Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Malabar Op in Guwahati

The story so far... 

And now... 

The 7 AM cold was biting. I pulled the coat tight around me. I'd slept for all of two hours the previous night, and had every intention of sleeping through the two-and-a-hour flight. That resolution lasted for all the time it took for the snowcapped line of the Himalayas, stretching unbroken across the horizon, to make its appearance - this was my first glimpse, and there would be no further sleep. The pilot pointed out Mount Everest as we passed by, but the Himalayas are one of those ranges without bright-red labels on each peak, and I'm not sure that what I thought he thinks is the peak is the same as the one he thought we thought he thinks is Mount Everest.

Mohnish and PK, who were travelling from Pune, landed at Guwahati airport about half an hour after I did. Mohnish took one look at my bag, and asked me what the deal was. I told him: PK'd given me the impression that we'd have to wash our laundry by hand. Private eyes are tough, street-wise and ruggedly charming. They're good with guns and wisecracks. But not laundry. So I'd brought along 10 sets of clothing, 2 backup sets, a towel, a backup towel, a jacket, a backup sweater, slippers, and my Jean-Pierre Melville and Jim Jarmusch collections. Mohnish remarked, a tad more waspishly than was warranted, that there are, in fact, washing machines in the North East. PK giggled girlishly in the background. I let him have a cool, level stare.

Mohnish's cousin, Paul, picked us up from the airport. He stopped once on the way to show us the Brahmaputra. Very nice river. Dinner was at Mohnish's aunt's. She was an exceedingly pleasant and gracious host, and her daughter, a little on the quiet side, looks very much like Liv Tyler. So it'll surprise some of you that I'll be devoting blog inches not to either of them, but to Mohnish's uncle - a widely travelled man, who has apparently killed and eaten practically every species on earth.

His favourites (or perhaps least favourites) are pigs. He's machine gunned them in Bangladesh with an AK-47. He's rigged landmines to transform a formerly intact pig, with a family to care for, into little pieces of pork. And he's shot at them with tanks on the Indo-Pak border - prompting them to go "Oink! Oink! The Pakistanis are on the other side!" He even managed to get PK - who just 2 hours earlier had declined Paul's polite rum offering on the grounds that he'd be on an alcohol-free diet for the next 10 days - to partake of his stock of 16-year-old Fenny. 16-year-old Fenny, according to the two of them, is quite the modern miracle, as it proves that there are, in fact, Goans capable of laying off a bottle of Fenny for 16 whole years.

Of course, these trivialities didn't distract me from the business at hand. I kept a close eye on PK and Mohnish. Apart from the fact that they always seemed to want to sit together, there was, so far, nothing suspicious to report.

We had to wake up at 5 the next morning to catch the bus to Tinsukia. Being on the east of India, the day starts and ends very early here. My biological clock, regrettably, does not take the reasoned approach. It says "pooh" to science, and clings to IST like things in a Fevicol ad.  If the watch says 5 AM, then irrespective of what the light-meter says, it goes into a sulk, protests against this travesty of all that is good and holy, and drags my whole body down with it. But then, you can't really argue with bus schedules either. It ought to have known that it was fighting a losing battle from the start.

And so, early next morning, Paul dropped us off at the bus-stand from where we would catch the Volvo to Tinsukia. He had been very helpful and kind (no force on earth could persuade me to wake up at 5:30 in the morning for someone else - but he did it with a smile); and so, when he happened to mention that he likes South Indian girls, I naturally offered to introduce him to a few if he ever found himself in South India. "Why don't you start by introducing yourself to South Indian girls?" PK remarked. I drew my hat over my eyes and went off to sleep.

Tinsukia's to the north-east of Assam, and very near the border with Arunachal Pradesh. The bus journey to Tinsukia from Guwahati takes a little over 10 hours, is of singular beauty, and might just be worthy of Tolkien-type descriptions. Apparently, there are paddy fields and houses with fields of mustard and green hills and tea estates and even a stretch where rhinos can be spotted. But I'd had 6 hours of sleep the previous two nights combined and I slept right through the ride. Sorry.

That evening, relaxing at Mohnish's mother's house with a cup of Assam tea (in Assam, they just call it "tea"), we made plans for the next day. Mohnish's brother would drive us over the border to Arunachal Pradesh, to their ancestral home. This time, we'd start at the more reasonable hour of noon. That settled, we prepared for bed. PK asked Mohnish for a foot massage. Mohnish stared at him. There was a whatchamacallit in the air. I furrowed my brow and took out my notebook.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Good one