Sunday, June 25, 2023

adventure biking in nicobar

we had just landed in nicobar island. it was just past sunset, and I was with another biker, who I can't recall now. it was a weird airport, as there was no terminal building - in fact we simply climed down the stairs off the smallish plane, walked off the runway, and were outside the airport without having to pass through any gate. there were no boundary walls either.

our bikes were parked in what looked like a parking lot, but there was nothing else parked there. we mounted our bikes (they were adventure bikes), and rode off. we didn't have any luggage other than our backpacks, so it was quite handy.

the island seemed quite barren and desolate, without any trees in sight in the limited visibility, and what seemend like a very thin layer of vegetation, but which on a closer look seemed more like moss or litchen. outside the tarmac road we were on, the ground was quite uneven and rocky, and definitely tricky to ride on. I commented to my friend that while it looked like it would be good for off roading at first glance, riding on such rocky uneven surfaces would be both difficult and dangerous in case of a drop.

we didn't have too far to ride, but it got dark before we got to the nearest sign of civilization. we had been riding quite slowly down a straight road from the airport, which wasn't lit in any way. in the distance we could see what looked like a small settlement, and it had a single road running across it (at right angles to the road we were on), and the road was lit with street lights and had small buildings lining it on both sides.

as soon as we saw that settlement, I suggested we stop and check the map on my phone. we stopped at the side of the road, dismounted, and i checked the map on my phone. our current location was roughly at the centre of the teardrop shaped island. the road we were on ran noth-south, and we had been headed north. we could see the airstrip we had just arrived from on the map, and it ran east-west as expected. we saw the road ahead and settlement on the map. beyond it, the road continued to another airstrip. the airstrips had been interestingly named: the one we had landed on was called airport 3 on the map, and the one further north was called airport 6. both airports were roughly in the centre of the island, and ran approximately a third to half the width of the island. the settlement was roughly midway betwen the two airstrips, and the road ran further north past airport 6 and up to the north end of the island. there were just those two roads and two airstrips on the island from what I could see on the map on my phone. also, given we could see the settlement, I could judge visually based on the distance it showed on the map that the island was pretty small - maybe about 20km from north to south and maybe about 12km east to west. we were a couple of km from the settlement. as I studied the map, I stepped off the road and onto the rocks beside them. the rocks, given the thin layer of moss, were hard and uncomfortable to sit on, and while uneven, they were undulating. I asked my friend whether he thought it would be siuitable for off-roading. he said it won't be too bad, we just need to be sensible and careful.

we got back on our bikes, and rode to the settlement. at the junction where the road we were on met the one running through it, we stopped and discussed what we should do next. it was just past sunset so we figured we had plenty of time before we called it a night. my friend suggested having a cigarette, and a shop was right next to where we were. the lights in the shop were off, even though the counter was open, and there were packs of cigarettes on display. we took a cigarette each and lit them using a lighter on the counter. as we did so, a boy walked out of another shop a few shops down the road, waving at us.

I waved back and pointed into the shop, and then pointed at the lit cigarette I was holding. the boy went back into his shop, and probably told them we were there. a minute later, a middle aged lady entered the shop from a back-door, with a lit candle.

she set the candle on the counter. and asked us if there is anything else we want. my friend suggested we buy a whole pack and split the cost. I agreed.

as I dug into my pocket and took out my wallet, I realized I didn't have any cash with me.

my friend offered to pay, paid cash, as I picked a pack and pocketed it.

as we stepped away from the shop and on to the side of road, I asked him if he paid rupees or pounds. he replied that he obviously paid rupees as we're in India. I looked through my walled and realized I didn't have any Indian cards with me. I told him I'll locate a cash machine later tonight and withdraw some cash for the rest of the trip.

we looked up and down the street - it was lined with short buildings that were raised about half a floor above the road, and many of them had a basement half below the level of the road. the buildings had shops on the ground floor and those with a basement had shops in the basement as well. there didn't seem like any restaurants though. there did seem like there were a few places to stay though, as they had lit names along the corners of some of the buildings. the road in the other direction had fewer buildings and lower structures. we thought it might be more likely to find restaurants in that direction. there weren't any that we could see though. we got to the very end of the road, and the last house had a what seemend like a small restaurant attached to it. we entered, and it turned out we had to walk through the living room to a room that served as the restaurant. the family who lived in that house was in the living room. a man (presumably the guy who runs the restaurant) was sitting with a drink of what looked like whiskey and watching TV. the TV was one of those old-style CRT TVs that have not been sold for a while.

we asked the man if the restaurant was opened for dinner and he replied that it was. we asked him was was available, and he mentioned ther were thalis - vegetarian and chicken. i asked him if he also had any fish (given this was an island I was hoping we'd get some good local seafood!). he didn't understand me at first but I repeated fish (and then said "macchi") a couple of times and he replied yes, they could definitely serve a fish thali.

my friend asked if we could start by sharing a plate of fried chicken and a couple of malabari parathas. he specifically said "fried chicken, but not a whole serving". I said I'd like a fish thali after the fried chicken. the man relayed our order to someone in the kitchen, and asked if we wanted to sit and watch TV while we had our starters, and we could then move to the resturant area to eat our thalis. we agreed, and the parathas arrived quickly enough with a side salad.

my friend start eating his paratha with the salad, but I decided I would wait for the fried chicken to arrive. I did taste the salad though, and it had quite a few chopped green chillis. they weren't very spicy though - quite nice, actually.

a few minutes later, the chicken arrived, and I started eating it with my paratha. my friend had already finished half his paratha with the salad.

and that's when i woke up.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

killing dad

I was in my parents' apartment in Mumbai. It was late afternoon.

Dad and I were having some sort of fight. It wasn't verbal. But it wasn't physical either. It was still a fight - the feeling of being physically threatened was very strong. I thought about how I could defend myself. But there was no way I could hide from my dad or prevent him from getting to me.

I considered getting out of the apartment from the terrace, climbing over the wall and sliding down the drain pipe. The thought of doing that and falling was scary, and I was afraid dad might still get me.

I decided the best thing to do was to run away from home.

As I opened the door, mom heard me and called out from the kitchen - "take care", she said.

I left without saying a word. I had actually hoped to leave the hosue without anyone noticing, but it was obvious that plan had failed.

Just as I shut the door I realized how stupid I had been. I could have locked dad INSIDE the apartment - all I had to do was lock the gate to the terrace, take the keys with me (there were no duplicates that I know of), and lock the main door from outside. I didn't have the set of keys to lock the main door from the outside (only dad had them) but I could have pushed a rod through the latch and shut it anyway. There were even plenty of rods that would have fit, on the terrace!

In the fraction of a moment I took to contemplate my stupidity, I also realized I had not carried my motorbike keys. Another ridiculous mistake. At least I had my wallet, although in my hurry I hadn't checked if there was any money inside.

As I ran down the stairs, I thought to myself: the motorbike was out of the question. Dad would have shot me getting out of the gate. Maybe I had a chance if I silently pushed the bike out of the gate and rolled down the street before starting the engine when far enough for him not to hear it. But that was irrelevant now - I didn't have the keys!

I then thought I'd meet a similar fate if I tried to exit the building by either of the gates on foot as well - dad would see me from the terrace and shoot me.

The only way out was to jump the wall and into the next apartment compound, and then the other wall into the one after that, to get to the next street without dad being able to see me. And that's what I did.

Once on the street, I thought about what I should do next. The first thing I did was check my wallet. And my worst fear was true - it was empty. So much for being able to run away. I hadn't even eaten yet!

I noticed the queue of rickshaws parked right next to where I was. None of the drivers were about. I got into the first rickshaw in the queue. The key was in. I turned it, and surprisingly, it cranked and turned on! I have never ridden a rickshaw before, so being able to start it on the first try took me by complete surprise.

I decided to use the rickshaw to get some distance between home and myself, but as I started driving the rickshaw I realized I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I didn't even know how to change gears or operate the brakes!

I got the rickshaw around the corner and managed to stop it. That was scary. I had better think of a better plan.

That's when I realized I was right next to uncle Dirk's apartment building. I thought I could hide out there for a bit while I considered my next move.

As I got out of the rickshaw I took the key with me, just in case I needed the rickshaw later.

I entered the gate, and right behind it, dad was there!

He was dressed in his Sunday best, and I was surprised that he had the time to dress up and get there before me, and without me even seeing him - I hadn't taken more than a couple of minutes at the most.

He grinned at me and asked if I thought I'd be able to get away from him that easily, and that too by trying to go to the most obvious hideout. I didn't answer but pushed past him into the elevator.

The elevator was a construction elevator - it had no walls and was literally strung on a few steel cables. There were no buttons to select the floor - instead there was just a lever that could be pulled up or down to go up or down (and presumably returned to the middle to stop). I pulled it up just as dad jumped on to the elevator platform.

I held on to a bar at the corner of the elevator - dad stood next to me, at the edge of the elevator, not holding anything.

I swung my right leg at his legs, which, if I had connected, would have thrown him off the elevator and tumbling to a serious injury or death.

Dad, sidestepped, grinning, and I missed his legs completely.

That's when I realized I could have killed dad if he hadn't dodged me so well.

And I woke up.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

driving a bus to goa

I was at this bus showroom in Mumbai. It was in Goregaon, just inside the entrance of Aarey.

I was just given the keys to a brand new bus.

I was going to drive the bus to Goa.

I climbed into the driver's seat, turned the key, and the bus's engine roared to life.

The bus already had passengers in it. They were all kids, wearing school uniforms for some reason. There was also someone sitting in the "jump seat" of the bus, he was my navigator.

It was late afternoon, and we set off without wasting a minute.

The first thing I had to do was find reverse gear - the bus was parked adjoining the road, but it was pointing the wrong way, so for some reason I decided to get the bus on to Aarey road in reverse.

Once in reverse, I let go of the clutch and the bus was in motion. But I realized it was quite difficult to drive the bus in reverse.

This bus had a strange arrangement where I could sit on the opposite side of the steering wheel if I was driving it in reverse - somewhat like I learned to do when parking a boat in reverse. I moved around into that position, so I was now facing the rear of the bus and able to look out of the clear windows at the rear and drive it in reverse without looking into my mirrors.

Obviously there were massive blind spots all around so I realized I couldn't drive the bus in reverse too far without having an accident. A few hundred metres later (the bus was quite quick in reverse!) I spotted a lay-by which was broad enough to turn the bus around, so I drove straight (ie reversed) into it. I then shifted the bus into first, and still facing the rear of the bus, backed out of the space I had just driven into, backwards! Once the bus was out far enough for the rear end to be able to turn without touching the wall, I turned the steering wheel and got the bus halfway around.

I then moved back into the normal driving position (ie facing out of the front of the bus), waited for the road to be completely clear of traffic and completed the turn. Luckily for me, there was hardly any traffic, and I also thanked my stars that I was driving in India, where smaller vehicles give way to bigger vehicles.

This is when I realized I hadn't fully memorized the gear pattern of the bus - I only knew where first and reverse were. In fact, the gear pattern was completely different from every car I've driven - the spot that would usually be first was an extra neutral, and reverse was the extreme right but centre.

The tachometer got close to 5000 RPM and I realized I had to shift quickly or I'd be over-revving the engine. I shifted into what I thought was second, but the bus jerked to a sudden halt and stalled.

I pulled the parking brake, and looked at the gear pattern. It was quite complicated, and I did my best to memorize it. I also described it to my navigator, and told him if I'd ask him where was a certain gear, he was responsible for reminding me.

I then realized I had forgotten how to start the bus. I remembered I had to turn the key, but couldn't remember which way. I tried turning the key back and forth randomly, until the engine cranked, and the bus was moving again. I still couldn't remember which way finally worked, but I figured I could try moving it back and forth randomly the next time and I'd remember it eventually.

Luckily for me the road was pretty clear and soon I had driven all the way to Ghatkopar.

At that time I was suddenly aware that I had not drunk any water and the stress of learning to drive the bus had left me quite parched. I realized the street I was on was very familiar - it was right where my uncle  Irwin (who recently pased away) and aunt lived.

I parked the bus on the side of the road and entered the building. I had my bluetooth earbuds on, and called the navigator and spoke to him on the handsfree as I climbed the stairs. My aunt lived on the fourth floor, and as I climbed the stairs I kept describing what I saw to the navigator. But then, as I reached the fourth floor, I realized all the apartment doors were bricked up. I got to where the apartment should have been and saw it was bricked up as well.

I said on the phone that I'm going to have to go back down and find another way. As I climbed back down the stairs I met a middle aged man climbing up.

He said he had followed me up and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was going to visit my aunt who lived at the last apartment on the fourth floor.

He said he was in charge of the security of the building and that all visitors had to sign in with him before entering. He lived in an apartment on the ground floor and escorted me to it.

He asked me to come inside and have a seat on the couch while he brought out the visitor's register for me to sign.

I told him I was very thirsty and asked if I could get a glass of water.

He told me he just had a jug of "jaljeera" ready and asked if I would like a glass of that instead. I replied that I'd love some jaljeera and he poured me a glass.

As I drank the glass of chilled jaljeera, his young son entered the room. The boy sat cross legged on the floor with a notebook and started drawing or scribbling in it.

The man gave me the visitor register and a pen. Before I filled it in, I asked him how I could get to the apartment as the door was bricked up.

He told me there was another entrance on the other side of the building and I could get to the apartment through that entrance.

I told the man I was still thirsty and asked if I could have some more. He didn't pour more jaljeera for me though - instead, he topped my glass up with cold water, and it was now extgremely diluted jaljeera, the colour pale from the dregs of what was left in the glass before he refilled it.

I drank the glass of cold water/diluted jaljeera, and just then the navigator who was still on the phone (and could hear my half of the conversation) asked me what was taking so long, and that I should hurry as it was getting dark and the passengers were getting restless. I didn't reply to the navigator, but instead told the man that I was going to visit my relatives to ask for some water, but as I wasn't thirsty any more, I didn't need to visit them.

I stood up to leave without filling the register, thanked the man, and let myself out of the apartment. As I was stepping out I noticed it had gotten dark outside and I would have to drive all the way to Goa in the dark. I told the navigator I was getting back to the bus and would be there in less than a minute.

And that's when I woke up.

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