I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. They had all taken a week-day off to spend the day with me, and had traveled hundreds of miles to see me. I was already on cloud nine and chittering happily when the brother added the icing on the cake: he was going to take the sister, nephew, pater and yours truly, on one of his legendary off-roading trips. As his car nosed its way past the city limits into rural Karnataka, a serenity seemed to descend amongst its occupants too.
It was a day on which the North West monsoons were in zest. The riversides and little lakes the brother drove us through were swollen with the recent rains. He nosed the car towards lesser known off-roading trails. They seemed to beckon him through slippery slush and muddy muck. His staunch car wheeled and plunged into the side roads with gusto.
The old pater, not usually invited along to adventures in off-roading, had consented to come, and he ticked the brother off for needless adrenaline.
“It is all your fault!”, said the brother chuckling at the far away memory of 3 decades ago when the pater would pile the three of us on his scooter and take to the steep roads of the Nilgiri Hills.
The little brother,( then knee-high) would stand in front between his father’s arms peering out at the road ahead over the handlebars, myself (waist-high) between the sister and the father in the back seat looking sideways, and off we’d go on our school holidays. (The pater was a school teacher and enjoyed the same vacation schedule as we did.) As we reminisced about the good old days, the nephew pointed to a little girl clutching on to her father on a scooter nearby and asked if I was that girl. We all laughed. Yes I was. She even had her hair tightly plaited the same way, and had a maroon sweater on. More than that, she had joy writ large on her face as she felt the wind on her face. I felt like a little girl on an adventurous ride with her father again. (With the tens of pictures I clicked during that off-roading trip, the image that I retain the most vividly is this one and I did not click a picture. So much for visual diaries!)
The number of waterfalls, steep hillsides and hamlets we’ve passed are too many to count. We’d stop in small villages for a cup of tea amidst hospitable villagers in the tiny tea shops and learn of the local life. Grandmothers and mothers were present during the days, the men worked locally, and somehow every seemingly tiny village bustled with life.
“So much has changed, hasn’t it?”, I said. We were out on a weekday too, but the work spots nearer the city were bustling. “I wonder whether the villages would look deserted. That would be so sad!” I said ever the nostalgic.
The brother gave me an amused grin and said we’d soon find out as he had not gone out driving through these villages on a weekday either. The trail he was taking us on, apparently weaved through an extremely small village street – right through the main artery of the village – “almost like you’re driving through someone’s house” – as he put it.
I took pictures of bright little temples nestled under large banyan trees, cows, goats, and birds as they flitted in and out of the fields and wet trees. A little way off, we arrived at the village he was speaking of.
As we inched our way past the narrow village street, we stopped. His car was not made for these streets. There was a bike parked on one side and it proved to be too narrow for the car to pass through. While the issue was being sorted out, I waved out of the car at the ladies sitting on their verandahs nearby. They smiled back even though they seemed to be sharing an internal joke as to why people needed such fat cars. My heart warmed to the gentle laughter and kind smiles flashed back at us. This village was not deserted at all. The mothers, grandmothers were all in attendance. The men too seemed to be at work in the local fields and the scene heart-warming. I asked them in my broken Kannada if I could take pictures, and they smiled and said ‘yes’.
It was then a girl asked us in Kannada whether we’d like to stop and have some coffee. We thanked her and said we should be getting on our way, but such hospitality is the charm of rural India.
We fell to discussing similar stories of hospitality extended in various parts of India. The brother spoke of a time when he landed up haggard and dust-beaten at a restaurant on a bike trip of hundreds of miles in Northern India hoping for some food, but found out that the venue was closed off for external visitors as it was hosting a wedding that day. As he sheepishly apologized and tried to leave, the hosts would hear nothing of it. How could a guest leave hungry? Not only did they take in their dusty wedding guest heartily, but also gave him the full wedding meal planned for the family and friends in the village.
The sister told us similar stories in Africa when she’d traveled on business years ago.
I am not sure how this charm can be held as we swell in population and crowd together more closely. For I found myself wondering that the cities do seem to have lost this particular sense on more than one occasion. But if we do, then I am sure we shall bumble along with that undefinable quality of humaneness and humanity in spite of all our avarice and problems.
“For though we may come from different places, our hearts beat as one.”Albus Dumbledore – in the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.