A road trip often includes experiences that become unforgettable memories, which stay with us long after the trip is over. Deepa Bhasthi recounts a few such memories from a recent road trip to Tamil Nadu…
My favourite photograph from that trip is of one where the road lies wide and long before us. The sun has just risen, so the sky is all orange, pink and the lightest of powdery blue. Reflected on the bonnet of our car, these hues look like something from a magic book. It must have been half past six or so. I cannot wholly remember now, but from how the photograph looks, I must have leaned out of the window, the camera precariously dangling from my hand to take that shot. The friend was telling me not to lean out too much, and I hear those words every time I see the photo. Here is why it is my favourite from that trip – it has the majestic old car, sunrise as fresh as strawberries harvested from mother’s garden, the crispness in the cool breeze that blows that time of the day, the friend’s watchful voice and the long open road.
On a recent road trip to Tamil Nadu, it became, as most trips become most times, all about the road – those we missed, those that had the most potholes, those that were lined with canals and women washing clothes by the side, those that led to other roads that we would never take, at least not that day. Most are highways that we stick to, not always out of choice though. The one we start with is NH-something. It is midnight and neither of us can sleep, so we take to the road. A slight drizzle marks the time we cross the border. There are trucks ambling along, minor traffic snarls, the usual woes of a busy road. But I am not driving, so I can perch my feet up on the dashboard, wiggle my toes every so often and turn my head to the side.
There are small, overly lit tea stalls, some of which we stop at. Even at 3 in the morning, each of these shops has a couple of men, with deadpan stares, with small tea glasses wrapped within their fingers. I imagine they must talk of the weather and of Amma’s(Jayalalithaa) latest antics. What else do people in teashops at that time of the night talk about? The highway to Hosur, from where we change states, is lined with dark piles of huge rocks, little mountains and hills. The glistening stars along the patches where the land is suitably dark makes me want to draw lines from one star to the next, creating my own constellation. I point out the Orion to the friend, for that is the only constellation I can point out confidently.
The roads in the first town we end up in are very narrow; the vintage car we are in can just about squeeze in. Perhaps it is the tourist unfriendliness of the place – thank goodness for such places – we end up getting lost in that town a lot. Just as well. The houses we want to see, the unique architecture of the region is showed off best in the inner residential areas of the town. Thank goodness for missed roads and getting lost.
We leave again at four in the morning – it has now become an everyday routine for the trip –and take another highway. That is along where I think I take my favourite photograph. We drive alongside palm trees and bullock carts filled with sand from the local riverbed, driven by aging men with multiple lines on their faces that tell of the lives they have lived, the carts driven by bulls with painted horns, red and green and dark blue. The slow movement of these carts seem meditative; the sound of bells around the necks of these bulls, the slight squeak in the wheel and the lazy whip that the driver wields makes the pre-dawn hour seem ageless. The horizon is deceptive. One moment there is the headlight of an oncoming car in my eye, I blink, the next moment the sky is the most shocking colour of bright blue before us. There is something in the blue of the sky of that hour that brings out the gypsy in me. I am glad we took the road in the car.
Aquamarine, cobalt blue, azure, sapphire, turquoise and other shades of blue surround the next temple town we are at. In the room that faces the sea, there are many shades of blue.
From the monotony of the highway roads to the country roads. For a minute we wonder whether we missed a turn, because the map on my phone shows we are way off the route that Google has marked for us. But then, you can only trust Google so much. The road is bumpy, heavily pot-holed, the fuel is dipping, we have forgotten to refuel and there is not a soul to ask directions from. An odd Luna moped ‘kutoooors’ by and is far away by the time we decide to stop him and ask. The dogs still sleep by the sides. But then there is a wide canal that runs by the road; it is not monsoon in these parts yet but there is plenty of water. It is lined with green, so we don’t mind the uncertainty of a missed road.
The early hours that follow late nights and watching the sun rise everyday ensures we work up an appetite that the wheat biscuits and oily snacks in the cloth bag just won’t satisfy. This time, along the country roads, we spot a shack that is buzzing already. An improvised transistor/CD player is on, and is playing what I imagine must be songs from the 1970s’. The coals are already burning and the men of the village are up and about. We have idlis and tea and pack something for the road. Admittedly,the idlis aren’t too great, but the tea is sweet and milky. The bill is Rs 30. We think the owner has made a mistake and tell him again what we ate and drank. He says we owe him Rs 30. The friend and I are shocked at how cheap the countryside is and spend the next twenty minutes talking about how he manages to cover his overheads at such low prices. On the road, every topic gets stretched in time. We could never run out of things to talk about, it is just time, which seems longer, slower. Time on the road alternates between slowing down immensely and stretching thin over the plains we are swiftly passing by. We also talk about this fluidity of time.
The road is boiling hot and we feel like the cat on a tin roof under a desert sun. The piles of rocks, the gentleness of the night has given way to bad city traffic and the honking of many horns. I feel bad for the dog that climbed up the flyover and now has to walk many miles to the other end before it can get off because there is no exit in the middle.
In the middle of the traffic, we think of the sunrise though. We will always have those sunrises that add to our movable feasts. I am glad we took the road.