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A CLOSE LOOK

On way to Salem at ungodly hour

Nilratan Halder | Published: August 23, 2019 21:42:34 | Updated: August 30, 2019 20:19:38


Ooty left us spellbound. It was really hard to extricate us from the hypnotic spell the resort cast on us. We lamented that we could not spare another day. This time our driver also did not show much enthusiasm  about our spending one more day there. Perhaps he thought we were more interested in Kanyakumari. Actually this itinerary mistake had its origin in the misinformation we were fed at the hotel where an elderly adviser to the hotel management volunteered to spare our double journey (according to him) and time. He claimed to be a man from Coimbatore and told us to take a bus journey. After all, we had to leave our driver because he had to return to Bangalore. When enquired if there were AC buses from Coimbatore to Kanyakumari he enthused that there were many.

It was about an 85-kilometre drive mostly on a serpentine road to Koimbatore and that too at night. It took about 3.0 hours. But to our frustration, we found there was no such bus from Coimbatore to Kanyakumari. Only non-AC state buses were there and we dared not embark on a 10- to 12-hour journey by such a bus. So we looked for a train. There was no train convenient for us to make a journey. Now our driver employed all his will power and tenacity to give us the best possible opportunity under the circumstances of such an emergency. He contacted Bangalore bus terminals for tickets but there was none. Undeterred he tried further and one of the companies at Bangalore made arrangement for four tickets of their bus running from Hyderabad to Kanyakumari. The bus would pick us from Salem where it has a small office only for delivery of goods.

For a considerable part, the journey to Coimbatore was more like an adventure because the hilly slopes and turns so sharp at times took us where we really had no inkling. Just when one expects the bend to be on the left it suddenly shows to the right. Mercifully we reached Coimbatore without any mishap. But now we have to be on a highway known as NH (national highway) 544 for a 167-kilometre drive. This time the highway pierces through plain lands. The six-lane highway actually connects Kochi in Kerala with Salem in Tamil Nadu. The driver has assured that we would reach Salem long before the bus from Hyderabad arrives there.

The problem, though, was elsewhere. Although Coimbatore is the second-largest city of Tamil Nadu after Chennai, in our anxiety for getting fresh, we did not have time and opportunity to take our dinner. There were McDonald's and other world famous fast food outlets in that city but when we left the railway station, we could spot none. Shortly we were out of the city proper and most other eateries had put their shutters down. The ones still open were not up to our taste. So we had to fall back upon our last resort -- biscuits and chocolates we kept as our reserve.

So far as the highway is concerned, it is smooth as silk and yet I felt most concerned about our drive to Salem. It was now midnight and few private cars could be seen. Suddenly our driver brought the car to a halt on the roadside where trucks, covered vans and trailers with huge loads were stationed. The driver informs me he feels sleepy and would be coming soon. He left giving me no opportunity to enquire where he was going or for what purpose. My wife, son and daughter in the back seat were in deep slumber. They knew nothing of what I was going through for about 20 minutes.

Why was the driver not returning? I wondered. A debate went in my mind. Can it be that the driver has gone for puffing substance! He should not take so long to return. Then I argued, should a vegetarian inhale drug? By this time, one after another of the big and small vehicles stationed had left. Now I felt a shiver running through my spine. What if bandits or highway robbers swooped on us, what do I do? The unspent dollars, passports and other important things are with me in my handbag. The AC was not on then. At those wee hours, the weather was cool and I kept the window glass down. During the last part of our journey to Salem, I noticed only one car that overtook us when we stopped there. So there were reasons to be concerned. But then I stopped worrying because there was nothing I could do if something really bad happened. After all destinations in this world lead us to an inexorable destiny we are powerless to control at times. If human life is destined to serve a purpose, it will overcome all odds. Let not fear overpower human spirit.

Fortunately for me, the driver then showed up. I asked him where did he go? He answered he splashed his face with cool water in a restaurant for highway drivers and ate biscuits. I told him I had more biscuits and he took a few again. We drove to Salem without incidents. But it was only 1:45 am. The bus was supposed to reach there at 3:00 am. So we looked for a hotel to change. But no such rest room was to be found. After knocking at several such facilities unsuccessfully we at last went to a petrol pump where we used the toilet and changed there for the bus journey.

The driver true to his quality as a man would not leave us before seeing us off. He could go away because he had no business staying for another two and a half hours, for the bus was late and arrived there at 4:30 in the morning. He also told us not to pay extra money for the taxi drive from the bus stand to Kanyakumari. Thus taken well care of, we board the bus for our next destination.

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