The onward trip to Yelagiri
A small note. Though this is intended to be a science blog, this 2 part post has got nothing to do with Science.
On Thursday, Prabha and I decided that we will go on a one day visit to Yelagiri hills on Saturday. We have a 76 year old friend there, who runs an NGO, and we had to meet him. These hills are in Vellore district, about 20-30 kilometres from Jolarpet station. Normally, we would take a train till Jolarpet and then take a bus to cover the 20 kms up into the hills. But since this plan was made at such a short notice, we could not buy train tickets, and so we had no option but to go by bus. The whole distance from Chennai to Yelagiri would be about 250 kms.
I should have known it by the way the day started off. Wanting to take an early bus out of the city to avoid traffic, I set the alarm valiantly for 4.30 AM on Saturday. Of course, I did not tell Prabha the exact time for which I set the alarm. She is not an early riser, you see. But to my complete irritation she got up at 3.45 AM. Of course it was not exactly the fact that she woke up so early which irritated me. She thought she had something to tell me. For some reason, she thought it was the most important news since the death of Osama and that I had to be updated immediately about that. Being a woman of action and all that, she woke me up to tell me that she was awake and that she could not sleep anymore. Knowing her for almost close to 4 years, I knew right away that it was futile to attempt any more sleep myself. I still made an attempt, telling her I wanted to sleep. I know that it was not the best line to take, but it was 3.45 AM. I am not sure which part of it she did not understand, but she completely ignored my statement, and insisted that she was not able to sleep. I got the message. I got up and went looking for my tooth brush.
Our uphill journey went only downhill from then on. We reached the Vadapalani bus stop at 5.00 AM. A small shop was open there. We bought a water bottle, a packet of biscuits and started waiting for a bus that will take us to Vellore. A bus for Pondichery came, then a bus to Trichy, then to Kalpakkam, then to Kanchipuram, then to Kumbakonam, Chidambaram, Cuddalore, Jayamkondan and so on, but not a single bus to Vellore. Twenty minutes later went by this way wherein the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation made well intentioned efforts to educate me on the Geography of Tamil Nadu. But I was not diverted and I started having doubts. I asked Prabha if she was sure that Vellore buses do indeed go via Vadapalani and that they don’t take the route via Maduravoyil. She said “Vera eppadi poga mudiyum? Chancee illa.” I could not but agree to this nuanced detailed reasoning. I shut up. But a person, who was standing near us, and who had obviously overheard our discussion helpfully told us, that buses going to Madurai don’t go via Vadapalani. I told him that we wanted to go to Vellore and asked him if Vellore buses pass this way, and this he confirmed. Thus, reassured, we continued waiting. Twenty minutes went past, and we even saw buses going to places like Athirampattu but not Vellore. There was also one lady who got into a bus with a toothbrush in her mouth. Prabha and I were surprised, though it did not perturb the conductor even a little bit. He must have seen quite a bit of life. The number of people standing for buses started increasing and then started decreasing again. I got worried, and I went and asked a guy preparing Tea in a shop at the bus stand, whether buses to Vellore go this way. He nodded affirmatively. Again re-assured, I joined my wife to continue waiting. More time passed, but no bus to Vellore. I was reminded of a silly Ajith movie (I know it is superfluous), “Citizen”, wherein some whole town is erased from all the official documents with Ajith being the only survivor of that village. Did something like that happen to Vellore?
Then another Pondichery bus came. This time I went up to the conductor to find out if Vellore buses go via Vadapalani and he said yes, but his attention was clearly on getting as many people into his bus as possible, even if that meant some of his passengers wanting to go to Madurai, have to take a detour via Pondichery. In cinematic fashion when the bus started moving, the conductor looked at me, made eye contact and starting making gestures to me (he had a whistle in his mouth). Looks like he had some traffic in his aural pathways, since the question I had posed to him some moments ago seemed to reach his brain only then, and wanted to tell me, through sign language, that Vellore buses don’t go via Vadapalani and that I needed to go to CMBT to board them. Now that I got official confirmation for my hunch, Prabha and I crossed the road and took a bus to CMBT. We reached CMBT by 6.00 AM. Since it was time for our morning milk, Prabha went straight to the Aavin parlour, while I started reading the notice boards that would tell me which platform and which bay would house the buses destined to Vellore. Once I found it, I went looking for Prabha. She was looking deeply depressed since she could not get cold bottled flavoured milk that she preferred. Trying to convince her that there are bigger problems in the world, I took her hand and started moving towards the platform where Vellore buses stood. Soon I noticed something in Prabha’s eye. I thought for a moment that I had indeed succeeded in bringing into her a cosmic perspective to our daily small troubles. I never really believed in things like Nirvana, but on seeing her eyes, I guessed that the people, who say they have experienced Nirvana, will have eyes appearing in a way that that were not very unlike Prabha’s as they were now. Following her eyes, expecting a divine appearance, I saw something that came very close to it. An AC bus which had letters running on their digital display boards spelling out Kaveripakkam. We were in for the only positive development of the short day we had so far. But the very next second, I realized that it was not just the digital letters that were moving.
Prabha continued to walk in a trance, while I started running to catch the bus. It was just coming out of the bay and taking a U-turn, I ran around a wall, in between another bus and an impromptu public urinal that usually come up at corners, and reached the entrance to the bus. The conductor’s eyes met my eyes, and I had a déjà-vu feeling. Something about the eyes seemed very familiar to me. There were frenzied attempts by my neural networks to get the right connections, and then it finally clicked. It was the same feeling that I saw in Prabha’s eyes some time back. I realized that our boarding the bus was going to be a mutually spiritual experience for both us and the conductor, though I could not imagine why it should be so for the conductor. I checked with him if there were 2 seats for me and my wife and he said yes. But our brains did not grow out of 3 billion years of evolution for nothing. It quickly detected this positive turn in a day of not-exactly-positive events. My brain had quickly moved on to the key question, and I realized that from my mouth, the big question popped. How much does a ticket cost? The reply explained the sparkle in the eyes of the conductor.
Eventually, Prabha too came and boarded the bus. If the ticket price was not enough to convince us that the day stuck to the pattern it began with, there was something else too to hammer it home. Only when we entered did we realize that though a case against the conductor for dishonesty will not stand in a court, his reply to my question of “Do you have 2 seats for me and my wife” was on morally dubious grounds. There was one seat in the front for Prabha and one seat in the far rear for me. There was a towel placed on another seat in the front probably booked for somebody. Prabha noticed this and asked the conductor if there really was only one seat in the front. I am sure you remember, that the conductor too, was Nirvanified, and so obliged to Prabha’s request. We settled down seated on the left and right sides of the bus where we could see each other but could not talk.
The bus started at 6.15 AM and by 6.25 I could not bear it anymore. I started to desperately communicate with Prabha in sign language (learnt from the Pondichery bus conductor). I noticed some middle-aged people giving me an all-knowing look of indulgence. Young couples just can’t be separated from each other and can’t stay away from talking to each other, they must have thought. The situation had all the makings of a scene that would lead to some Bollywood song about the pains lovers have to go through during separation, with some motivational lines thrown in on how separation though temporarily causes perspiration, leads eventually to salvation, or something to similar effect, with the hero standing on a busy road, vehicles rushing past him, and the heroine, sitting in her house, with every member of the family laughing exaggeratedly so that the viewers are not left in any doubt regarding the extent to which the lady’s heart is pining away for the hero who cannot even cross a road. At least that was how it seemed to the imaginations of the rest of the people in the bus. All this while, I was becoming increasingly desperate. All my efforts at telling Prabha to give me that packet of Bourbon biscuits were failing, as she continued to act as if she did not understand me. Eventually not able to bear this romantic scene, one person offered me an exchange with his seat which will put me within Prabha’s earshot. I politely refused. But with that, Prabha finally yielded giving me the packet. I finished 4 out of the 6 biscuits, entirely justifying her reluctance to give it to me in the first place. After a few minutes I opened my book. It was a slightly large book, and was becoming a bit boring. So, after I convinced myself that I had taken all efforts to ensure that that everyone in the bus is convinced of my formidable intellect, as was evident from my reading this book, I placed the bookmark somewhere in the final 10% of the book, kept it back in my bag and promptly fell asleep, secure in the fact that even if Prabha had suddenly elevated some mundane fact of existence to the level of some world shattering news that I had to be immediately kept abreast of, she could not do so owing to the distance between us.
We reached Vellore at 8.45 AM and had our breakfast. It was 9 AM and we informed our host that we were at Vellore and will be at his place in 2 hours. Then we took a bus to Tirupathur and got down at Ponneri, the village at the feet of Yelagiri hills. It was 10.30 AM. When we got down there, a share auto promptly came to us and told us that a bus to Yelagiri had just left and that the next bus would take an hour at least, and that he can take us up for Rs.200. Since both of us were too clever to be deceived by the advice of an obviously interested party, and me not wanting to send any more of the public on their way to Nirvana, we refused and told him that we were ready to take some co-passengers to share the expense, a proposal which he flatly refused.
Then a lady who was selling jackfruits at the bus stop showed us a milk truck which was carrying aluminium milk cans up the hill. Noticing my confused look, she told me that this truck will take people up, somewhat like a share auto. Excitedly I went to the truck and saw a person sitting in front and asked him how much it costs per head. He told me that he was not the driver and that the driver was in the rear trying to settle people who had boarded the truck. I went and enquired with him and he told me that it would cost Rs.10 per head and that he would let Prabha and me sit in the front seat. This, justifiably, irked a lady sitting near the cans and asked why we alone were allowed to sit in the front, while she had to sit behind.
I tried to get into the front of the truck to see if there is enough place for the two of us, considering that one person was already sitting there. The person already sitting adjusted somewhat to let both of us in, which led to his occupying slightly less than 90% of the driver’s seat.
At this, the driver, again justifiably, got irritated and tried to explain to him patiently that the truck does not move from the driver pushing it from behind but that technology has progressed to a point where the driver needs to sit in front to drive it.
Meanwhile, Prabha had her own irritant. As a pure coincidence she too was justifiably pissed off. She clearly told me that the truck smelled of spoilt milk and that there was no way she would get into the behind of the truck and stand the stink for the one hour journey up the hills.
As everybody had their own justified irritations to attend to, I admitted defeat and settled down in the bus stand. There we sat down on a couple of benches laid out by a shop there, and waited for the bus. Time went by. We saw some monkeys playing. We saw a person coming in and placing some notices on the benches we sat. The notices were intended to promote some local college. 11 AM came and went. Prabha, as usual in a considerate manner, reminded me that this was the two hours that I had estimated would be the time that we will take to reach Yelagiri from Vellore. I ignored it and tuned in my antennae to the local gossip of the village. Eventually the bus came at 11.30 AM, after an hour’s wait. As we excitedly tried to get in, this conductor too refused to stray from the part of the cosmic design that was planned for us for the day. He told us that this bus does not go all the way to the village Nilavur that we planned to go to, and that it stops six Kilometres before our destination. I did not argue. We got in and sat down. The journey took slightly less than hour, when we finally got down at the final bus stop. We still had 6 kms to cover.
Here too a share auto again came to us and told us that it would cost us Rs.60 to go from there to Nilavur. While we were wondering what to do, the driver of the bus that had just dropped decided to violate the rule that had seemingly been set to all members by the transport workers union to ensure as much hassle as possible to Madhav and Prabha, and told us that if we are planning to go to Nilavur there was another bus coming just behind that goes to Nilavur and that we can take it. I repeated the now well rehearsed execution plan when I see a bus. It contains a simple step of 3 instructions.
1. Run towards the bus wildly gesticulating to the driver trying to convince him that our boarding the bus was terribly important, and failing to do so would lead to worldwide ramifications. I know it is difficult to convey this much information in gestures that too while you are running, but then I had been practicing sign language since 5.45 AM
2. Turn around and wait for Prabha again gesturing to her that if we miss the bus, we wont get another for the next 48 hours. Here too practice plays an important role.
3. Go back to step 1.
As with much else in life, the timing of execution of each of these instructions has to be perfect. I managed it. Thus, we reached Nilavur.
The second part of this post talks about our return trip from Yelagiri.