Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 54
Dec 05 was our wedding anniversary.
For people of my vintage, parties are few and far between, particularly those celebrating important watershed moments like birthdays and anniversaries. It is up to the children to set up some kind of celebration. And they did. The two daughters and the son-in-law got together, brought in a cake that was ceremonially cut by my wife and her “bitter” half, after which we got down to the serious business of drinking. Hampers full of munchies were ordered and the party comprising the family was on in full swing. And it carried on till it became time for me to leave for Varanasi to restart A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES.
Don’t get me wrong. Whenever I am embarking on a journey, I make it a point not to drink. But this time I had a driver. And the vehicle. Together, they comprised the road support team. The driver came in a little before midnight and I asked him to catch some shut eye to be fresh for the long drive ahead. The plan was to leave around three in the morning, thus beating the day time traffic, which we did.
The roads from Delhi to Varanasi is pretty good, particularly the first half when one is driving on the spanking new Expressway.
The Expressway goes from Delhi to Agra, and a second one from Agra to Lucknow. However, after reaching Agra via the Expressway, we veered off toward Kanpur and then to Allahabad. I wanted to meet up with Col Sandhu of the Ganga Task Force and he offered lunch.
The journey was brilliant till we hit the outskirts of Allahabad. Roads were being constructed, and the traffic was horrendous. About twenty kilometres took us more than two hours. Then we hit the city and the traffic became even worse, if that was even possible. We were barely inching along. Traffic of all kinds was everywhere. Cars, buses, trucks, cycles, rickshaws, hand carts, bicycles, pedestrians, accompanied by broken roads, some part of which were being paved and reconstructed.
A couple of kilometres short of my destination at the Ganga Task Force Mess, we found ourselves stuck behind a truck. The driver had obviously broken some rule of the other, since a dozen or so policemen were trying to get it to stop and pull over. The truck driver was having nothing of it and continued inching forward. I wonder what made him think he could get away without stopping, given the condition of the traffic gridlock.
Anyway, we stayed behind the truck, since we did not have any option. Soon enough, at a traffic light, a policeman on a motorcycle managed to get ahead ot the truck and forced him to stop. We were still behind and did not realise the reason for the delay. Another cop signalled us to overtake the truck from the left, which we did gingerly since a million vehicles were doing the same thing. We just managed to inch ahead of the truck, we were on its left side. A policeman boarded the truck and was possibly forcing the truck driver to pull over to the side.
Now that he had been finally stopped, with a cop on board, he did not have a choice, and regardless of traffic started moving forward. And guess what?
My poor old vehicle was right its path as the trucker started moving forward and bam ... there was a screeching, grating sound as the front of the truck made contact with the car.
Right in the middle of a traffic intersection, in a place that was notoriously crowded in the first place.
This happened right in front of a police station, and there were more than a dozen police all around. Thankfully, the truck was pulled over and the driver secured. My vehicle too pulled over to the side, leaving a few parts strewn on the road behind us, and a major dent in the rear right panel.
I could smell the booze on the driver’s breath from many feet away. He was taken to the police station, accompanied by a silent me, my driver left behind looking over the damage to the car, and to guard against possible theft.
The next hour was spent in filing a complaint. This had to be done in Hind, not my strong point by any stretch of the imagination, a friendly fellow complainant was summoned who wrote out the complaint as dictated by the cop in charge. The truck driver was taken away for a medical examination, I got a copy of my complaint, the police promised all help and support to ensure that the book was thrown at the perpetrator.
There was little else I could do, but proceed to lunch with Col Sandhu. I handed him a copy of the complaint, requesting him to follow up for a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) the next day.
Lunch over, the next part of the journey was a hundred odd kilometre drive to Varanasi, that ended up taking upwards of three hours, due to traffic congestion, and the road conditions.
We hit Varanasi after sunset. I needed an inexpensive place to stay, and from experience, these places are usually located next to the railway station. However, the road to the railway station was under repair and there was no way I could reach. I decided to move further down the road for a few more kilometres to Sarnath to look for a place to stay there. Which I did find, more expensive than what I would like, but still in three figures.
In the meanwhile, at Allahabad, the owner of the truck was summoned to the police station. He kept calling me to apologise and offered to reimburse the repair costs. He was ready to transfer Rs 15,000 immediately, hoping that would be enough. Cost of repairs of modern vehicles are expensive, and I told him that I would get an estimate from the Authorised Service Centre tomorrow, before he sent me any money. Why would he pay me more than what might be the repair costs. Conversely, why should I have to go out of pocket for no fault of mine? He kept calling me every few minutes with the same offer, and I kept telling him to wait till tomorrow afternoon when I could give him a near exact figure of the repairs.
I reached the Service Centre around noon, got someone to take a look at the damage, and give me a tentative estimate. The figure he came up with was around Rs 60,000.
There was no way the truck owner was paying me that kind of money. He was still sticking to Rs 15,000. This was turning into a pickle.
But I still had insurance and that should cover the repair costs. I dove into the glove compartment, brought out the papers and to my dismay found that the insurance had expired two days ago. THIS ACCIDENT WILL NOT BE COVERED. The pickle I found myself in became even spicier. The agent who take scare of mundane things like renewal of insurance policies, was not keeping good health, and had forgotten about this minor task in his To-Do List.
Moreover, yesterday afternoon, the driver of someone else he might have been yapping with during lunch at Allahabad, had been tinkering around with the music system and the settings had gone haywire. I spent more than a couple of hours to reset it, in vain. Fortunately, the Service Centre guys got it back to the way I wanted it. My mind was taking somersaults with all these uncalled for things that were happening.
I had a couple of options ahead of me.
The first and obvious option was to get the vehicle repair in Varanasi itself and then proceed on the expedition. A look at the damages showed me that I did not need to change all the parts as the Service Centre person was suggesting, but a visit to a friendly mechanic who conducts denting jobs would be able to get the vehicle back in shape, at a much lower cost. Additionally, I would need to get a new insurance policy after the denting and painting was completed. All this would likely take four or five days, meaning additional costs for stay and food and local travel. Also, my tickets were booked from Patna to Delhi for the fifteenth, eight days away. If I stayed on in Varanasi, I would then have to drive to Patna to fly back to Delhi, without doing any paddling at all. And then fly back to Patna, drive back to Varanasi to start the expedition. Very, very complicated
This brought me to the second option. Come back to Delhi, get everything that needed to be done, repairs, insurance, etc, drive back to Varanasi to get back on the water.
Which is what I did. From the Service Station, I drove back to the hotel, packed the bags, and started the drive back to Delhi. The first couple of hundred kilometres were frustrating. Lots of traffic, no highways, multiple cities and towns, before I reached Lucknow and hit the Expressway. All the way from Lucknow to Delhi, about five hundred kilometres was completed in under five hours, while the first three hundred and fifty kilometres took about seven hours. When I rang the doorbell in Delhi, the Sun was just getting out of bed, and I imagined a faint orange glow in the Eastern sky. It was a little after four in the morning.
A few hours sleep later, I unloaded the car and promptly went over to KJ Anthony, my trusted mechanics. Christopher took a look at the damage and promised a full recovery in about four days, at less than Rs 15,000.
The amount that I had settled with the truck owner would cover the repair costs, without me spending any additional money. However, my loss was the travel to Varanasi and back, the stay and food, tools of more than Rs 2,000, and the cancellation charges of the flight from and to Patna, with no refund. I was down about Rs 25,000.
I have talked about having to be back in Delhi on Dec 16. Actually, there is an organisation that wants to award/reward me for my efforts on the Ganges. I was supposed to paddle from Varanasi to Patna, fly to Delhi from Patna on Dec 15 and be back in Patna on Dev 17 to resume the expedition. With the current situation, the earliest I can restart the expedition is Dec 18 from Varanasi. However, there is a marriage in the family on the Dec 23, and it will not be nice if I do not stay for that.
Therefore, the current decision is to get the vehicle repaired, take a new insurance policy, attend the wedding, and drive to Varanasi on the morning of Dec 25 to get back on the water Dec 27.
I can start Dec 26, but I guess the drive to Varanasi will make me tired enough not to be able to paddle the forty odd kilometres the next day.
Am I stubborn as a mule or stupid as an oaf?
I have not been able to answer this question. I guess, a bit of both. I will not be taken to the gallows if I abort the expedition, far from it. But, I need to, want to, have to finish the expedition. Just to prove to myself that I can do it, and I do my damnedest to finish something that I passionate about. I am happy to be called stubborn or stupid. I just like to call myself passionate. Do you agree?