Continued from ‘Postcard from Uttarakhand – 1’…
I settled down on one of the concrete benches on Platform no. 11. I noticed how clean the platform was – a very pleasant departure from the earlier days.
As I was fiddling with my phone, a Western lady approached me. ‘Do you speak English?’, she asked. When I responded to her, she was very pleased. She was not sure if she was on the right platform. She was traveling on the same train as mine. She was French but had been to India several times. A bunch of youngsters was watching her very closely and she had begun to get anxious. She told me, ‘They think all foreigners are ATMs.’
To alleviate her anxiety, I asked her if she was okay to sit on my bench. She happily agreed and brought her luggage. We spent some time discussing her India experience while I was sharing my experiences in Paris. She gave me an orange saying, ‘Fruits are good!’. When the train arrived, I ensured she got into the right compartment and found her berth before I moved into mine.
Immediately upon occupying my berth, I was approached by a gentleman requesting me to exchange my berth with his berth in the next compartment. His wife and he had been ‘separated’ by the Indian Railways. I promptly agreed. The train had started moving and I accompanied the gentleman to the next compartment through the vestibule. The couple thanked me profusely. I accepted their gratitude. I have received so much help from fellow passengers in the past, especially, when my mother was traveling with us. On many occasions, my mother’s upper berth was exchanged with a lower berth, thanks to our fellow passengers. I was only paying it forward.
Haldwani Station was expected at 4:15 AM. I had set up an alarm on my phone. I organized my luggage under the berth and went to sleep, praying that I should respond to the phone alarm.
The alarm woke me up. After wearing my jacket, I disembarked from the train. By this time, I had received a call from Jagdish, the cab driver who was to take me to Mayavati, the destination.
I met Jagdish at the parking lot. He was quite a stylish man dressed fully in white. He sported a long vermilion and kumkum mark on his forehead and fake Ray-Ban sunglasses. He had a booming voice and was a lively conversationalist. In the cold morning, his welcome was very warm.
It was a new cab and throughout the trip, devotional music was playing. Many of the songs seemed very familiar until I realized that they were all set to popular Hindi film songs. Jagdish had relocated from Gushaini to Haldwani. Gushaini rang a bell since my wife and I with my classmate, Mohan, and his wife had visited Raju’s Cottage in Gushaini a few years ago – what a vacation that was! We crossed the river on a winch to reach the property. I have written about this travel. In addition to driving the cab, Jagdish also runs a provision store at Haldwani managed by his father. Quite enterprising, I thought!
It was still dark and Jagdish raced through the streets. I was rocked to sleep by the gentle movement of the cab and the lullaby in the form of ‘familiar’ devotional songs.
I woke up to a bright day. Jagdish had stopped at a small eatery, Apna Sweet & Restaurant, at a place called Pati. Pati is ‘grandmother’ in my language. I decided to call my son’s grandmother, i.e., my mother. That is when I got to know the story of why a snake catcher had to be summoned at home in the night.
We live in an area that is like a resort – a lot of trees and a large open area facing a lake. We live on the ground floor.
It appears that my wife, Jyothi, had noticed something suspicious when she woke up at about 11 PM to get some drinking water from the kitchen. She thought she saw the tail of a snake entering our pooja room.
She immediately closed the puja room door and summoned our neighbors. The security guard came in and started looking for the snake in the pooja room. He was not able to find anything. But my wife insisted that she had spotted a snake. Meanwhile, a snake catcher had been summoned and he found a medium-sized cobra curled up among our grocery items. He took it away.
I listened to my mother in rapt attention. My mother was pointing out various factors that had helped us. Jyothi does not normally wake up in the night to drink water. We normally keep a bottle of water in the bedroom itself which was not there on that night. Jyothi reached the kitchen at the exact time to spot the snake entering the pooja room – a few minutes later, we would have never known. I shudder to think of the risk the snake could have posed. Despite the security guard not finding it, she held her ground which is why the snake catcher entered the pooja room. I do believe in divine intervention. This was certainly one. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Jagdish negotiated hairpin bends as the cab climbed towards Mayavati. He drove very well. I kept the windows slightly open to take in the freshness of the Uttarakhand air. It was cold and refreshing.
The route was very typical of Uttarakhand – pure white clouds against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, fields in all kinds of green color, small shops, slim but tough men assembled in tea shops smoking beedis, beautiful village women going about their chores, innocent children trying to race with our cab but smilingly giving up while waving to us, and the street dogs that gave us a chase and gave up only after we were out of their ‘territory’.
As the cab climbed and reached a sort of a landing, I got my first glimpse of the majestic snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas in this trip.
We had reached Mayavati.
To be continued….
Coming up in the next episode: the magic of Mayavati, the enjoyable Retreat and my discussion with the monk about the proposed book project.
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