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14th Nov 6:30 PM : The cold cut into my bones as I rode through Karnataka in the evening. I knew I was behind schedule by 5 hours but hoped to reach Pune by midnight. Soon I had to slow down owing to the road conditions and the locals suggested I put up for the night in Belgaum. So I checked into a hotel some 4 kms into the city where over a cup of coffee I reflected on my journey so far.

It was the 8th day of my motorbike trip ( I called it my pilgrimage) and had had some great time with my classmates Saji, Santosh, Arpita & my ex colleagues and all through the ride there were moments which took my breath away. 40% of the journey still remained.

I had started on the 7th and travelled from Kolkata to Kanyakumari via Vizag, Chennai, Bangalore & Rameshwaram and was heading towards Pune to attend a 3 day spiritual workshop at the GMCKS Arhatic Yoga Ashram on a hill. Santosh had joined me in Bangalore and we made it to Rameshwaram and then Kanyakumari before seeing him off on 13th. Post the completion of the workshop my plan was to head for Mumbai and then cut through the India map horizontally and return via Raipur & Rourkela.

18th Nov, 3PM : I packed my stuff and after a hearty meal with the staff,  walked towards the parking lot.  30 mins later with a heavy heart I bid goodbye once we exchanged some last moment pleasantries. ‘I will be back’, I said to myself.

The road was narrow and went through some scantily populated villages and at times you would see some gypsy tents. All around were hills and at times the path also went through the woodland and the experience was exhilarating. They said that the narrow road leads to Lonavla and I couldn’t hold my excitement any longer. And then I met Umar and his mate! Umar was doing the test ride of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R review for Autocar India ( http://www.autocarindia.com/auto-reviews/kawasaki-ninja-zx-14r-review-test-ride-364800,2.aspx ).Image

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12th Oct 2013, 1:40 PM :- Goldy Singh walked in the front as I drove my Jazz out of the India Border at Sonauli towards the Nepal border. Neetu was in the front and in the back seat was Fernando ( a Spanish guy we picked up on our way to Sonauli. He was looking for a lift and was standing on the side of the road waving a placard) &  Goldy’s assistant who was waving at the guards on both sides. I just cannot express in words the excitement of that moment. In the next couple of hours our permit would be in our hands along with a Nepalese number plate.

The drive to Nepal was not planned in advance. When my friend  Akash Mukhia updated me about the road condition on NH34, we dropped the idea of Pedong & Kalimpong and chose Satkosia & Daringbari in our route plan. On 10th, the day before our departure, we got news ( fortunately my friend  Jiten Mohapatra warned me )of an approaching cyclone in the coastal belt of Orissa and started looking for an alternative route. With the assistance of Mahendra Pratap Sharma  my colleague, I was able to establish a contact with Chunnu Bhai (Mahendra’s friend) in Gorakhpur who confirmed the road condition to be motorable. Without any booking anywhere on the route, 9 hours later Neetu & myself hit the highway looking forward to an exciting journey to an unknown land, unknown terrain & unknown people.

From Kolkata, Varanasi, Sonauli, Pokhara to Kathmandu and back via the Birganj Raxaul border, it was a journey to remember through the low hanging puffs of white clouds, through the rain amidst the greenery and the hills with their sensual curves offering a surface to experience the adrenaline rush at high speeds and a drive covering more than 2500 kms.

04:30 AM, Oct 27 2013 – Break of dawn

“30 mins before we hit the road”, I muttered to myself as I stashed my binocular into the deep pocket of my backpack. I knew I would be late by 20 mins.

Raima is known for springing surprises and so I wasn’t surprised when the night before she told me about this ride she & Sukanya (her friend & a great rider) had in mind and my friend John wanted to tag me along. When I googled, I found out that Rolling Wheels ( a motorbike club in Kolkata) & XKMPH had been there some time back.

I had not heard about Gangani (a canyon in Bengal) and at this point I would shamelessly admit that I have yet to discover many of the interesting places in my State. Few hours later I would witness the breathtaking view of the canyon along the course of Silavati river.

So the four of us met at Dakshineshwar and Dibyendu joined us from the Kona Expressway connector. Sukanya was riding Apache RTR, John was on Duke, Raima on Avenger and Dibyendu & myself with our CBRs.

Via Kolaghat, Kharagpur, Salboni, Chandrakona and Garbeta the ride was picturesque as we passed through stretches of paddy fields on both sides dotted by rows of trees and at times segments of NH60 looking like a silken ribbon laid ahead for us. From the highway connected a small road and aound 1 km from there emerged a trail through the greenery and then abruptly the landscape changed! I could not believe my eyes when I saw below the horizon the long serpentile river, the canyon bordering its bank soaked in the wilderness.

With us and our motorbikes parked on the ledge I understood what it means when they say ‘Eyes are voyeur & nature is exibitionist’. And then I forgot all about my Olympus 8X40 DPSI.

3rd Oct 2013: I must say that my friend John is a tough guy. 1200 kms in a day battling some technical glitches along the way is not a simple ride. The other day John had agreed to do the endurance test with me on a very short notice and we then had to quickly finalize on the route.

On 2nd Oct we started at 5AM in the morning and hit NH6. Then we got into NH60, NH5, rode through some heavy rain and finally landed in Rambha. After a quick stroll near the Chilka we had lunch at OTDC. Then made a U turn and on 3rd early morning  made quite a decent landing with sleep driving the pins into our eyes.

With the beautiful landscape around I badly missed my camera but it was a conscious decision not to stop & take pictures as it was a race against time. So John and myself had to settle for less and took some pictures with our cell phones.:-(

A hot shower freshened me up before I left for office at 10:15 AM still carrying the hangover of those 24 hrs which flew with us with every moment soaked in waking consciousness within the space – time fabric.

28th Sep 2013 -The sky was overcast and it was drizzling but it felt pleasant. I was longing to meet the children and bought some chocolates from the roadside store. From DH Road I turned into James Long Sarani and then after asking some of the local residents found RCFC on 59 Motilal Gupta road.

The moment I walked into the campus I could sense the peace and love around. Although I have been in touch with them since the last few months and trying to contribute to their mission this was my first visit and a very humbling experience.

RCFC was established in 1973 with the aid of a philanthropic organisation from Germany with a mission to improve the quality of life of children with orthopaedic deformities. With a modest beginning the centre grew under the able leadership of a British nurse & Social Activist Late Jane Pamela Webb.

I met Kakoli di who has been working in this organisation for the last 11 years and she told me everything about the NGO down to the minute details & Anupam showed me around and introduced the key people who run the centre. He took me to the post operative ward, OT, classroom, the physiotherapy units, the training unit for children with Cerebral Palsy and also the small factory where the mobility aids are fabricated.

They have been silently working and have achieved the following in the last 39 years:

66,346 patients have been assessed in OPD clinic
More than 10,550 surgeries conducted
17,075 mobility aids & appliances distributed
23,466 children have benefited from immunization program
49,890 patients have undergone physiotherapy program.

Recently they have been experiencing shortage of fund as one of the major sources have stopped funding them. Therefore they are now open to accept sponsorship from anyone who would like to contribute and change some lives.

Let us wish them success in their noble cause and help them within our capabilities.

Sitting on the rocks at the shore I watched the sun make its way down the horizon.

The sea wasn’t rough.. it was calm.  I noticed skylarks… quite a few of them in number.

‘Why didn’t I ever come across them before?’ I thought

‘Perhaps I never noticed ‘ I thought

Skylarks are wonderful. They bring back memories.

‘It doesn’t take long for the sun to dip once its near the sea’ I observed..  something to do with refraction. That is what they taught us in physics’

It must have been an hour or so  when I finally came to my senses. It was dark all around; the only brightness was perhaps the froth that the sea left at the shore every now and then…I could hear the rumbling in the distance… a steady one.

‘The anguish of the sea…’ I thought.

Sitting there all alone in that hour I had traveled back into innocence.  I had looked through the kaleidoscope of my mind into those moments that had whizzed past me and when I looked into those smoky frames back in time a lot of things started to make sense. Things that I had considered insignificant once seemed to loom up in totality and rendered themselves in an absolutely breathtaking spatial orientation.

‘I must have been naive’ I muttered under my breath.. ‘I must have been awfully naive..
 
Just that moment I saw someone in a flowing white robe walking towards me with a smile on his face. His face didn’t bear any signs of senility.. he looked so youthful and yet appeared to have marched this land for a hundred decades. He sat down beside me softy. There was no sound of his footsteps. He seemed to be walking the path of a soft breeze. His eyes were dark and kind. He pointed towards the sky.  I looked… a few stars seems to be stealing occasional glances.   It felt good.

‘Ever thought how many of them you truly know out there ?’ he asked

‘How many of them you really care for out there ? And yet they exist.. for you .. for me…selflessly. Some of them take years to reach you  ..a part of them reaches you in quanta. But ever paused to think ?’

  ‘You know something ?’ he asked

  I eagerly looked up at him

  ‘The best things in the world are always with you.  You never get to know some of them but that doesn’t mean that you are deprived of their gifts and at the sunset of life when you have nothing more to ask for you are bathed in their unerring presence every night while you gaze through one of your windows in the songs and silences of the night. You realize but then its too late. You cannot rewind.’

  ‘Why should one live ?’ I asked

  He smiled.

  The sky was illuminated by a flash of lightning.

  ‘Is it going to rain?’ I wondered.

  ‘Look this is some question we never stop asking. There are so many reasons not just one.’

  ‘Firstly we cannot help it.’ he seemed quite amused.
  ..and the next point is that there is some kind of a longing that pins up this canvas of our physical structure against a hard metallic time frame. Stroke after stroke the artist applies and multiple flavors come out.  The frame is rigid… the canvas is not.  Some brushes don’t last long.. others eat up the canvas.  And yet the artist goes on in his search of perfection.  This artist has patience beyond limits. He works hard day and night.. all through the seasons and when the canvas wears out, he picks up another and starts afresh.’

  It was so wonderful to hear him speak that it never occurred to me that he couldn’t be real.  He was all there in blood and flesh telling me things I have always wanted to know. 

  ‘ You know son..’ he said, ‘love has always formed the integral and the most basic part of our existence even  thousands of years before you & me existed. Somehow along the course we have defined and redefined it but never for once did you manage to refine it and render it in its purest of forms. Love takes forms..  multiple forms.  For instance think about air.  Its everywhere but we don’t see it.  And yet we could use it to blow a balloon.. can’t we ?  We can fill the tyres and have our cars running.. isn’t it ?  We use it to burn things too.’

 ‘Manifestations’ he said

‘ Love too is somewhat like that.  In the free form its not seen not understood but  only when blended with a bit of selfishness, doped with a bit of desire and mixed with some amount of possessiveness that it surfaces and then it can be recognized..  Nothing can exist in totality and purity.. a bit of doping helps.  Its the overlapping territory.  Look at the sea…  the waves lapping at the shore…  This is perhaps where the real meets the unreal.  The land can’t move and yet it touches every part of the sea at the shore.. every droplet of the brine is different.. new.. come from far.. and touched other lands too.  Up there in the sky the water reaches there too and when the longing is over comes back to where it all started.’

‘Amazing’ I thought.

‘When you look back into your past.. you would see a lot of vacancies there…lots of things you have always wanted and craved to have but the place where you are right now, if then your prayers wd have been answered you wouldn’t be here now.  Some things never happened cause in that case the other things couldn’t have..  You didn’t have them .. so you have what you wouldn’t have had if you had them.’

I wasn’t confused at all. All he was saying made sense. One hundred percent.

He got me thinking…

A shrill whistle broke the silence and with a jolt I was back into myself.

I saw a constable approaching me. ‘What the hell are you up to in the middle of the night?’ He yelled.

As I walked back to my place I wondered if he was for real or whether imagination got the better of me.

I missed the train

I was traveling by train somewhere and there was this station where I got down to take a pee. It must have been less than a minute but when I turned back there was no train in sight. In the distance there was this red indicator behind the guard unit blinking and getting smaller every instant. The train had left all of a sudden without a whistle. I ran fast… I ran hard but in vain. I crossed the over bridge walked out of the station to the other side with lots of things going on in my mind. My luggage was still there under the lower berth and I didn’t have much money in my wallet. There weren’t many people around or perhaps I was too worried to think about strangers. I found a sardarji with a scooter. An idea struck me.’ What if I could reach the next station before the train reached?” I thought. I introduced myself and narrated my fate to him. Gurjeet agreed to give me a ride to the next station so that I could catch my train from there.

I got behind him but he was slow… very slow.

By the time we reached the next station the train had already left.

The scene changed.

I was talking to this gentle man… never seen him before and I was telling him that how ten years back I had missed a train and then started fresh from where the train left me. I was a driver. I was married and had kids.

He asked me ” What about your folks”?

I said “Don’t know.  I don’t know the way back.”

I could see that his eyes were beginning to get wet.

He asked “Do they know you are still alive?”

I said “Maybe not. Ten years is a long time and they have taken me for dead certainly…”

As I was talking my wife came out of a small hut with a kid in her arms.

She gestured me to get inside. Tea was ready. There was smoke in the small filthy place. I made some place for the gentleman to sit. Tea was served in small aluminum glasses. It tasted more like kerosene than tea.

He knew we were poor… he knew we were struggling… he knew we were broke.

He asked me a funny question.

“Do you remember English?” he asked.

I said “yes” and then narrated a few lines of the poem “I shot an arrow into the air… it fell on earth I knew not where…”

My wife gazed at me with a puzzled expression. She had always been a village girl…

The gentleman said “I wish I could do something for you. Seven years back my family took all my money and threw me out of the house. Now I am a teacher in a small town and I teach Moral science.

“I owned a cinema hall then” he added.

“How times change…” I thought.

The whistle of the evening train broke up the conversation and I realized that I had to go out for work again. The gentleman bid farewell to us and walked towards the station. After the train left I looked at the platform.

It was empty… almost empty… no, there was someone sitting on the bench.

“He surely missed the train” I told my wife…

Soon dense layers of fog engulfed the town and a station which no one has ever seen and which looked less real and more like a set they use in movies, surrendered itself to isolation. And in another part of another world, destiny engaged itself to build another dream in time…

When I woke up it was already 10:00 and it was already noisy outside. I wondered where was my wife, my kid, that sardarji with the scooter and that gentleman who taught Moral Science in a small school in a small town.