14 March 2008

For Family and Country!

Yes, so. For everyone who thinks that I’m super depressed and gloomy. I’m getting over it. I’ve even started enjoying conversations over tea in the MCR after lunch!!

For everyone who thinks that I’m an Indophile, deal with it! You haven’t heard the last of it.

This post is about something whacky we did over the Christmas break. It’s a story of a family reunited. A story of a young nation in flux. It’s a story about what makes life worth living.

Dad’s take on the roadtrip is worth a read

As dad says, it started when I got sick of the English weather. I said to him and mom “I want to go some place where the sun is out, and where I can roam about without a shirt. In fact … I think I want to go to Goa.” Good. Plans started being made. Then, a few days later, dad asks me, “fancy a drive to Goa?”

WOW!!!! Just like old times. My fondest memories from my childhood are a series of road trips between Bombay (as it was called then) and Delhi. Of the wondrous sites and sounds. Of seeing the geography, the people and the food change so drastically through the trip. Of being amazed at how BIG and diverse my country is. Of buying shrikhand from Anand. Of stopping by a tree every time my then one year old brother needed to answer nature’s call. Of stopping and eating at the small local roadside eateries and eating among the locals.

It would have been foolish to say no, even though Neil, Aurelie and a bunch of other people were going to Morocco…

I feel so lucky. That I have this great family. I only met Gautmik at Calcutta airport, and when we saw each other, we ran towards each other and hugged each other for a good two minutes, true Bollywood style. And shortly thereafter, we were in a car, all four of us, preparing to relive memories from over a decade ago. The trips between Bombay and Delhi were one of the things that defined our family, and we were about to add another chapter to the saga.

We set off. It was wonderful. Mom often jokes that our family are perpetually at each other’s throats, and the best way to set things right is to put us in a car. Dad, Gautmik and I made jokes about mama’s sleeping habits. It’s a tested theory, by the way, that you only need to use the words ‘mama’ and ‘sleep’ in the same sentence while mama is sleeping for her to jerk violently out of the deepest slumber and vehemently deny that she ever nodded off. Gautmik kept demanding that we let him drive, but dad and I always refused… after all, there were still 20 days to go for his 18th. And I drove. For the first time between Delhi and Bombay, I drove.

It was so different from the last time, and yet it was so similar. We all felt like we were young again. We all behaved like adolescents. Something clicked, and for the six days we spent in the car, we were different people. The people we had always wanted ourselves to be. All was good with the world. Even when Benazir Bhutto was shot while we were in rural Gujarat, we sat back and discussed politics, having an excellent time in the bargain.

But my word, how India has changed since we last took the trip. The entire section between Delhi and Mumbai is now a modern expressway. We could scarcely believe our eyes. We sped out of Jaipur towards Ajmer at 140 kph. I don’t think our car 12 years ago was even capable of such speeds. And the traffic was, for the large part disciplined. Truck drivers drove in their lanes, and gave you way if you flashed your headlights at them. Well, most of them. Dad took care of the rest! But the most heartening part was that the soul of the drive was still intact. You had this ultra modern expressway to speed on, but you would still stop by the side at a road side dhaba and eat Malwani food with the locals. Everywhere we went, we felt overwhelmed by the progress – we could see India emerging from the shackles of the past in front of our eyes – and yet our hearts warmed when we saw that the people had not forgotten their culture, they had not forgotten what makes India India. Back home, people are often accused of aping the west, but I was convinced that India would retain her own identity through all the progress, and I felt so proud.

The trip is also a study in diversity. There’s so much packed into NH 8. You start out from Delhi and you see the commerce around the NCR. You see the trucks transporting cars, grain, just about anything. You pass through endless swathes of farms and the now increasingly frequent industrial belt or two. And you see the building of a nation. Then you pass Jaipur. Where you find no traffic. Only space. So much space that the mind is sent into a tizzy. You don’t see as many farms cause the terrain is arid. Instead, you see the magnificent Aravallis. You understand why the phrase ‘raw beauty’ was coined. The people change too. From the zealous workers of Haryana to the hardened survivors of Rajasthan. You can see it in their clothes, on their faces, from the way they speak Here was a people who had learned to live with the harsh weather, with the paucity of food and water that comes with living in Rajasthan. Amazing.

Ajmer to Udaipur is like a fairytale. The land of the Rajputs. Jaipur to Ajmer gives you a high. Ajmer to Udaipur gives you an orgasm. The terrain gets even more bare, and the air thickens with the scent of old battles between the Rajputs and the Mughals. It is as though they happen in front of your eyes. Everything becomes exotic. You drive through beautiful rock formations. You see the setting sun play hide and seek with the clouds and the hills. You drive on the expressway, but you are drawn into a sense of romanticism and adventure that was exactly the same the last time I was there. The air, the rocks, the sand were beckoning, and as the sun set, I was warmed by the knowledge that they would be there when I got back. In ten years. In fifty. They would always be there, majestic survivors, like battle scarred heroes, braving the Rajasthani sun, staring back at it defiantly.

And then Gujarat. The terrain changes so quickly. Within an hour, arid bushes are replaced by tropical trees. Hardened Hindi speaking desert people give way to the content, softer Gujaratis. You wake up in the morning and you realize you’ve crossed the Narmada and the Tapi – you’re now in the Deccan. One of the most ancient pieces of land that exist in the world. Everything that came before is new – most of it was formed after dinosaurs went extinct. The Deccan is one of the oldest pieces of land on earth – older than life itself. And you could see that. The soil was weathered – the elements had done their bit over the eons and the land had settled into a state of perpetual equilibrium. You could see that those rocks, those rivers had been there forever. It was like the land was a wise old woman, who had seen life with all its ups and downs, and was supremely content. The land in the North appeared restless, active, young, brash. Here, it appeared mature, at peace with itself. You could see the wrinkles that age had put on it. And suddenly there was this deep welling of respect. That land had seen life form. It had nurtured the first microscopic orgasms. It will still be there once humans are gone. It will be there forever. It gives you an overwhelming sense of permanence, and makes you feel so small.

Through Gujarat and Maharashtra, the climate changes. It gets wetter. It gets greener. A different sort of green. The trees are, like the land, old. Really old. Like the earth that spawned them, they too have seen it all, and are at peace with themselves, offering shade to travellers and keeping a watchful and caring eye over the countryside. The people also change. They become shorter and darker. Technically, the Aryans of the north give way to the Dravidians of the south. And the change is palpable. The earth and the surroundings are reflected in its people. They are soft-spoken and content with going about their lives like generations before. They are not aggressive and domineering like the people of the north. They are humble, and they like what they have.

And all through it my family grew closer and closer. Not only did we spend time together, but we realized once more how beautiful our country is. I feel proud that we manage to keep it together. I feel proud when a waiter in a rural Malwani dhaba chats with me about how awfully India played to lose a one-dayer to Australia. He feels for the same country that I do, and I’m so different from him. They teach us in textbooks that India is defined by ‘Unity in Diversity’, and I know now what that means. It warms my heart when Reliance A1 restaurants, India’s answer to the western ‘services’, despite being run on the same model throughout the country, embrace the local culture and cuisine so perfectly that you feel Reliance isn’t really a heartless MNC.

Do I feel like I missed out on Morocco? Yes. Given the same choice again, would I ever choose Morocco over six days in a car with my family driving across India? Never. That trip brought us closer. We were the happiest family on earth in that car. We sang, we joked, we had the time of our lives, and we saw a beautiful country in the bargain. Well, we haven’t really seen anything, have we? There’s so much more to India. The mountains, the desert, the tropical rainforests, the North-East, the extreme south. I want to drive all over India before I’m dead. And I want my family with me in the car…

Pictures from the trip..

Mom and dad in front of the temple where they were married ... 23 years ago


Goa - sunset while on the road

Outside Ajmer - Arravalis

Only in India - tea from a road side dhaba while on a modern expressway.


  1. Yo! Once more, we will go! Great heart-warming piece - N

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  3. I like the piece

    Infact, i have my next vaccation already planned after reading this one..


    How long did it take though?