Dussehra notes - the 9 day plus 1

When did Dussehra come and go? As you clean away the dried flowers and decorations to prepare for Diwali, you see how fast time flies.My little boy has already completed 5 months!

We attended a community Jagraan on the third day of Navratri. Sonny boy was very patient with the grown-up circus around him.The small time country singer put me off badly - there was nothing charismatic or devotional about him, all that he did was flash his paan-stained teeth and he continuously asked the devotees to raise their hands in the air. The music was loud and garish.I came back somewhat deaf.

In the weekend we played dandiya until midnight and the greater highlight was the midnight snacking and hunting for flavoured paan in the sleepy by-lanes of Begum Bazar.

On Saptami, we paid obeisance to Maa Durga and partook this year's much awaited khichudi-beguni-dalna-payesh - in true Bong ishtyle!Yes, all the aunties come in big red bindis and the men flow in their Kolkata kurtas and slippers!And the antakshari in Bengali was hilarious to say the least because the emcee was schoolmarmish!

Dussehra is a little painful for me - suddenly all the festivals are over for the year save Diwali and an odd one here and there.You do bid a happy colorful farewell to the goddess and look forward to next year and the fallen marigold lives to tell the tale. Kids and adults equally look forward to the burning of Ravan - and our inner demons. It is a little painful because some of our inner demons refuse to pale away - they offer quite a dogged fight and it's only a matter of time before you thrust that ultimate blow. The same goes for family - you hope things will change for the better, you can only hope because the fight is theirs, the spoils are ours. 

On our way home, the goddess showed me the lighter side of life as her devotees danced to a popular Bollywood item number - chikni chameli. Seriously - "Aaayee.. chikni chameli chup ke akeli pahua chadha ke aayee.." 

Matheran Revisited

Matheran is very different than what it was in our young salad days or maybe,we have matured and changed since. Decision around which dates and where to stay didn't take long- V is a an ace!Packing was my responsibility - all things in one rucksack - baby's,his and mine.His memories of the place were as remote and distant as mine. He had trekked this place with his friends and I had come here with colleagues from work.Very very different situations.And, now, it's about our small world.

Day of departure-
Check drill of what we carried and the jazz from tickets to diapers, mosquito repellant to moisturising cream and what not.Remembering the mistakes of my last trip to Matheran, i made my bestest-sure not to goof-up this time, especially with a 4-month in tow.You just can't afford to. The 9-day Ganesh festival was on, so Hyderabad looked crazy. We reached the station on time and boarded the Hussainsagar Express (Sec-Mum).Very homely compartment - we ran out of what next to eat.Sonny boy got frightened to sleep in the lower berth otherwise very well-behaved.Our original plan was to get down at Kalyan at 2AM and take the connecting local to Neral, at 4AM.We chucked that and decided to get off at the last stop, Mumbai and take the local from there. I am so glad we did that.

Day 1
As our train rolled in at CST(formerly VT) at 5 am, V promised to show me a different side of Mumbai and the gentle morning air also brought back old memories of a young man's tryst with Maximum City.I heard so much about Mumbai never sleeping, i believe that now. As we left the station, V very helpfully refreshes my memory with an unlikely starter - this is where Kasab..I was like yes, i know but don't take his name please!Hopped into a quaint cab and V wanted to show me the iconic Gateway of India and the Taj by the sea. It is no longer open to the common man at all times after the infamous 28/11 bombing.Barricaded, we saw it in passing as much as we passed by the iconic hotel. As i stared out to a sleeping Mumbai, i imagined how a regular day must be with the humming janta,traffic, chaos and din. I could hear the streets breathe and sleep and a crow cawing once in while.We headed off to Marine Drive for a cuppa by the Arabian Sea.No, we didn't see any actor/actress jogging by as many claim.Of course, we were seated bang opposite the iconic Air India building at Nariman Point. It was so heartwarming to see so many families and bunches of youngsters in happy chatter enjoying a cup of tea at dawn.A lot of morning walkers and the municipal boys in their cleaning drive.V tells me Marine Drive always holds a special place for any aam Mumbaikar, i am sure it does. We also came across a small time scribe who was on a signature campaign to have more toilets installed.

We were back at CST to catch the local to Neral, killed time nibbling sabudana vadas. People here are so dang punctual, read their newspapers religiously and a host of other things.Passing by different stops,Mumbai  stinks I must say, no cleanliness drive in the world can save this city.The sights and smells drove Sonny boy mad, he was already tolerating the humid weather.So relieved to reach Neral,we had a quick vada-pav breakfast and set off to Dasturi. The number of hair-pin turns can leave you a little queasy.From there it's a horse-trot or a trek or hand-pulled buggies or better still, the newly refurbished toy train.

Our hotel had some amazing Gujarati cuisine lined up for us. Old-fashioned housie in the evening while the youngsters foosballed and some of us played badminton; and there is always the idiot box.

Day 2
We were done with breakfast. I wanted some much needed sleep while V decided to take a walk in solitude. He promised to be back by noon for piping hot lunch.He got me the freshest wild flowers from the valley and he did seem to have enjoyed a proper workout.Two incidents left me gaping.

High-way Robbery
V had picked up a bottle of Fanta to keep him company. As he went deeper into the woods with the sunlight peeping through the leaves, he had little idea that something like this could also happen to him. Generally, he is always prepared for any eventuality but this time around i had packed, remember?So no knife,no torch and a host of other things. Out there in the distance, this fairly strong guy stood in the middle of V's path. Both of them stopped and sized up each other.First, there was silence, each asking the other to back off but well. When V decided not to budge, two others from the bushes showed up. And it was a uh-oh moment for V.He had nothing on him, not even stones or a stick. The stares didn't take long to turn to menacing gnarls. The message was plain and simple - hand over what you have and leave, no questions asked.V had no option but to surrender the bottle of Fanta. The monkey grabbed and opened it, guzzled it down in 3 shots and disappeared into the bushes.Whew!That was close.

Ropeway Crossing
After the highway robbery, V trekked to Honeymoon Point (yes, there are such names) and came across this bunch of adventure lovers who do this. He did a Hamlet - to do or not to do. Like all married men, he assumed happily his nagging wife won't allow him such privileges. But the loving husband made sure he left my contact information with the organisers just in case. He tells me he saw the most breathtaking view of the valley and that there is no point of recovery in case there was a mishap. It took him 4 minutes to cover the valley and one is left dangling in the last minute at Louisa Point as the person on ground hauls you in.

A bunch of flowers from the valley for the wife. And it was an afternoon dedicated to reading a graphic novel Indian by Choice on the couch while V and Sonny boy enjoyed their 40 winks.A pleasant horse-trot to all the view-points in the evening.

Day of departure
We made sure we took the toy-train ride all the way to Dasturi and it was the same old. Just that, at the station we learnt our train got cancelled thanks to the Telangana whatever. We took the local to Karjat and a kind TT put us in an AC suite to Pune. Sonny enjoyed the fields of bright orange and pink cosmos flowers at the window. The return trip was all the more memorable - leaky bus roof and Sonny boy decides to watch Pawan Kalyan's Telugu movie Gabbar Singh through the night.

Cute because Chinese or the other way round

Family re-union lunch for V and me with Sonny boy at an upmarket restaurant, mostly haunted by Telugus who loved a spicy fare.As we walked to the lift, we found ourselves in the company of a not-so-young but not-so-old bunch of Telugu women,very sartorially turned out who started greeting Sonny boy.He was in the best of his social manners, flashing a smile here and there to whoever called him baby!One of them asked if she could take him in her arms,we okayed. We were 7 people in the lift and of course, the baby.  

And that tiny lady in the Pochampalli sari remarked - 'Enduku he's not crying,huh..' Silence. She has a few gray hairs and clearly looks a mother of 3 grown-up teenagers. Is it a norm that a baby qualifies to be a baby only if crying? Smiling babies are not babies if that is what she meant.

While every other lady took turns to coo and squeal along with Sonny boy, this same woman follows up with another one - wondering if the baby is Chinese because he is cute.That's when all the other ladies ganged up against her and shut her up with - "What a stupid question!"

I could have well taught her to go back to school and do her geography lessons again.No, that's old and does not work anymore.She is a working woman, so she should spend her money travelling instead of visiting temples and buying saris or gold.

V shot back in chaste Telugu - "India is a pedda country..so many states and regions, each very different from the other..Assam lu, Meghalaya lu..North-East lu just like South lu..
Ahaan, she joined in - "I only wanted to confirm -North East. See!"

What to say.

Enduku - "Why" in Telugu
Pedda - "Big" in colloquial Telugu
lu - The plural sign in Telugu,also extended to masculine nouns.