I had intended to write a detailed account of our trip to Manipal, in the form of a novel. As always, I gave up soon after starting. Browsing through the old files and folders, I came upon the first chapter that I had written sometime in Dec '03! I am publishing it as it is here.
As usual we were late.
We were supposed to be in front of Manipal Hospital by 9 pm sharp. We didn't have any idea how we would be going except that there would be some bus coming there, and there would be a person called Basavraj, who was from Karmic and who would accompany us to Manipal. The coincidential similarity in names of our destination and the starting point of our journey had been a topic of conversation and a topic of jokes among us for the past few days.
By the time me and Anant had a hearty dinner of Egg Biryani at Vishal's (it was then a newly discovered eat-out for us) and trudged along to the Hospital, it was 9:15. We were greeted by a number of loud voices cracking jokes at our punctuality. Amidst the confusion, I noticed one stranger, a heavy-set fellow with curly hair and a thick moustache. He came over and introduced himself as Basavraj from Karmic. We shook hands with him.
Most of us had come alone, but there were several of Sumeet's room-mates, who had come to see him off. (Sumeet's alleged innumerable room-mates are a source of continuous entertainment to us, at his expense, even to this day!)
The wait for the bus was not all that bad. The group was a mixed one. We did not know each other all that well then. But through a series of meetings that had happened before the trip, we were at least familiar with each other to different degrees.
There were eleven of us. Koushik, Anant, Sumeet and I had been working on the same project for the past one and a half month. We were quite familiar with each other. Of course Anant was my room mate. Koushik stays with his parents in Rajajinagar. His home is the furthest, among us, from our office on the airport road.
I used to know Ashish as a joking, bantering kind of guy with a cheerful spirit. He was the loudest in the group, cracking jokes, laughing loudly. He had brought his guitar along with him, and I was trying out my inexpert attempts at producing music on it as we waited.
The tall shy Lokesh (Lokerson) was to me 'the dancer'. His numerous other interests and talents were as yet unknown to me. The contrasting nature of Ashish and Lokesh was highlighted all the more by their great friendship. Both of them were from the same college, and had known each other for long.
Ankur Saboo was an enigmatic character. I knew almost nothing about him. That there will always be difference of opinion between me and him, whatever be the discussion about, I could sense. That I will be so friendly with him later, I never anticipated.
While the seven of us were from the WLAN group, the other four were from DSL. Krishnakanth or KK was the actor. His exemplary acting skills came to light when we put up a half-an-hour stage show a few days back, for the benifit of the rest of BSTC. He was another guy who was always in good spirits, and never ceased to smile.
Bhaskar was the one who had raised his hand when Vivek Pawar had asked for volunteers to lead the group for the expedition. So had a couple of others (probably Ashish and someone else, I don't remember), but it was Bhaskar, who would be our voice when communicating with the seniors of TI and the people in Karmic.
Subhash was a totally unknown factor. It would be quite some time before his 'bloodthirsty' spirit would break though, but he was and is a nice person to be with.
Venky or Venkatesh was another local guy. He was called Batani by everyone. He had had that name since his school-days, ever since he mentioned 'Batani' among the different sciences, as he told us one later day over a cup of coffee at the mess 'Akshay'.
The bus came at 9:45 PM. It looked nice and new from the outside, with the word 'SUGAMA TRAVELS' written in bold letters. 9:45 was the right time but knowing our tendencies to be late for everything, they had asked us to come at 9. After putting all the luggage in the boot under Basavraj's supervision, we piled onto the bus, cheering and shouting. Basavraj had already told us the seat numbers booked for us. I was the last to board. By the time I had started looking for my seat, all the others were already seating in pairs in the seats of two. I sat down in the last (frontmost) seat, and slid to the window. Basu came and sat beside me.
"Which one's mine and which ones's yours?" I asked.
"The window one is mine, but its okay, you sit there."
The bus started almost immediately. I took out my new mobile phone from my pocket, and sent an sms to someone. Basu asked me, "Who all among you have mobiles?" I told him what I knew. At that time, probably me and KK were the only two people to have mobile phones. Basu took down the names on a piece of paper. I was wondering why. It had been impressed upon us that Dr. Mahant-Shetty, the person who ran Karmic, was a simple person. I somehow felt that owning a mobile while we were going for training may not be looked upon very nicely. From then onwards, till the day we came back, I always made an effort to make the mobile as less evident as possible.
Some of us had some food and snacks which we all shared. I think I also had some stuff. For the first half an hour we were pretty noisy. I think there were a few attempts at playing Antakshari and singing, but gradually those died down. Once the bus left Bangalore city limits, the driver switched off all the lights. One by one everyone dozed off. Owing to the discomfort I always feel when travelling by road, I was up till late. Next to me Basavraj was sleeping peacefully as if he was sleeping on his own bed at home! I tried looking out of the window for some time. For the first few minutes it was interesting. But slowly it started becoming dull and monotonous. I gradually eased into a state of restless slumber.
The roads down here are very nice. They are much better than the highways near Calcutta, which are so full of potholes that if there is a smooth stretch, people look out of the windows in amazement, wondering why the bus has come to a sudden stop! For the first time in my life, on this journey, I travelled for eight hours on a bus and didn't suffer from nausea!
I was woken up by the sound of people talking, and a lot of movement around. The bus had come to a stop. It was one of those road-side bus stations where all long distance busses have a pit-stop, so that passengers can get down, stretch there legs, and freshen up. I could see a lot of food stalls outside. Several sleepy eyed people were wandering about outside. I wanted to get down. It also seemed to be a good idea to make use of the toilet while the oppurtunity was there, we had another good 4-5 hours of journey left. But somehow, I didn't feel like moving from the seat. One gathers this lethargic inertia in the uncomfortable sweating semi-seated posture after being that way for hours. I debated with myself for five minutes about whether to get down or not, and ultimately decided to make a move.
As soon as I alighted, the driver boarded the bus and pressed the horn. It was a signal for everyone to get back on board. I made a pretense of stretching myself, and got into the bus. Other people filed in behind me. The conductor came back and did a quick head count to make sure everyone was there. Satisfied, he gave a thumbs-up to the driver, who immediately started backing out of the place. This time I went to sleep pretty quickly.
When I opened my eyes, there was a hint of light in the horizon. I looked around to see if anyone else was up. Apparently, no one was. I drew aside the curtain and looked out. The view outside was beautiful. The trees shining in the early morning light, the sparkling streams that we crossed every now and then, the foggy morning atmosphere, saturated with dew, it was perfect. So far the main attraction for Manipal, to me, was that it was very near to Goa. Suddenly, I started looking forward to spending time in this heavenly place.
By the time the bus came to a halt and the conductor looked in and shouted 'Udupi! Udupi!' almost everyone was up. There was a big gate kind of structure with the sculpture of a lion. About half the people in the bus got off. It was about 5:30 / 6 in the morning.
Manipal was the last stop. The bus stopped at what appeared to be a kind of junction of roads. Basavraj informed us that this was Tiger Circle. As we would later find out, this was the town centre, and we would be coming here all the time.
There was a Tata Sumo waiting for us. As we removed our luggage from the bus, we discovered that Koushik's leather suitcase had a big gash on one side, courtesy a few pieces of rusted iron that was also there in the boot of the bus. A few of us got into the Sumo, and they were taken away. The rest of us waited there for a second trip. All the while Koushik kept cribbing about his torn suitcase. Some of us cracked a few jokes at his expense.
The Sumo came back for us. We all piled in. We drove along a narrow road with a lake (rain-water) on one side and jungle on the other! We soon came across a small T-fork, where we took the left. The car stopped in front of an yellow two storeyed house. Mallickarjun, who was accompanying us on the car, took out a piece of paper and read out a couple of names, "Somshubhra Paul and Anant Shankar Kamath!" We acknowledged.
"You will be living here."
We got down from the Sumo. The Sumo started off, with the others. I took in the surroundings for a moment. The house looked pretty nice from outside. It had a sloping tiled roof. There were a couple of glossy brown-tiled balconeys, one on each floor. Inside the gate, to the right hand side was a small lawn. The rest of the courtyard was tiled. Opposite the house, on the other side of the lane was the jungle. I was half expecting some wild animal to step out from among the trees, when I heard the main door open behind me.