Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Broken fan belts and Flat Tires

Every journey starts with a broken fan belt and a flat tire, or so wise old men say. The broken fan belt and flat tire failed to show up at the start of our journey, but amidst a jolly taxi ride through the streets of Prague, the two decided that now was a good time as any and put in an appearance. With the dusk descending upon us like a wolf on the fold and the sky gleaming in purple and gold, we decided to make a bee line for the nearest establishment that would serve us fine port and scotch. Yes, like Hemingway’s Spot, we were down at the bar. Sipping whiskey. Sucking on cigarettes. But unlike the dog, we were enjoying.
“I cannot believe we are in Prague”, said Pincher, the scotch starting to get to him.
“I know. It is unbelievable”, said Babykutty.
“Who would have thought! The three of us in Prague? Haha!”
I chose to keep a dignified silence all throughout this partially inebriated exchange. Pincher and I were old friends, friends from school where we had quailed together under the burning eyes of a wrathful headmaster. Pincher’s parents named him Tony J, but an unfortunate incident involving him, a rather attractive teacher at the alma mater and a pair of eyebrow tweezers had earned him the nickname. No amount of cajoling and threatening from Pincher himself and his girlfriend could make me revert to call him Tony. Once upon a time, Pincher had tried to name himself T-Bone, but the scheme fell through like a ceiling at a CWG stadium.
“Unbelievable. Prague! Unbelievable”, extolled Pincher, driving home the point. Babykutty joined him, making a conscious effort to find letters of the alphabet despite the scotch.
If one thing was unbelievable it was running into Babykutty in Europe. Pincher and I were somewhere in France with nothing to do, when someone told me that Babykutty was near at hand. Neither I nor Pincher was really friends with him, but he tagged along anyway. We remembered him vaguely from school, a spectacled lad who once pronounced himself to be “growing thinnah and thinnah”.
“You know what is unbelievable? That we are actually on a journey, an excursion”, asserted Pincher, not yet ready to let go off the subject.
“There is nothing like a journey”, I chimed in.
“A true journey transforms the soul. Refreshes it, if you know what I mean”.
“I don’t say I have much of a soul, but, such as it is, I am satisfied with a little chap. I don’t want people, or for that matter journeys, fooling around with it. Leave it alone, I say. Don’t touch it. I like the way it is”.
“It is a truly educating experience, I gather. Supposed to enrich the soul and all that”.
We relapsed into silence, sucking on cigarettes and sipping whiskey.
“How long since you been back to the Old Place?”, asked Babykutty.
“Me?”, I replied, “I ain’t been back there for twelve years”.
“I ain’t been back there either myself for ten years. How long since you been back there?”
“I ani’t been back there for twelve years”.
“I ain’t been back there either myself for ten years. It is good to be in Prague, though”.
“Unbelievable”, said Pincher, seizing the opportunity.
I suggested that we get ready to see a bit of Prague in the morning, reminding the fellows that no city is all bars. Babykutty suggested taking a Euro Rail pass and seeing the whole of Europe on the move. Pincher said that would be unbelievable. Pincher and Babykutty ordered five more rounds and made four different plans in the process.
Planning a journey and actually going on one are entirely different things. Human performance so often lags behind human intentions. It is easy to say and believe at seven in the evening that the gang will rise at five, breakfast at half past and start away on rented bicycles at six.
“Then we shall be well on our way before the heat of the day sets in”, remarks Babykutty.
“This time of the year, the early morning is the best part of the day. Unbelievable”, says  Pincher.
The first morning one maintains the vows and the company wakes up at five. Grumpy, prone to snap and wrestle with breakfast, the trio assembles at the start line. The atmosphere is irritable and the faint dewy morning light which seemed so desirable the previous evening is now riddled with faults. In the evening, Babykutty says,
“I think if we wake up by half past six, sharp, that should be enough”.
“But it would be breaking the resolution”, I protest faintly.
“Resolutions were made for man and not man for resolutions. Besides, it is cruel to wake up the hotel staff at five in the morning. The new plan is based purely on humanitarian concern. Think of the poor boys in the kitchen and the lobbies”.
Likewise, distance measured by two compass legs on a map is not the same as actually covering that on rented bicycles.
“From here to the village, it is just thirty kilometres. Surely, we can do that in three hours”.
“If we can’t, we ought to register ourselves as invalids and find a home. Surely, we will cover thirty kilometres”.
But at five in the evening, three sweat drenched men look at three bicycles as if they were immovable road rollers.
“How far are we from the village?”, comes the panting question.
“Ten kilometres”.
“You mean, we have cycled just twenty kilometres the whole day? Unbelievable!”, says Pincher.
“Well, we did not get going till one in the afternoon and we paused every two kilometres to look at the view”.
“Well, there is no point in coming to a far off land if you are not going to look at it”.
A journey is often a logistical nightmare, however, enriching and educating people would claim it to be. In fact, the best parts of any journey are often spent at a quaint bar on a cobbled street, More often than not, one winds up under a roof that lavishly pours the desired liquids. Here, one actually enriches and refreshes oneself with something with colour in it and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen.
“How long since you been back to the Old Place? I ain’t been there myself in ten years”.

Basil James is a 3rd year MA student of English Studies and enjoys writing. He blogs at www.basiljames.blogspot.com

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