirty. there were no signboards indicating the route to mysore, and i had no map with me. i couldnt have opened a map in that rain, in any case. after riding about half an hour, i got this gut feeling that i was lost. there was no traffic now, only me riding around on a narrow twisting road flanked by forest on one side and coffee plants on the other. there was no place i could take refuge in or ask for directions, until i finally saw a shed in the coffee plantation, halfway up the mountain slope. I had to park on the road and walk halfway up the hill in pouring rain to find out from the guy there that i missed the mysore road a few kilometres back in the fog.

after turning back and finding the road, i took it all the way up the hills to reach the deccan plateau, and stopped for a chai. in what is becoming a tradition now, the five minutes i spent in the chai shop were the only minutes without rain. as soon as i hopped back on the bike, it was cats and dogs again, and i was cold, soaked and on the verge of giving up. i asked the shopkeeper about the roads ahead, whether they get better or worse. he told me that there's a bit of forest for twenty kilometers, apart from that it was ok. I was contemplating taking a room at the next town and riding the next day risking the bandh. At the very least, i wanted to sit it out till the rain subsided. I asked him how big the forest was, and he assured me that it's not a problem. somehow, i decided to press ahead, and that turned out to be a good decision. the small forest he mentioned was the fucking Rajiv Gandhi National Park, as i found out later. if i'd sat out the rain, i would most likely have run into the elephants there at night, given my luck.

after crossing the forest, i was back on familiar roads again. but there wasnt much sun or warmth, and the net result was that i was soaked all the way back to bangalore, and couldnt ride as fast as i wanted to since the wind was making me shiver. my shoes are still wet even as i write this, the day after the trip. i reached home at around nine in the night, with ample time to sleep since the next day was a bandh. and sleep i did, like a baby. if you dont count the snores, that is.

the disappointment :

the song goes, dont cry for me argentina. i damn near did. and im sure a lot of people in kerala did as well. i do not intend to turn this post into a discussion and dissection of their loss, since the reasons vary from the rational (lack of a decent defence) to the irrational (i wasn't wearing my lucky jersey that day). what i intend to do is focus on the madness that i witnessed.

at the outset, let me say that i am a huge football fan. i used to love playing the game since school, played pretty much in every game that happened in college, and still continue to play when i get the chance. i dont watch the game much on tv, but i still prefer watching football to any other sport. i own jerseys of argentina and my favourite clubs, spent a large chunk of my first ever stipend on a pair of (then)expensive football boots, and keep a football in office that i kick around when i'm bored. yet what i saw in kerala was quite something else.

in kerala, argentina and brazil have large numbers of fans. in a state not known for things like cut-outs of film stars and politicians, world cup footballers from literally the other side of the globe get huge cut-outs placed at road intersections by their supporters. and that was years ago, and that was something i'd come to expect. even in homes, there was a healthy amount of craze for the game. i remember my father waking me up to watch the match where roberto bagio missed the penalty. when i went for sooraj's wedding, the family there were all looking forward to watch the match, and i could see the expressions on at least some of their faces wanting the wedding eve visitors to leave quickly. sooraj included. he had made a bet that he would cut his ponytail if the germans won. i'm sad to report that in the end, he did.

so, given all this, i was unprepared for what i saw this time. when i went home the weekend before the wedding, i'd counted 400 argentina hoardings along the roadside from palakkad to thrissur, before i stopped counting. these were put up by local sports clubs, businessmen, groups of friends, even individuals. brazil had a sizable number as well, followed by lonely looking hoardings supporting germany, spain and the netherlands. i saw one each for england and portugal as well. shops had painted their shutters in the colours of their favourite national teams, i found out on a sunday. there were flags and other decorations hanging along every road and junction. during election times, back in the time when the rules regarding painting on walls was a bit more liberal, we used to see signs on walls saying 'Booked : CPI(M)' in anticipation of a coming election. I actually saw a big wall with 'Booked : Argentina Fans Association' on it, ostensibly in anticipation of an argentine victory. I know we're a football crazy population, but all of this seemed to me a little over the top. and in my list of irrational reasons for our loss, i added 'bad karma generated by an over-enthusiastic populace'.

let me explain that a bit. one of the boards said 'If the earth were a football, and the sky was the pitch, and the stars(of the astronomical variety) were the players, they would still be beaten by the brazilians in the final'. i doubt if coach Dunga would share the same assessment. heck i'm a die hard argentina fan yet even i had a feeling we would lose thanks to our rubbish defence. the text on quite a number of these hoardings were along similar lines. the day brazil lost, fans of every other team took out a rally together to gloat. brazil fans seem to be hated by a lot of people. of course, ten minutes after the argentine defeat, when i was on the road from payyannur to the resort sooraj had arranged for us, i saw brazil fans tearing down and burning argentina hoardings, and bursting crackers. a few friends who were behind me in a car,most of them brazil fans, were stopping and urging people to burn the argentina flags, and one guy they urged turned out to be a hapless argentina fan taking down his hoarding so no one would burn it. i was shouted at by one group that had congregated at a junction to tear down argentina hoardings for having committed the crime of riding past them with bright headlamps. it was mayhem, and i'm told i didnt see the worst of it that happened further inland from the highways.

i put the hoardings down to the fact that vinyl printing is much more accessible and cheaper now. anyone with a bit of extra cash kicking around can get one printed, and thanks to photoshop, they could be standing next to Messi wishing him the best. and a lot of people these days seem to be having just the right amount of extra cash kicking around. and any excuse to celebrate will do, i guess. i kinda had mixed thoughts about the whole thing. i was glad to see the love for the game, yet i was wondering if the whole rivalry and hoarding drama had gone a bit over the top, leaving the game in second place. i dont know, and dont see myself fit to judge, but i'll look forward to what happens in four years time.

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