Postcard from Uttarakhand – 1

April 3, 2019

I am on a visit to the hills for a Retreat. The Retreat is in a place called Mayavati in Uttarakhand.

I flew to New Delhi from Bangalore by a relatively new carrier. I had booked my tickets much in advance. The return is by Indigo. I am so glad I did not choose Jet or else I would have been grounded – it’s now Jet – Set – Won’t Go!

I didn’t find anything special about this new carrier. In fact, I had quite a struggle with their inflight catering.

You see, I was assigned a middle seat by the carrier. In about an hour they began the service. When the vegetarian food arrived and I lifted the aluminum cover from the tray, I instantly knew I was in trouble.

I was staring at an extra small portion of noodles and an equally small portion of vegetarian gravy with some tofu pieces jostling for space. Honestly, I was quite fine with the quantity, given that it was 6 PM when we were being served.

My issue was with their choice of food – noodles.

Even in the normal course, eating noodles in a way that appears civil is an accomplishment. And here I was! In the middle seat of Economy Class trying to eat about 15 strands of full-length noodles. I was to use a plastic fork which, I presume for aesthetic reasons, had just four extra-small tines. One could have easily mistaken the fork for a spoon but for those extra-small tines, visible only upon closer examination.

Additionally, the four tines in the plastic fork were too close to each other and the tines were not long enough to hold anything of significance, leave alone a slippery and long strand of noodle weighed down by its own liberal coating of oil and, of course, Earth’s gravity.

I estimated the distance from where the noodles lay coiled up to the destination – my mouth. It seemed a little too much, given the turbulence the airplane was experiencing. To reduce this distance, one idea was to bring the tray to level up with my chest much like holding a plate of dripping gol-gappa or paani-puri (Indian snacks). Unfortunately, my image was coming in the way. Given that I was on an airplane, it would have seemed indecent. Although I was never likely to meet my fellow-passengers again, I was still conscious of my image.

I tried navigating my mouth closer to the tray but I was becoming a nuisance to my neighbors. So I tried twisting the noodles around the fork. However, the fact that the fork was made of smooth plastic and it had only those small tines combined with the oil in the noodles didn’t help.

I looked around and found many of the guests maintaining a studied distance from their vegetarian meal probably in the same predicament as mine.

I was wondering if it would help to add a snake catcher to the airline crew. Unbeknown to me, while I was in the flight, a snake catcher had to be summoned to my Bangalore home. More about that later.

Beyond a point, as a result of my repeated twisting of the fork, I thought I saw some smoke issuing from that delicate container. I was worried about safety. If something had happened and it was traced to noodles, my worry was around the Sino-Indian relations which, anyway, is on a slippery slope. I quickly abandoned the plan and instead, ate the small KitKat chocolate and drank from the mini bottled water. A tiny sacrifice in the national interest, I reasoned to myself!

From the New Delhi airport, I reached the Old Delhi station in a matter of minutes, thanks to the super-efficient Metro. I was born and raised in New Delhi and I lived there for over four decades before relocating to Bangalore. I could, therefore, fully appreciate the benefits of Metro. It was just perfect. I changed two trains and reached my destination with a lot of time to spare.

I am always a little nervous about where my railway compartment would show up. Also, I had already done a lot of lifting and moving the luggage from the airport through the two Metro rides. I now deserved a coolie.

I met Mansukh, a coolie, at the entrance of the Old Delhi station. Mansukh, a Rajasthani, agreed to guide me to the exact point where my AC 2 Tier compartment would show up. I have a habit of engaging in conversations with ordinary people to understand their lives. A cheerful man, Mansukh, has left his family in Rajasthan while he has been toiling hard in New Delhi for over a decade. His elder son has just finished his Board exams. Mansukh wants him to continue his education as much as he can. He is more than happy to toil further to support his son’s education. ‘But then, he has to be willing to study further’, he quickly adds. At that moment, I could identify with him. Like all fathers, he too wanted his child to go beyond himself.

Mansukh left me at a specific point on Platform no.11 and assured me that the AC 2-Tier compartment would show up there. I trusted him completely.

PS: I later gathered (upon making a touchdown on Earth) that the piece of plastic cutlery which the carrier had provided to me to tackle the oily noodles is known as a ‘spork’ – a hybrid form of cutlery taking the form of a spoon-like shallow scoop with two to four fork-like tines. Travel is, indeed, another form of higher education.

To be continued…

Coming up in the next episode: a French Connection on Platform no. 11 and my train journey. Plus why a snake catcher had to be summoned to my Bangalore home while I was away. Also, read about the magic of driving through Uttarakhand on the way to Mayavati.

To read more of my travel writing, please visit my website Click on the ‘Sights’ tab.

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