Ah! Then yours wasn’t a really good school. Now at ours they had at the end of the bill- French, music,
(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.
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.
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.
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.”