It’s time of the year when one’s leaves are about to expire. Strangely, I had taken absolutely no leave this entire year, and therefore was forced to reluctantly part ways with the Office for a period of two weeks from the 16th of December until the New Year.
The plan is to sit at home and sort out a few things and spend some time with the kids. But to kick things off, it was time for Vijay and Y’s mini-break. The last one was when we went to Jaipur over a weekend to attend a friend’s wedding. This time, I was just not getting time to plan things and my mother and sister were goading me towards this. They took to messaging me every day for the last week or so as to whether I had figured out yet where we were going. After I’d said no a few times, my sister said ‘Why don’t you just go and stay at the Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri and leave the kids at mom’s place?’
I tried researching for a while, asked around, couldn’t decide and finally gave it all up to higher powers.
‘Ma’ I wailed desperately on the phone ‘Please help!’
‘Sure, I’ll do it’. My mother’s impressive organizational skills all kicked into action and after several SMS and email exchanges, I figured that Bharatpur sounded like the best of the available options.
‘It’s a Bird sanctuary’ I told Vijay ‘The nice thing is we’ll be able to go cycling’
‘Sure’ he said, poring over his presentation ‘Whatever you say, Honey’.
And so the booking was done.
The day before we were to leave, my friend Shome took us over to see his new place for a quick drink. He asked what plans for the weekend and I told him. ‘Oh Bharatpur, it’s quite nice’ he said.
We then looked over at Vijay, whose hand had frozen on the way while transporting his whiskey to his mouth.
‘We’re going to a BIRD sanctuary?’ he said, looking completely appalled ‘And we’re going to CYCLE? What kind of holiday is THAT!?’
I looked daggers at him and Shome took a sip of his own whiskey, looking unnaturally pleased as he said ‘Oh dear, oh dear’.
Anyway, it was settled that we would be going. The minor matter of packing occurred to us only the next morning, and we were an hour late setting out. As usual, we took far more stuff than we would end up using.
‘What’s THIS?’ Vijay held out a black bag.
‘Oh, Mother has sent her video camera, and the Sony Cybershot’.
‘I see’ said Vijay, eyeing the bag distrustfully ‘What’s wrong with our camera?’
‘Our camera sucks’ I said plaintively ‘I’ve been saying let’s buy a new camera, but you…’
‘Okay, okay’ he said ‘What’s THIS, then?’ He pointed to another larger bag.
‘Oh’ I said in a smaller voice ‘Mother has sent her Canon also. She said it’s a bit complex because of the multiple lenses, but there’s a manual in there that you can study. She also said we should pick up the Binoculars from Bua…’
‘Uh Huh’ said Vijay, half-amused, half-exasperated as he picked up all the various bags I had laid out. We said goodbye to various crying children and left.
It had been decided that it was time for the two of us to get some alone time, away from the kids. This is never an easy thing, especially for me. Or the kids. Vijay has travelled several times in the last couple of years, but I’ve not done anything more than a day trip. Nighttimes are especially rough because I’m still feeding. But then, we figured, we needed a break, and my sister Gitanjali had promised to come home and hold fort.
Therefore it was off to Bharatpur that we went.
We drove out later than planned, but in unusually good moods nevertheless. When Vijay and I were younger and in Bangalore and a carefree childless couple, we would often just bung ourselves into our car and drive off to some nearby weekend destination. There were so many places around Bangalore, and these little trips were what made life worth living in those days.
This trip now reminded me of those earlier trips, with Vijay being the driver, refusing to let me drive even a bit – and me being the navigator – in those days struggling with the Eicher Maps, and now struggling with the Google Maps on Vijay’s iPhone. After a while, however, I got the hang of it and was completely and thoroughly impressed with the sheer usefulness of this application.
‘Take a right’ I said with supreme confidence staring at Google Maps.
‘Where?’ Vijay looked around ‘There is no right turn here at all!’
‘Don’t argue with Google Maps’ I barked.
Thanks to my blind trust in Google Maps, we soon found ourselves on a highway called the KMP Expressway, which turned out to be an ambitious project currently under construction. Every few minutes, we thought we had reached a dead end. But we pressed on regardless and made painful progress.
‘Yeh hamari Innova jab tak lautenge, Maruti 800 ban gayi hogi’ Vijay grimaced as he revved up the engine to negotiate yet another muddy hill.
‘It’s an adventure!’ I said happily and chimed in my most nasal voice ‘Picture Time’ and took a snap of him.
He was worried ‘You don’t know anything about cars..saare funde gol hain…iss car ki to four wheel drive bhi nahin hai’.
‘Aha’ I sang ‘Now I know you’re lying…the Innova has four wheels. I’ve counted’. I whipped out my camera again and chimed ‘Picture time’.
‘Ignorance really is bliss’ He grumbled. Then he saw my downcast face and said in his most nasal voice to cheer me up ‘Picture Time’. It worked. I beamed at him and continued to take pictures of the flora, fauna and him.
Finally, the road sorted itself out and we eventually made our way to Bharatpur. We were staying at a beautiful resort called The Bagh. I asked when we reached, rather stupidly whether they had a garden for us to see. They assured us that they did, and the kind and courteous staff escorted us to our room and our mini-break began.
And what a mini break it was. I can’t remember a nicer holiday.
Day one, we had reached in the afternoon around one p.m. We had a sumptuous lunch. Vijay pretended to think a lot and finally ordered Gobi Paranthas and Alu-Gobi, while I had an entire Butter Chicken to myself. The food was absolutely awesome. We fought off the urge to sleep and went to explore the Keoladeo National Park. I had wanted to go cycling, but settled for the Cycle Rickshaw Ride since we still had the next morning to do the Cycle thing.
Phool Singh, a scrawny old man was our chosen rickshaw puller, and Vijay kept asking him all sorts of personal questions, interrupting him while he tried to tell us about and show us the various birds on offer. The park was really beautiful and despite my lack of interest in anything beginning with Ornith-, I found myself curious to see what Phool Singh was really on about – he and Vijay seemed to be able to see all the birds while I was blinking around shortsightedly. Finally, I buried my vanity and dug out my glasses and put them on and peered through them. Vijay cackled in amusement and then quickly turned it into a cough.
Phool Singh, Vijay extracted, had five children, all girls. Vijay chastised him for his life choices and went on to check whether he planned to make sure of all of them got a good education, and even asked him how often he drank – going as far as to ask which particular type of alcohol including brand and quantity he chose to drink. Phool Singh said he drank merely once a week, Aristocrat Whiskey.
The birds were truly lovely and even Vijay started to take an interest in them after a while. Phool Singh demonstrated how many different languages he could name the birds in, given the number of foreign tourists who came by, and the fact he had been here from 1996.
‘Parakeet’ pointed Phool Singh ‘Isse German mein Paragon kehte hai…aur Israeli log to isse Tukki Kehte hai’.
‘Tukki?’ Vijay gasped, looking aghast ‘Unhe bolo dhang se bole!’
When Vijay gets into the mood, he has this habit of saying strange things to people. He went on to do more of the same, when we stopped at the little Temple in the park. The Panditji pointed to the little idol and said ‘Aur yeh Keoladeo National Park…’
Vijay interrupted him excitedly ‘Achha, yeh national park hai?’
Panditji gave him a look and said ‘Keoladeo National Park ka naam inhi se mila hai…yeh hai Keoladeo…’
Vijay wisely ‘Oh’, nodding along.
I wished yet again that Vijay wouldn’t do these sort of things, and at the same time, tried to helplessly stifle my giggles.
The rickshaw-waala Phool Singh was surprised that we returned from the temple so quickly, and suggested that we take a walk around the place as there was some kind of a watchtower and some large stones with engravings commemorating the mass murder of birds by various Viceroys and Lords and those sorts.
We were feeling rather tired and therefore remarkably unenthusiastic at the prospect of climbing watchtowers and exploring things. Phool Singh must have wondered ‘Yeh kaisi Party aa gayi’, but out loud he simply continued to expound on the history of the place.
‘Yahan pe Lord Landslow ka record hai…unhone yahan pe 4,317 birds to ek din mein maara’
Vijay pointed at the ground where he was standing ‘Yahan? Issi jagah?’ with the same undue excitement he had shown the priest a while earlier.
‘Nahin sir, poore park mein’ said Phool Singh.
Vijay clearly didn’t believe him and went closer to examine the engraving. 4,317 Bag…Yeh bag kya hota hai?’
‘Bag maane sir, kitne chidiya maare unhone’.
Vijay was quite impressed now, and stood there reading the other records. A man passed by him and asked someone else loudly ‘Yeh Bag kya hota hai’.
Vijay continued muttering, but only I could hear him say ‘Bag maane sir, aapka basta’.
We finally convinced Phool Singh to take us back. It didn’t take all that much convincing given that it was almost sunset. We were looking forward to our massages, which we had decided to indulge in during the evening.
The ride back, Vijay continued to extract Phool Singh’s life plan from him. My stomach churned when he said he needed to save up for motorcycles for dowry and managed an LIC plan wherein he put in Rs.2,500 every six months towards his daughter’s marriage funds. Our massages didn’t sound so hot to me now. I said to Vijay we must give him a handsome payment for the ride. Vijay remarked that in his line of work – he works in rural marketing – if I ever accompanied him on a trip, I would likely come back a pauper myself. Never mind, I said.
He will only spend it on more drink, said Vijay.
He won’t. I was convinced. He will put it in LIC.
Vijay rolled his eyes but didn’t try to argue when I finally gave him the amount I thought would make a dent to his next LIC instalment. Vijay told him several times after that to stop drinking once a week, and make it once a month.
We headed back to a nice relaxed hour in our room, ordering two cups of tea. Afterwards, we went for the most lovely Ayurvedic Massages, Vijay clarifying firmly on the phone beforehand ‘Male to Male and Female to Female, right?’. A quiet dinner in the beautiful restaurant wherein I declared that I had finally decided that my most favorite sweet is the Moong Dal Halwa – the melt in the mouth types, leave-you-begging- for- more- even- though- your- stomach- is –begging-you-to-stop-eating-types.
I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing first day on my mini-break with my husband. We went out for a walk in the beautiful garden. It was a dark moonless night, and Vijay asked me to look up.
A sky full of stars. My childhood obsession, which I hardly ever get to see living in Gurgaon.
Just when I had thought this day couldn’t possibly get any better.
( Coming up at some point of time: Day 2 description!)