Reza's Travel Blog

Travels to Bombay and beyond...

January 30, 2005

Bombay stories 1998-99

Planes, Trains & Autorickshaws and other Bombay stories

Mimo and Rudy, the Red-nosed Rude-dog
Rudy is a stray dog that hangs around on the slope leading up to our building – Palacimo (all buildings in Bombay are named, following the British tradition of giving a name to one’s house and castle). My brother Mimo, named him Rudy, because he has a red nose. For some reason, when Mimo rides up the slope on his motorbike after 11:30PM (and only after 11:30), Rudy chases after Mimo barking, snarling and for the most part terrifying Mimo who tears up the road to get away. So, Mimo and I decided to make a plan – Operation Rudy. I brought back a water-gun for Mimo. This thing is called a Super-Soaker that you can pump up and squirt water for more than 15 feet. So, one night when we went out, we took the Super-Soaker along. After a night out on the town which included a visit to Geoffreys – the bar where you rub shoulders with the young and well-heeled Bombay crowd – we returned homewards, Super-Soaker in my hand, all pumped up and ready to face Rudy, the Rude-dog. I must say that the adrenaline coursing through me was more from fear that Rudy would go stark, raving mad and bite us to bits. Anyhow, as we turned off the main road and drove up the slope, the sound of Mimo’s throaty BMW mobike breaking up the peace of the night, we came to the place where Rudy usually lies in waiting and found him gone. As we drove ahead, we saw Rudy chasing a loud Jeep that had gone up the slope before us. Foiled! Rudy was getting his kicks terrifying a young teen driving an open Jeep – he ignored us. There was another dog with Rudy and he sort of glanced at us as we rode past him. But no action – Operation Rudy ended in disappointment. In an email last week, Mimo was thinking of finding a way to make a strap for the Super-Soaker so he can sling it around his shoulder and use it without having to take his hand off the bike for too long. Operation Rudy lives! (As a disclaimer - we don’t want to hurt Rudy. He has become a foil for many jokes and laughs between my brother and me. We will remember Operation Rudy as we sit with our grandchildren and laugh as they think their old fogey grandfathers have a screw loose. I look forward to that day. Thanks for the memory Rudy.)

Dad, the Champion Penthathlete
After work my father and I would go to the Bombay Gymkhana – a sports club that has not changed much since it was opened a hundred years ago by the British – so that he could play a game of tennis. My dad will be seventy-four in April and is still fit as a fiddle. For the last three years he has taken part in the annual sporting event for the members – a pentathlon consisting of a game of squash, tennis, and badminton, a fifty meter run and five soccer penalty kicks. There are age groups and within each, the members play against each other until only two are left to play the finals. In the last three years, my dad has won his age group twice and was a runner up last year. Champion sportsman he is! I joke with him – like son, like father. This year he is working on his tennis, so that when he competes next month, he will be ready to regain his championship. Good luck Dad!

The Siesta Room
While Dad would play tennis, I would either go for a swim or if the day had worn me down, I would head to the Siesta Room for a quick nap. I did say that the Gym still retains its very British roots - a leftover of old-world gentility The door to the room has this in brass letters – Siesta Room Gentlemen Only. Inside, the room is dark with seven or eight long reclined chairs made of teak and cane webbing with slats that swing out from under the arms so that you can raise your feet. What a comfortable chair to snooze in. All those businessmen must come up here after a heavy lunch to catch a quick siesta before heading back to their offices close by. (The Gym is in the heart of south Bombay – the business district.) Nothing like a quick, refreshing nap to speed you through the sluggish afternoon. Dad takes one at the office every day – which is a big reason why he is so healthy. One time I sent him a birthday card that said on the outside – Celebrate! It’s your Birthday. When you open the card it says – Take an extra nap! He loved it and we had a good laugh about it.

Mom, the Budding Businesswoman
My mom has been using her culinary talents to make a line of dried fruit snacks and delicacies, which she sells, to a loyal and growing group of customers. Her flagship product is Date Delite, a mix of dates, figs, almonds and walnuts in one inch squares that are just delicious. (Well, I am a bit biased.) She has a couple other creations and has a few others in the pipeline. I was an official taster and each one I tried I rated excellent. (Yes, I am definitely biased, but you understand – right!?) I have also helped her with naming her creations – Date Delite was the first, Date Delish followed, and I am sure there will be many more. We named her line of products Pars – a Persian word for Persia. Who knows, someday you will find Pars products in a shop near you.

Planes, Trains and Auto-Rickshaws
Once again this year, I traveled up to Beas, a village in the north-west state of Punjab for a week retreat. This year, getting there was an adventure – my friend Rohan and I used almost every form of transportation to make it there – including cars, planes, buses, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws. We left Bombay on Wednesday evening and only made it to Beas a day and half later on Friday morning. All of this because of the travel disruptions and confusion caused by our winter friend - Mr. Fog (as ‘he’ is endearingly referred to by Delhi locals). Flying into Delhi on Wednesday evening was uneventful and suprisingly easy. The fog had not descended yet, so we landed and then headed to a hotel for the night to rest up before catching the morning Shaan-e-Punjab train that would take us to Beas. (Shaan-e-Punjab literally means Pride of Punjab, which I doubt it is because it is invariably delayed.)
As we walked into the train station the next morning, we heard over the PA that the Shaan-e-Punjab was cancelled. What followed was complete confusion. We went from pillar to post to see if we could get a refund, get another train ticket or find another way to get to Beas. From one reservation window to another, only to be told to go back to the first, we made a circle around the station followed by various touts (scalpers) trying to convince us that they could get us to Beas. We finally booked ourselves on another train and sat down to rest for a while. But that train too was cancelled. After many hours at the station, both of us were ready to go to the airport and head back to Bombay. Why not try the bus, I ventured. So, off we went to the bus station – this time in a cycle rickshaw – a true adventure. Both of us precariously perched on the back of a rickety rickshaw, holding our bags as our new found friend threaded his way through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi. He was amazing. There were only inches between us and the cars, auto-rickshaws, hand carts, vans, pedestrians and assorted cows that crowded the lanes we went through. We reached the bus station in one piece, my legs still a bit wobbly though. At the bus station – more touts. “Luxury two-by-two bus sir,” one promised. We followed him to a small dingy room where a man sat behind a desk with an old phone, shouting over the bad connection. He pointed to a picture on the wall of the bus we would ride on. Sure, I said to myself, but we were desperate and bought two tickets on a bus to Amritsar, which is one stop after Beas. On our way out we saw a big sign in the station warning travelers not to buy tickets from private operators (it was a government bus station). So much for that. Tickets in pocket he showed us where we needed to sit so that someone could come and get us to take us to the bus.
With a couple hours to spare, we went to Conaught Place – a office and shopping district – and made our way to Nirula’s (Delhi’s answer to McDonalds). Fast food Indian style – Rohan had a paneer burger and I had a paneer pizza (paneer is a flavorful Indian cottage cheese). And topped it off with a hot fudge sundae – nothing like ice-cream and chocolate to brighten our spirits.
Back to the bus station as night fell. We went to our designated spot at seven and waited for the tout to come along. As we sat there, the power went out. How is this guy going to find us in the dark!! Thankfully, a few minutes later – long though they seemed – the lights came back on. No tout though and we sat fidgeting and waiting. Finally, a tout came by and we followed him through some dark bylanes to a small shop where a knot of people were milling around. We showed the guy our ticket – no Amritsar bus – only to Jallandar (one stop before Beas). Okay, okay, we joined the other grumpy travelers waiting for the bus to come. And when was that – oh, only fifteen more minutes every time we asked. The fifteen minutes lasted for an hour and a half before we went through a few more lanes next to a tea-stand and stood waiting once again for the arrival of the bus. This across the road from a temporary shrine from which loud religious music blared. This fifteen minutes only lasted a half hour and the crowd surged onto the bus. Not exactly two by two luxury (the two by two referring to only two seats on each side of the aisle – but at least the windows could be closed and keep out the cold winter air. Once on the bus – another wait until they sold all the seats. We finally left two and a half hours after the scheduled departure. Well, I am not sure there was ever a scheduled departure.
I tried to sleep through the night as we were bounced around in the back of the bus (exhausted as we were, we did not push enough to get front seats) and tried to tune the loud young men sitting behind us. We arrived in Jallandar at seven in the morning, too early to catch a bus to Beas and too cold to wait. So, there was an auto-rickshaw close by and he agreed to drive us the forty kilometers to Beas. For those of you that have not ridden in an auto, they are small three wheelers that have an engine a bit bigger than a lawn-mower, in other words, pretty slow going on the two-laned Grand Trunk Road. And the auto does not have doors; it is open on the sides. Take all of that together on an almost freezing and damp morning for an hour and you get two not just exhausted but frozen travelers finally making it to their destination. Who needs the adventure of trekking in the Himalayas or white water rafting in the Ganges or sailing in the Arabian Sea when you can find adventure in getting from one place to another in India. It is unpredictable; you are bound to meet some interesting characters along the way; and if you have the right attitude you can enjoy it.
Looking back on the trip, I can say that it was unforgettable.