We were seated on a bench waiting for a bus on a mid summer afternoon in Seattle, US. I acknowledged “That’s true.” She picked up the conversation and went on about her experience in the early 90’s. She was in Chennai in 1994 for a span of 20 good days on a business trip. Peter, Rebecca and Frank accompanied her. This is how she describes her experience. As I landed in the Chennai airport I could feel the heat from everywhere. It was pricking me. I hoped not to turn into a boiling chicken by the time I check into the hotel booked for a group of four who flew down all the way from Kansas city to this well known city in India - Chennai, the then Madras.
The fun had just begun. People stared at us as if we were directly out from an animal park or probably we were the missing clowns from the famous Jumbo Circus running in the city. I could not concentrate much of this as my body temperature was rising with the humid climate. Rebecca, my fellow colleague was looking at the handborads to see if any name sounds familiar. But she was finding it difficult to read the names out there. I remember one of those names with great difficulty Vijayakrishnan Balachandran T .Oh my God! I wonder how difficult it should be to remember the names of its kind. Isn’t it easy to have Jim, Tim, and Pat around rather?
When we were almost lost, there was a sign of relief - finally a short dark guy with a huge mustache shaped in a funny way, dressed in a white coat ,white trousers and a white hat on his head , approached the group silently and said “Madam, (pause) Sir, I will take you alllllll to hotel. (Deliberately stressed the word “all” to get the accent right, the way Stacy put it) I am Kesavan”. Only thing that kept me still refreshed was that there would be an air conditioner in the hotel room. “I am dying”, I cried. Frank added “Is this where I am going to work for the next 20 days of my precious life” Chorus came in “NOooooooooo!” But there was no go.
Finally we got into the cab (Stacy said it looked like an old big pumpkin – probably she was referring to an ambassador car the only famous ones then for the cabs). The first ever experience on the Indian road. My goodness! Am glad that I’m still alive today. That took the death out of me. I still get a cold shiver down my spine when I think of that incident. We just hoped to reach safely without hurting any fellow passenger on the way.
And here we stood at the entrance of the Challenger Inn hotel in some Kum…kkaam. (She could not recollect that place and I doubt the Hotel exists).
Rebecca and I walked towards the reception and there was a young lady standing next to an antique wall clock as if eagerly waiting to greet us a welcome. She smiled for everything possible and I too faked a smile back. Soon we were done with the paper formalities and checked in, yes I finally found the air conditioner; much to my relief .It is the best possible invention to mankind.
Jet Lag! And you know I did not get proper sleep. I was missing my home sweet home already. Next day I was up early and was heading towards the block where I was supposed to work. It took clean 10 minutes when I finally was able to make it to the other side of the street. As I approached the building entrance I was welcomed by the group with which I was working for the past 2 years from Kansas. Names were familiar but faces were new. It was a memory game for the initial two days. I was calling Nalini, but found wrong face turning to me. She was Nandini, I got mixed up. That’s how it is right? You know it better. The team enjoyed my company as much as I did. The mornings and afternoons I spent my time in office and almost everyday I visited Indian restaurants. I like my dinner light. So idly was my favorite supper menu. They planned for an outing a day before our departure. It was a visit to the seashore – the famous beach down then, not sure if it is still so. I was completely excited. I asked Rebecca, Peter and Frank to join us and they were glad to. We had to take cab as it was a cool 30 minute drive from our office. This time I enjoyed the drive. It was Kesavan again trying to be more skilful in his driving . It was much better than the expensive rides of Universal studios or any theme parks, more exciting and thrilling than the X scream or the Insanity ride on the Stratosphere tower in Vegas. I could feel the cool breeze and there we were at the beach. Kesavan dropped us at the entrance to a quarter mile pathway that was supposed to be walked to reach the shore. There were stalls on both sides of the pathway and we stopped at most of them. We liked the ear rings that were so delicately crafted and took away my attention. The ancient Japanese fan with wonderful paintings on it was attractive. Of course Peter and Frank still recalls the taste of the crab masala they had in one of the food outlets there as Rebecca and I were busy shopping. Nalini forced all the four of us to have an amusing evening snack that’s famous in India - a plate of Bhel puri. I liked it as it was customized to be bland enough for my taste glands to accept. I wonder how people eat so much of spice at a go. (There was a chuckle).
It was indeed a beautiful calm evening when the Sun kissed the darling Earth to bid a good bye for that wonderful day and whispered to her that he is going to come back soon with another morning of new life and excitement. Moonlight and the low music of drums from a tribal band on the shore made it perfect for the night. We saw them dance to the tunes and of all the things in the evening I loved the stall which carved our names on the sea shells. I remember the whole episode everytime I see my name “Stacy” on that beautiful Shell safely preserved on my drawing shelf.
As she said this we heard a screeching sound of a bus. It came to a sudden halt in front of us. Both Stacy and I smiled and walked our ways. I admired her narration and that is why I pen it down here for you all to enjoy!
Life is exciting; you need to adventure a little!
- Ashwini Nagaraja
- Ashwini Nagaraja