(And I had no umbrella for a long, long time)
Little did I know that this would be one of my worst trips to the hills. Like every twice a year, I had prepared a rag-tag team to row a raft at our familiar spot and Apu, Karuna, and myself were on the verge of taking a bus to Hrishikesh (for the want of logistics), when plop emerged dear KS on my phone-receiver. She wanted to bring along her hubby and his four friends. Now, I did some mental math to realize that made right number of occupants for a Sumo. What I had not bargained was a bratpack of class-conscious, deluxe bus tourists who were given to an armchair lifestyle and who were going to wrap themselves like millstones around my neck. Everybody knows how useful a millstone is while crossing a river or a rapid. That was it — five millstones around my neck in a deep, turbulent river.
Top of their histrionics was shelling out money so grudgingly as if they were paying off a slimy tourist agent. First, they wanted themselves to be picked from home. Second, they would drink no hoi-polloi's daaru — nothing less than Smirnoff (brought from Gurgaon for a dent of Rs 400) will do. They will buy it themselves and that would be deducted from the pool money. Right? Okay, sir.
As the time came to settle down in the vehicle, one of the blokes complained of backache and occupied the front seat with his wife. This would ensure that by the end of journey, others would also be complaining of backaches. Next, one of their friends wanted to be picked and later dropped from/to Muzzafarpur on our way to Hrishikesh. To add insult, at the eleventh hour, this asshole thought that he would reach directly to the spot where rafting began. He did reach on his own but good three hours behind schedule, and delayed all of us. Which meant that we shall also be delayed for the lunch. Rafting on an empty belly wasn’t a pleasant drill, I assure you.
Read on, the trial is not finished yet. One lady in their group did not want to be troubled with water splashes (hooonnn, say that again!!). They would order food on the way like hungry hogs but ate little. All of them would have only Pepsi and 7-ups, then leave the bottles half-empty. None of them, except KS’s hubby (a sweet, young, hassle-free soul) would exercise their limbs to row the paddle. Excuse me? Are you here for rafting or boating with Kallu Mallah? But no point telling them that. They were deaf to guide’s commands and my requests. Somehow, I had extra rum to keep sane.
Rafting over, they wanted to be dropped first and for that they were ready to even lobbying with the Sumo driver a few kms before Delhi border. Never mind, if it had been already decided which route would be taken so that single girls in the group are not delayed beyond a point. Who the fuck on earth they thought they were, and who was going to pay for those extra kilometres — the tourist agency that I worked for? I wanted to apply for a gun licence.
Finally, after I thought that I had seen the last of the punjus (more a class than caste), gone to bed praying for their early death, one of the morons rang my landline. Since the phone’s volume was set to use it like a wake-up alarm, the ring was difficult to ignore. The louse had forgotten his mobile handset in the Sumo, but wouldn’t come to the point straight. "Hi Pankaj, it was a great trip..." I had little time for pleasantries in the dead of the night so I asked him plain, “Is that why you are calling?” Sheepishly, he told me his problem, then requested to make sure that the driver would not palm off his gizmo. "I can collect it from your office tomorrow." Okay, I mumbled and drowned into sleep; keeping the phone off-hook.
Now, guess what was the date when we touched Delhi back – April 1. What a day to make you feel better! At least, the calender was with me. Understandably, I didn’t plan another trip for a long time. Conclusion was if rum, Sukriti and Apu were not there, I would have poisoned a few of those nerds.
Not that nothing good came out of the trip. You lose some, you win some. There was The Wall of course, negotiated for the first time. Dear old Sukriti was back in the loop. We met almost after one full year, hugged each other tightly in full view of road-users at ISBT, talked our hearts out in Hrishikesh and drank to capacity in the night. She kept cursing the world and I kept refilling the glasses. Then after a while, I began cursing NGOs and she took up the bartending. Finally, between the two of us we finished one and a half bottle.
There are more of gains. About three trips back, I had come across a great guy: Anshuman Sen, one of Apu's many cousins. He turned out to be the right chap for such trips — trustworthy, hassle-free and obedient. On this trip, Sukriti had brought along a new girl, Supriya, non-selfish, team-spirited, vivacious, and most important, a great piece of relief among that bunch of self-gratifying jokers. She even passed on her sympathies with a wink in the toughest of times. And yesssss, in my Mungeri-Lal mind I often visualised Anshuman and Supriya in the same trip, and enjoying themselves.