And so it was with great trepidation that we took the right turn towards the Amboli ghats. Yup, them high steep ghats with part of the road and the boundary wall of said road still under construction, with the view below if one swerved off, guaranteed ticket to hell. Or heaven. Depending of course, on how one had conducted one’s life. Keeping such cheerful thoughts at bay, and one eye peeled on the side of the road for milestones and other signs to indicate the right-lefts we needed to take, and the other eye peeled for possible small stores which could sell us wire or nylon rope, one embarked on the way, muttering our prayers.
The spouse was still on the line with said man from the Honda company who asked him how many kilometers he had done from Baga without shutting the engine and then told him, he could try shutting the engine off. The man, calm and confident, with the assurance given by a man who was many kilometers away probably lolling in an easy chair in a balcony facing the sea on a Sunday, shut the engine off. I looked around us. Parched yellow landscape for miles and one solitary tree at the distance. If the car refused to start again, we would be carrion fodder for the vultures. The brat, thankfully, did not comprehend the urgency of the situation and protested vehemently at us having forgotten to procure said Pepsi bottle before departure. I had other pressing things on my mind. Like how I was to flag down a car to get to a nearest garage and port back an automechanic to jump start the car again.
“So,” said the man in soft tones, “let’s start it again.” He turned the key. My stomach twisted in ugly Algebra and Trigometry board exam manner. I held my breath. I could tell he was holding his. I shut my eyes. And the engine roared to life. Yaaay! I shrieked, while exhorting the man to put the windows up and the airconditioning on so we could feel human again and not like skinned game being roasted over a fire. We mopped our fevered brows, and shuddered at the blackness of the dirt that was deposited on tissues with such action and proceeded down the road. Now I was designated navigator and I am a navigator par excellence. If only I can read them signs in time before we whiz past. This is a problem. The eagle eyed spouse will zoom past a signboard before I can even focus on them properly and assimilate the directions and explain it to him. To add to this, I had on my head a huge floppy hat which further impaired my vision. And we approached a fork in the road. The husband in true husband tradition drove straight on, the signboard to the left was a blur of alphabets and dust as we drove past. “wait wait,” I squawked, “What road are we on and did we need to take that road?” He drove on without relaxing the pressure on the accelerator, “Now you tell me, after we’ve driven so far,” in typical grouch tones. I spot a signboard to the right of the road. Belgaum straight ahead, it said. I blanched and prepared for battle. This is the road to Belgaum, dammit, we need to go to Kolhapur, stop the car, turn around, we have to go back, I pleaded. “I’m not going back,” grumbled the man, “We’ll damn well go to Belgaum.” Which incidentally was some hundreds of kilometers from where we needed to exit from. Which originally should have been just before Kolhapur. We fumed at each other a bit, and found no corresponding voices pipping up from the backseat to find all three backseat travellers were draped in various stages of repose, with gentle snores emanating from each. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s ask someone.” We flagged down a passing commercial vehicle. “Kolhapur?” we asked, earnestly. He grinned toothily and waved down the very road we were travelling. Windows rolled up we took off again, noting with dismay the lid of the boot flapping violently. We passed a small, for lack of a better word, cluster of houses with one lone store. “Go ask for a rope,” I exhorted the spouse. We stopped, he went out, asked for a rope, emerged carrying a bit of it, and asked me for five rupees change, which I duly handed over. Yes. It was duly handed over to ancient person in said shop who examined it closely and suspiciously before putting it in a drawer. Boot secured, we took off at top speed through winding roads with spectacular views and hit the amazingly well maintained NH4 in a bit, by which time the alarms had started chiming violently in everyone’s bellies. 4 pm it was. Well past the lunch hour. And we had all had just a light breakfast circa 8 am. To a stomach like mine that demands solid nutrition every couple of hours, this was torture of the third degree. There’s a McDonald just before or after Kolhapur, I kept telling us, when the grumblings reached a crescendo, keep an eye out of it. Which resulted in the child getting excited at anything resembling red and yellow in the distance and then metaphorically stomping the ground when it didn’t turn out to be the golden arches. Finally, we saw them, the golden arches. There it is, I said. There it is, the child said. There it is, the niece said. Where is it, said the man and whizzed right past the little turn off that was the access road to said McDonald’s off the highway. Gah. We finally did a little reverse and entering through the lane the rest of the cars were exiting to and entered McDonalds like Pilgrims entering the promised land. It is a 24 hour McDonalds at Kolhapur. And yes, there are bathrooms which are moderately clean. The line was infinite. Stood, ordered. Ate and went back to the car on the return route. The traffic. The traffic. The spouse was shocked enough to have me confirm we were not in Andheri east but actually on NH4 before Satara. To compound our sense of being right back at home in Mumbai’s traffic, we had some wise ones Actually Coming Down The Opposite Side. The lines at the toll plazas, of which there are infinite, were enough for sweaters to be started and completed, if I was a knitting person. By the time we crossed the last toll plaza, the Chicken McSpicy I had ingested back at Kolhapur had begun to dance the hula in my belly. We turned off at an underbridge, took a cut through a long winded ghat road to hit Pune, asked our way into the city, and I hit the sister in law’s house, throwing up profusely, refusing all solid nutrition and laying my pale and shaky self down. The door was closed to allow me to rest, and I was told later the brat threw up too. He was washed and cleaned up and made to go to sleep. And later, the spouse complained of a stomach upset too. Three of us felled by them burgers. The mother in law and the niece were spared, the mother in law having opted for the veg burger, and the niece thanks to her iron gut, I’m presuming. And that marked the end of that trip, with the three of us, out for a count. Me throwing up all through the night, and the child refusing solid nutrition thanks to his queasiness.
The next trip, I swear on my father’s grave, will not be a road trip. Ever. Unless of course, I plan to write a series again and need fodder.
(And that my dear readers, is the end of that).