The next 45 minutes passed away as ma’am and I shared our small town holiday experiences. The locals (those who had already begun their day at 3:30 in the morning) advised us to take a Jeep, Trax or Sumo if these were to come before the local state transport bus. Heeding their advice we opted for the first Sumo that honked its way to the bus stop. The early morning laziness seemed to vanish from the idyllic villagers the moment they saw the Sumo. All the seats were occupied before Ma’am and I could say ‘Good morning”. The backside of the Sumo was stacked with newspapers that I presume were to be taken to the interiors for the morning ritual to begin. The driver said “ Maadamji, bassoon za. Adjust karne ko maangta. Main aapko chorr deta na.” (Translated it means, “ Madam accommodate yourself, you need to adjust a little but I promise I’ll drop you at the correct place.”)
With our luggage on our laps, Ma’am and I adjusted on the sides of the voluminous stack of newspapers. It was not that bad. This was the adventure I was seeking and I had no doubt I was going to enjoy it to the fullest. The commotion that had stirred up when the sumo had arrived had begun to die down as all the passengers settled in. The driver ceremoniously took his seat. The helper shouted something in a dialect of Marathi that I was unable to comprehend. As the driver put the Sumo into gear we all settled-in hoping to catch some sleep during the 1 hour 45 minutes of the journey till Yavatmal. The driver though believed in the dictum, ‘if I ain’t sleeping, no one else is sleeping either.’ He popped in a cassette of Marathi bhajans praising a neighborhood goddess, Renuka. Bhajan early in the morning is a thing that I would usually not mind, but the sheer volume of songs made me want to actually walk the whole distance rather than be in that Sumo. All my dreams of a quiet village had suddenly gone haywire. Sabiha Ma’am and I continued to chat over the blaring music. The Bhajans were not original compositions sung as an ode to the goddess; they were bhajans that were written on filmy tunes. The one tune I remember distinctly is ‘Babujee zara dheere chalo’, so instead of invoking a feeling of respect for the regional Goddess, the bhajan actually had me visualize Yana Gupta gyrating on the tunes. This is not a mental image that a cold-blooded straight woman would want to see early in the morning. Anyway, the Sumo ride was swift. The Bhajans though excruciating in the beginning later added a sort of rhythm to the whole journey through the forested tract.
Mr. Shailesh Pisalkar was to be our local contact in Yavatmal. He had booked a twin bed room for us at Mai International hotel. This was again a first for me. I had never before stayed in a hotel except on school trips. The hotel was clean and the bed was the only thing that mattered. We kept out luggage, took-off our shoes, asked the bellboy to wake us up at 6:30 am and slept. Shailesh Pisalkar was true to his word. He was at the hotel at 7:00 am sharp. At this point, it is imperative that I appreciate the speed with which Ma’am and I had our bath and were on the breakfast table having bread and omelets with the coffee that was not strong enough and was way too sweet for our urban taste-buds.
The encounter with Shailesh Pisalkar brought home the reality of the saying that Sabiha ma’am had repeated many times during our class and she had received headstrong opposition from the girls and easy agreements from the guys. She often said, “it is a man’s world.’ Living in Delhi, where I pretty much do what I want this dictum made no sense. But when Shailesh asked me with as much politeness that he could master that I should take a dupatta over my kurta, I was aghast. My urban mind refuted the idea that the dress code made any difference. Another worry also plagued my mind; I had brought only jeans and kurtas for the whole of 17 days. This I had decided was to be my look for the documentary shoot. This was modest, conservative and comfortable. I had not a single duppata with me. After all wasn’t this the official attire for the documentary filmmakers I was asking myself while still coming to terms with the fact that a man I had known for 5 minutes was asking me to dress properly.
Shailesh left us to arrange for a Sumo for the recce. Ma’am said that we would stop over a local shop and buy a duppata for me before we venture out in the villages. My mind still numb with the shock of being asked to dress properly, that when I had put so much of thought on my wardrobe.