At the top of a mountain. All night. In the company of a sanyasin.
Have you ever spent a night on a cliff top, drunk with the mountain air lying in the open under a canopy of a million stars? Add to that a sanyasin sitting by your side near the sputtering fire healing your soul-wounds more by silence than by his whispers that resonate with the gruff mountain winds.
You must, some day.
I reached the top of Possadi Gumpe in Kasargode at an odd time that evening. To dismount the beast (the mountain I climbed) and get down to the civilization before dark was almost impossible. So I decided to ride it till sunup.
“Against the green earth and the sky which was limping back to blueness after a rain” I saw an ashram, “a dark hut, dripping and shuddering” in the drizzle on the top. The sight had everything to catch my soul. Inside, I met an old man, a sanyasin who welcomed me to his humble abode with a cup of black tea and plantains.”
Friends, I had been to mountains before, but this night at Gumpe with a sanyasin would blow all stereotypes into thin air. If you haven’t read this experience yet, which of course is my best travel outing, please read it (Click for the Mountain story here)
In a toddy shop. Evening. With friends.
I am a gourmet married to a gourmand when it comes to spicy food at toddy shops. Firstly, I need everything for my eyes.
The table must be bursting at the seams with dishes. Everything that flies or crawls, as people of Nedumudi say, should be brought to the table. Prawns, different sorts of backwater fish, crabs, rabbit, game birds, ducks, tortoise…nine dishes lined up on our table once when we were at Nedumudi.
White and red. White and red. White and red. Let my eyes sip it first. Toddy and fish curry.
“But you don’t eat all fish,” see how friends try to dampen spirits at a joint! I eat everything today, my friend. We are at a toddy shop. Doesn’t that come rarely in life?
Call it binge if you take more than two bottles of toddy. The limelight must fall on the snacks not on toddy. The drink is just a suffusion of sweetness to wash down the fire from the taste buds. At the end of the feast, your fingers must be burning, your eyes must be streaming, your tummy must be feeling a merry pandering.
If you haven’t turned into a fire breathing dragon at the end go and tell it to the birds that you have visited a toddy shop.
I like toddy shops only when they are crowded. There must be singing and carousing. Old men, who cannot stand properly, are a sight to behold. If they sing I will join. I won’t let them edge me out from spicy tales about their girl friends, however old they could be. This evening I am game for everything that flies or crawls.
” So where did we stop? What happened after you jumped the compound wall? Was her husband there?” Ha ha ha…ROFL! A riotous, boisterous and one of the funniest evenings in my life. If you fail to visit the toddy shop of a place, you miss its rich belly.
Dingy hotel rooms. Night. Alone.
Sullen staff of deserted hotels wearing ‘intruders will be prosecuted’ boards in their eyes. A rude tossing of a key across the counter if you insist. A man despite 70 claiming he is a room boy. Being led through dark and foul-smelling alleys that are fit to end and flower at mythological hells rather than hotel rooms. A creaky opening of the door. A quick scampering of cockroaches to find their nearest bunkers. Bugs, mosquitoes, bed lice nodding their heads to one another in the darkness acknowledging the big work ahead. A spider pulling its giant hairy leg behind the bed in time to guarantee a creepy and sleepless night to the inhabitant. Toilets which can only be negotiated with radiation suits and helmets at every night-time sortie. A ceiling fan more vocal than kinetic. Walls that give away the lewd graffiti if you stare enough through its sore-thumped gloss. Windows that can only open to blank and soiled walls across for scenery.
On a wobbling bed inside one such room, I sit with a gloomy face. I know these beds. Creaky beds are made with neighbours in mind.
Hapless inhabitants in nearby rooms get a vicarious pleasure at night, as they metamorphose into giant pairs of ears pressed to the plaster on the opposite walls of a room where a couple has just checked in for hardcore action.
Ah! The thought hardly turns me on. The sin doesn’t hold enough ammo to evoke any pleasurable guilt in my otherwise voyerish self. I am not here to disturb any soul. Not even a cobweb will stir in my presence. This room will hardly know that a traveler has come and gone, save for a few sighs, I leave here.
Fresh, clean and white sheets and pillow covers are laid over the bed. I lie on them hardly feeling their affected primness. I can see through them. They come off their pretensions if I bury my head deep into their soggy bosoms. Beyond the prettiness they reek of human suffering. Beyond the many lazy launderings, remnants of tears, saliva, menstrual blood, sweat, semen and plenty of insomnia of many generations hang on in tiny holes among the tinier threads.
Who am I to complain? I myself is a fresh slab of blistering meat laid over generations of guilt and soil, as I lie on this bed.
Why must I check into such a room in my journeys?
I don’t know.
I know only one thing: Towards the end of every journey I trick myself into this private hell where I sleep with eyes open all night rummaging within, so obsessively like a tongue groping for a lost tooth (Did I lift that metaphor? Oh, yes. See, how bland my creativity gets even when I think about those nights!), for reasons to become sick.
Like Lemmings, if I am right about those pathetic creatures. Like Lemmings who court death willingly – after I fall and shatter into a thousand pieces in a dark room in a dirty hotel – I hear my splintered selves marching down in a single file all night to the deluge far away. I disintegrate. one by one. I die many a deaths that night.
Night… it comes.
The moment I switch off the dim lights, these four walls and a few childhood ghosts which I thought I’d long exorcised from my life, wake up from their tombs, regard themselves surprised, grow huge legs and begin to pace in towards me with giant strides from all sides. I tremble, I hear them coming. I choke. I gasp for breath and a ray of hope. I leap towards the switch board soaked in sweat.
I weep until i fall sleep.
Some people know the moment my tone gets changed. They follow me closely in my journeys, put a few of my fb posts together at times, shake their head in disbelief as they realize I have once again checked into my enemy camp despite all those bitter experiences and their warnings. They ring me up to remind me about the blessings I have. They evoke fond memories about the good moments I gave them.
They want me to hang on to those slender threads until sunrise.
I know I must stay away from those dingy hotels for good. But in every journey I keep one night to confront my dark self. I just can’t help it, dear.
I lie there all night on a bed reeking with bodily fluids and insomnia feeding my angst with my own blood and bile. I stew myself in the gravy I make. And even when it is finally over one strange part in me, still unsatisfied with its own peril, strangely looks forward to the next boil despite the scalding I get in each stay in a dingy hotel.
Premium hotels and Resorts. All night and day. With my family.
After the darkness comes the sunshine.
One glance from the bus, my wife knows what to do with her husband. We check into a resort or a big hotel. She gives me marching orders to my bathroom to see me get shaved, washed, and dressed properly. In goes a beast. Out comes a man, her man. I break open my dark cocoon and come out with a smile, with tears still in the corners of my eyes.
The way she brings her bubbly husband out of a spectre she met early morning waiting for them at the bus stand!
All photos featuring me in a journey are taken by my wife. I become the most handsome man in the world when she regards me through the lens. I skip from resort to resort with my family garnering wonderful experiences for all of us during the rest of my journey; every morning I drift a few inches away from a dingy room where walls grow feet at nights and stride in from all sides to smother a hapless victim, whom I hardly know now.
Perhaps I must live through hell to know what a heaven is.
To be continued…