On the Road, into the Country

Ah! Then yours wasn’t a really good school. Now at ours they had at the end of the bill- French, music,
and washing — extra. ~ The Mock Turtle
Three days  into  it,  Aaron  (aka Director ji when we Indians talked among themselves)  announced the ‘happy van’ now  had a ‘road-trip smell to it. That’s when I realized this was the road-trip that  the director and  producer ( and  somewhat  iffy  assistant, who  just  disappeared into the blue halfway through the long- distance correspondence, and thanks to whom we  packed our bags  for the North Pole )  were talking about since our ‘participation acceptance’  was stamped  sealed and mailed.
The Aussie ‘road’-trip was scenic.   Countryside tends to be scenic, but that word means different  things to different folk. Coming from  a country with 1.2 billion people,  just  not  having scores of people as far as the eye can see is scenic enough for me. If  it’s green, even more scenic.  Add cottages and  rolling plains/ hills-  picture perfect. No dust- this must be  heaven!
(Sure India has it’s share of rolling fields, empty spaces, natural glory but living in  cities, all of which are absolutely  bursting at the seams….)
Tiny pretty towns  rushed past, heavy-duty trucks lumbered across, stray dead animals  whizzed by, and the more north we went,  tell-tale signs of the recent floods were all around. 

But that was outside.
Inside the van we were a mixed group of 4 Indians, 3 or 4 Aussies, and  following us in another car was  1 Brit- as he would sometimes refer to himself. Considering how different we all were,  it  is remarkable how well we all coped with being in that van with each other  for what sometimes seemed like an eternity. 
One such day, while  I sat there next to Mahi,  both of  us  humming  Hindi movie love-  songs ( aka  Bollywood- pretending- to- be Sufi ), I made a mental check-list of  some things that make a longish road-trip really  painful, and our’s checked all of these-
No idea of where we were headed.
No idea of how long the road-trip was going to be.
No idea of  why we needed a road-trip.
No idea of whether we  would even ‘like’ our co-travelers (which came  to  mean   4 Indians + 5 Aussies + 1 Brit ).
No idea if our co-travelers would even ‘ like’  us.
No idea of  where we’d stop/eat/ halt/sleep/ film
No idea of …

Basically we had  just climbed into a van and started on The Aussie Road-trip.  And yet, these were the very reasons  this road trip became blog-worthy.

There were times Mahi and G-man missed home terribly ( I am sure it’s only a coincidence that  those times  occurred when the choice in veg fare was a bit lean ), and  there were  times  when we  didn’t really care where we were.  Most  times our lives seemed caught  in a strange limbo, while the others’  had a clear-cut agenda and purpose. We stopped  stop for lunch at a tiny place  one really hot afternoon and whiled away the 20 minutes  until food came,   while Aaron and Chris went into a  discussion with someone on the laptop. They looked more  serious than ever before, we looked  completely relaxed. We could sense the tension, but like always, we asked no questions.
The other day D  told me we should have raised questions if they came to mind, and I started to think why we didn’t.
There was camaraderie and there was a great level of comfort with each other, but there was an  unspoken ‘something’…  hard to say what exactly, that kept questions related to filming  DDR at bay.
Maybe we Indians were reticent to show  an inquisitiveness because we didn’t want to cross the acceptable line in a set up like this, more so because we didn’t know where that began and ended, and  because even though we 4 were so different and diverse, we all could  immediately trust Aaron.  Quite unquestionably.
Most  Indians are intuitive that way- we grow up surrounded by people, extended families, society pressing very closely against our personal lives, and unknowingly we develop antennae which pick  up subtle signals  quite  well. As more and more  of  younger India now   moves into bigger cities and secular (as opposed to ‘joint’ families) family-units,  marries a person of their own choice and opts for only 2 children, the pressures of conforming to centuries of traditional societal demands and a  way of life  gets eliminated almost completely- as does  this  antennae.
 Suddenly experiencing a way of life very alien  to where one is coming from, it is replaced by mistrust, parent/ family (back home)  expectations, peer  pressure and a desperate need to fit in,  because even though the ‘caste- system’  is not obviously  apparent in larger metros,  the ‘class- divide’  is.  Pretty much like in any country, including Australia. It is the degree and the  attitude towards it that is is unique to each country- Most Australians don’t give a s***,  unfortunately almost all  Indians do. 

So I’ve digressed…

Maybe Aaron  and A  were scared to give away anything, and we caught that vibe. Or maybe they weren’t sure what to make of the 4 Indians who  had suddenly become almost  the center of their universe, and they  were a trifle worried about how we’d cope with the hectic, meticulously planned schedule that allowed for no delays and had everyone walking a tight-rope at all times.
With Chris, Luke and Trev, it was different. We would joke a lot among ourselves, ask a lot of stupid, obvious and exploratory  questions, and share thoughts, food and concerns.
Luke and I shared an affinity for healthy breakfast and natural fruit smoothies. I  always bought  breakfast from the deli’s  he did, knowing he would look out for healthy. The smoothie  recipe he shared with me still  keeps me going most 16 hour days.  I want to believe I  helped him keep his  muscled  guns  from  going into a  decline by  letting him  help me with my ‘yellow’  bag…  and thank-you Luke, you are such a gentleman, and not not  for this reason alone.
I was glad for the immersive experiences planned out for us  because going with the Aussies we were practically living with,  I  would have wondered where ‘Dumb, Drunk & Racist’  came from! None of them were either of these. A bit disappointing if I come to think of it,  haha.

 I often  joked with Jon  that we 4 Indians were tied to him with  an  umbilical cord of a materialistic kind. And since he planned to visit India soon,  that he was  an ideal candidate for  an ‘arranged through the matrimonial columns’  groom that parents of  thousands of  Indian men and women of marriageable age subscribe to- he was fair-skinned, tall, educated  and had a red-hued passport, the last one would perhaps, if he was lucky,  make up for the other important  requirement- ‘From a high status family’.  Caste could pose a problem, especially since he was pretty much without any,  but urban India is now  quite accepting of inter-caste alliances. Many advertisements now say- Caste no bar. However, this is still  not true of a large part of India. 

(The other day I asked my daughter if she knew what her caste was, and she said- “Okay give me a hint.”  When I said “You’re not a Brahmin” she smiled and said- “Great, it gives  me a better chance at becoming a Member Parliament  if I ever want to!”)

Unfortunately Jon was only interested in a ‘part-time’ Indian bride, basically only  for the 3 months he planned to visit us in winter. Naturally it was  way too un-Indian for  us Indians  to take it any further!

Marriages in India are still expected to last a life-time, and even though divorce rates in bigger cities are spiraling upwards, there is a stigma attached to  it  in most families. If Jon was to be serious about an Indian bride from anywhere in India except the metro towns,  which is the biggest part of India, he would have to be prepared it would be for keeps! Since families are often completely involved in the process of marriage, they do a lot to protect it from a legal divorce. That the family involvement is often the very reason leading to it  is rarely looked at as a possibility. But this is a generalization.  

Just as we were tiring of   that  interminable road- trip and the less-than -comfortable beds,  the 1st sight of the   home-stay  at Allora  gladdened our slightly- morose  hearts. The drive into the main house made us sit up- graceful curve, green mossy grass and our first look at really huge  steak- on- hoofs.
Once in the house we tried hard not to knock over any of the many artifacts elegantly  strewn around, they all seemed at least a couple of centuries old.  The owners were friendly and hospitable,  pretty much like the property itself.
 Add beautiful, and the picture is complete.

Almost immediately, Amer,  Gurmeet and Joe  disappeared  into the rooms behind the grapes dangling  decadently  off  carved wood supports. An hour  later, while the rest of us waited for them to emerge,  they  were almost impossible to bring back  to life. It’s hard to come away from a soft bed, even to see the  the bull- riders trying to kill themselves.

Mahi, Trev, Luke and I  just had fun kidding around. It was a much deserved  hour long  holiday!
Thought jumping  in my mind- What happened to the Sundays in Australia?  We hadn’t seen any in the past few  weeks!

 Driving the cart  through  the empty spaces in the property  at break- neck speed was  great fun  until  Trev fell  out and rolled  down a bit-  I couldn’t find the break in the confusion, and accelerated, and now Luke jumped  out in fright too.  Had  I had morphed into  one of those  Indians who  can’t drive unless there’s traffic coming out  at us from everywhere?  Were those male-drivers back home who  looked back at me and made faces and who I  dismissed as MCP’s  actually making a good point about my driving skills? Was I responsible for some broken Aussie bones?  Was the answer  to  all  of these questions a resounding yes? It was only when I saw them laughing crazily  at my  petrified expression that I realized this was just  Aussie sense of humor.

This is what we found parked in the back yard while on that  memorable   drive!

I learnt later that the owner had a penchant for doing  aerial  stunts while flying his plane, thanks to which the missus no longer agreed to fly with him- if he was  at the controls. She preferred  the car.

It was the prettiest  runway  I had seen- Green grass and  tiny purple flowers.

The girls’  house was  with a   kitchen attached and washing machine fitted, which suddenly seemed like forgotten  luxury. There’s something about washing machines, especially when you haven’t had the time to access them for  almost ten days- and everybody had something they wanted washed. That night  Chris, Mahi and I dunked in  almost everything we owned,  and smiled happily at the prospect of loads of clean clothes. The smiles vanished quickly at the realization that  the dryer had given  up on us.  Just lovely. Wringing out the clothes, we put them out to dry, and quite naturally, it had to rain that night.
The next day the  Happy Van smelled of   laundry. For some reason  the men had washed their shoes too, so  the back of our van looked a bit like what we call a Dhobi-ghat in India- special spaces for washer-men’  washing  and drying .
Almost everyone in India dries  their clothes in the sun, even if there’s a dryer at home. It just makes more sense with the kind of  bright sun-light we have almost through the year. Also, there is the belief in the curative properties of the sun-rays, and our clothes must get that after each wash. Many of us offer prayers to the sun first thing in the morning, believing that the 1st rays of the sun have healing and restorative power. With doctors prescribing a sun-ray shower early morning to get a daily dose of vit D, our  ancient  sages are in favor once again! 

While the others were sleeping the next morning, I was woken up at dawn  by  my canine friends  from the previous day,  wagging their  tails  excitedly. We had  slept without locking the doors- a truly unique experience for us Indians.
Stepping out to take pictures of  a crow-nest  I had seen the evening before, I happened to meet the estate manager who invited me  to go to the village to fetch newspapers.
We were a great group- manager, 3 big dogs and me. It was a special  personal tour,  including a walk inside the Mary Poppins  cottage, meeting local farmers, and being offered the milkiest tea I have ever tasted out of my  husband’s village. It had the exact same taste- all milk, a hint of tea, and a bucket of sugar. The warmth with which it was offered ensured there was no escape. I  gulped  it down with a smile.

On the way back Mr manager told me he had spent six months in India about 30 years back.
Me- “Work?”
Mr Manager- “No, not really. I had just got married, and was there with my new bride on our honeymoon.”
Me:  “A six  month honeymoon overseas!”
Mr Manager- ” The lady was so worth it.”





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