Thursday, April 19, 2007

14th January

Part 1*

Sleeping at odd hours is something that I share with all the fellow web addicts. Waking at odd hours is a talent that I acquired during the documentary film. Waking up at 2:45 am to get down at Dhaman Gaon where the train was to stop for only 2 minutes was the first challenge that Sabiha Ma’am and I had to overcome. The Indian Railway did not surprise us by being 30 minutes late. This gave us ample time to drag our luggage till the door and be on the ‘ready, steady and go’ position to make most of the 2 minutes that the train was to stop for at the station. Before I proceed, I would like to re-instate the fact that I am filmy to the core. And I don’t mean documentary or offbeat films type filmy. I am the Hindi masala movie type filmy.

The station of Dhaman Gaon presented an eerie picture. It was dark. There were a couple of homeless people crouching under thin, worn-out blankets. Somewhere on the platform was a small bulb to provide the only source of light except for the moon that was in full bloom. Even the bulb was ready to give up anytime soon. I actually heard a dog growl. The only thing missing, and I thank God again that it was missing, was a ghost of the stationmaster. The most filmy thing that can happen in a backdrop like this is for two females to lose the way. That is exactly what happened. As is the case mostly, the only person who was ready to answer our query decided to inform us wrongly at that God forsaken hour. Ma’am and I tugged our heavy bags from one end of the station to the other. Finally we figured out the way out of the station. This village was comparatively a big one. There was a bus station to testify the fact. The presence of a bus stop, I soon discovered is the measure of categorizing villages.

We walked to the bus stop that was a stone’s throw away from the station. The scene at the bus stop was my first brush with reality of villages and villagers of India. For years I had written essays describing at length (what I intellectually perceived till then, without any real time experience to back my conviction) that the metropolitans like Delhi are not the real India. Suddenly I could see in realty what the books and the intellectuals all along had said and I had repeated as a wise old parrot.

Sabiha Ma’am and I were clad in what is known as the best garb to travel in (specially when you have been traveling for three days straight!) i.e., jeans and sweat shirt. The freedom to wear clothes of my choice is something I have always taken for granted. I realized this when I saw these old villagers and the chai wala looking at us strangely. They were not eyeing us but just that for the first time in my life I felt that I was inappropriately dressed, specially if one chooses to go by the dictum--- ‘when in Rome do as Romans’. What struck me at first was that despite it being so early in the morning there were people around, not too many, but nevertheless there were enough people to not give the quaint town an eerie feeling!

The Indian villagers are of a different human race altogether. They may have not approved too much of our clothing or the fact that two women were visiting them at that odd hour, but they were respectful and very courteous towards us. We had not felt the need for a cup of tea this early in the morning. I was pleasantly surprised that the Chai wala offered us chairs and was ready to answer all our questions about the local buses or transport that would take us to Yavatmal. A Delhi shopkeeper will not as much as give you change for a 50-rupee note unless you buy something from them. And here was this magnanimous old man who was ready to help us out though he did not entirely approve of us.

The bus stop of Dhaman Gaon was opposite an old home that I am pretty sure will not be there the next time I chance to visit the place. It was dilapidated but the beauty and artistry with which it was made many years ago was still visible in parts. After ma’am saw me staring at the old haveli she told me about a haveli in Lucknow where she had spend some summer vacations as a child and that the arches were peculiar to the Mughal architecture and were called ‘Bara Dari’. She was narrating a prank that she and her cousins played by knocking on all the Dari’s of an old haveli to tease an even older man. Even Sabiha ma’am was a child. I generally presume that the people I have met have been the same age all their lives. Imagining Sabiha ma’am as a prankster kid was fun.

* I told you 14th January was to be a long day. Imagine one blog just explaining the span of 1½ odd hour of the part of morning that many of us have never witnessed i.e., before sunrise. Yes it is referred to as ‘early morning’ rather than the Delhi norm of calling 9 am as early morning!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

13th January

The morning started with the breakfast onboard Rajdhani. We soon were in Mumbai the city of dreams, the point where my documentary film dream was to begin. After calling a lot of contacts that the CEFI Director, Vijay had provided us with, we managed to finally decide upon an itinerary for the documentary shoot. The time for the research being limited there were a lot of times when decisions had to be taken on the basis of circumstances, like we had to cancel the shoot in the Konkan belt because the season of herbal plant collection was over in that region. After mulling over from where to start once we were in Maharashtra, Yavatmal was chosen as the venue to begin the recce.

Yavatmal is a district in eastern Maharashtra. I had previously visited the neighboring districts of Amravati and Bhandara and the city of Nagpur on family trips. But reaching Yavatmal meant that we travel for twelve hours more from Mumbai to Dhaman Gaon.

After reaching Mumbai and making more enquiries we booked train tickets from tatkal counter. Now I cannot express the excitement that I felt during all this because this was the first time I was running around a station carrying my bag and very much aware of the fact that my mom was not around to cover up my blunders. And also pressuring my mind was the fact that I had to prove myself, not only to Sabiha Ma’am, my mom, relatives who had their doubts, cynical classmates but most importantly to myself that I was capable of handling the pressure. I, who had lived life as the delicate darling of the family and friends, was capable of living on the edge.

We were hungry by the time the reservation formalities were done. With food on our mind we went to the main station. Seeing a McDonalds and a Deli outlet our stomachs growled their respective appreciations. The food was disappointing. It was as Sabiha ma’am put it the beginning of the outdoors and its perils. I was sure that she was waiting to see a flinch or a shadow of regret on my face but there was none there, as I was on such a high that I was enjoying the bad meal days as well.

Once onboard the train to Dhaman Gaon in the second class compartment the task at hand was to upgrade the ticket to the Second AC. This meant that one of us had to search the TT and request him to do the honors. Ma’am asked me if I was scared to cross the bogies and find the TT. I call my self ‘railway ki santan’ as my mom is a railway employee and I have traveled in trains since I was a baby. But in all my journeys my mom never let me cross the bogies. Telling ma’am that I had butterflies doing a Shakira dance in my stomach at the mere thought of walking on that unstable and continuously shaking corrugated tin sheet was something that I was not prepared to do. Ego was playing a role you see. I don’t need any bungee jumping or white river rafting to match the adrenaline rush that I enjoyed just crossing that raggedy piece precariously bridging the two bogies of the train. Finally managed to get hold of the TT after adventurously crossing three bogies and the TT uncle very sweetly replied, “beta we will discuss this when I come to your bogie.” Now this answer spoiled all my aspirations of implementing all the skills of convincing (read bribing) the railway official. All the tactics that Sabiha Ma’am had tried drilling into me within 15 minutes were to be reserved for some other time.

Coming back the three bogies was not such a difficult task for me. Infact if at that time someone was to even speculate my being afraid I would have brushed off the matter. At that time I was confident that trapeze is something I should consider. Thank god that all that was momentary. And I have not changed my professional line so drastically. The TT kept his promise and upgraded our seats to the second AC. We followed the same process of calling all the contact people that our CEFI main man Vijay had provided us with and planned our itinerary accordingly. Calling strangers and telling them that we wanted to land at their door in the next two days and then shoot a documentary film was something that would scare most. But not me. Talking. Talking more. And then talking a little more is how all those who know me real well would describe me.

We went of to sleep with the knowledge that the next day was going to be hectic and a long one beginning at a remote village at 3:45 am. With dreams of a real adventure and the first visit to an Indian village occupying my mind I slept on a train berth for the second consecutive day!