While I am a lover of road trips, this was not one that I was particularly looking forward to. In the past, my daughter and I had become blissfully used to travelling together, minimal baggage and minimal stress being vital ingredients of this package deal. I was not looking forward to going on a road trip with none other than her father – the man who hated road trips with a vengeance. We had come to a conclusion when our daughter had turned 5. I took my first back packing trip with the little one at that time, and he came back weary from his army duty to find out that we were gallivanting around the hills of Himachal. The unsaid conclusion was this – I would travel and he could not be bothered with our plans. In time, we have all settled down and managed not to fight about the role that travel plays in my life.
Hence, it was with much trepidation that I was getting dressed at an unearthly hour that morning, willing my nerves to calm down. There was a sense of impending doom, dancing over my head and telling me that the fight about my affinity towards travel was about to happen. Yet, I was trying to will myself to also think clearly and positively before the start of the road trip. Would we fight or not? The next 15 hours would be rather crucial.
And 5 am, I was sitting in the hallway, with the little one tucked under my arm – she who is now used to all kinds of red eye flights and crazy hours. We were both waiting for the designated driver to emerge from his shower so that we could get into the car at the designated time which was 5.30 am. Here is another problem that I must share: I tend to get to airports, train stations and bus depots, early. Like “before the check in gates open” early and early enough for the security guards to look at me in shock as they study my ticket. Our designated driver for the road trip, on the other hand, has always displayed a completely differently quality on the few occasions that we had travelled together as newly married people. I have had the abject pleasure of running to the tarmac while an airplane was halted for us, and I have even found myself tearing through throngs of people to catch a train after being diverted to the wrong station in traffic crazy Delhi. Yes, this has been my story, and our history.
Finally at 6 am, his highness appeared and meticulously zipped his suitcase shut. I was shaking my foot, hoping to keep my obvious irritation at bay, when my daughter said, “My, aren’t you both poles apart!” I scowled at her, and she giggled.
Once in the car, I called my friend and neighbour to come and give me the traditional shove. This shove happens in the wee hours of the morning right before all my road trips. I find it quite the lucky charm. She sweetly came downstairs to the parking lot, but refused to touch my backside – she thought she would disrespect our non existent love and love life if she did. Well, I had no time to clear her doubts, so off we went.
As we drove through our internal haze and the hazy early morning blending into the on rushing sunshine, I found that I was sane for quite a while – which is quite a record for us. So I even fostered the odd thought that this might turn out to be quite a peaceful road trip. Then, my thoughts and attention were both captured by the clock on the dashboard and the signs looming ahead of us, mentioning that the nearest Kamath was quite close. Now, these are must try restaurants down south and especially on the Pune Bangalore highway that was hosting us as we made our way from the western ghats to the Nandi Hills. My brain registered the word breakfast and I decided to address the man on my right.
“I think we should stop.”
“Breakfast. There’s a Kamath’s coming up.”
“We’ll stop at the next one. After an hour.”
How do you know there will be one after an hour and not just wilderness? Why do you need to stall and shop for everything from a bathroom break to buying a car? Anyways, I zipped my mouth and decided to uphold the unpleasant silence that had settled over us during this peace treaty. My road trip was now a mission.
An hour later, we stopped at a Kamath’s and ate to our heart’s content. And then, we were off again. The rocky plateaus and hills had now given way to mops of green that showed us the expanse of the plains. And I was in awe as always. I took out my phone to click a few pictures, and I instantly heard the following comment.
“Haha – always clicking selfies, aren’t you? Have to upload on to social media – hashtag road trip!”
Well, the peace treaty stood broken now – to say the very least. And I could safely come out and play, to let this guy know exactly what I thought of him, especially since our on again off again estrangement. I kept quiet and decided to wait for my moment.
It came a while later when he pointed at the road that would take us to Goa. “We are bypassing Goa now,” he said, speeding away a tad bit too fast. He thought I would not notice, but I did. My anger simmered to the surface and I looked back at our daughter and said, “Look darling, we have finally seen Goa. After he promised to take me there someday, 12 years ago.”
He gave a look that was supposed to silence me, but did quite the opposite. So I continued.
“Oh, wait – we don’t need Goa. We have his ancestral village where we plonk ourselves so that I remain in the kitchen and he watches dish TV. That’s what our holidays together have been all about.”
Now, I may as well have been speaking to a dead tree because this guy thinks the concept of taking trips, seeing new places and exploring as a family is a highly overrated and highly stupid one that we have stupidly borrowed from the west. So, my anger just spilt over.
“And as you can see sweetheart, your father is now finally showing us Goa! The land we have been dreaming of – the land we will actually set foot on, alone. Someday. Just me and you. Not him – because even Goa is too expensive for the property buying tycoon here.”
At this, he smirked and at the same time, the FM radio sputtered. The connection to normal radio stations was stalled, and I could hear the distinct chatter of some local noise. So I said, “Oh, the Gods are punishing us for not going to Goa now, is it?”
Laughter filled the car. And we drove on.
After a while, I reclined the seat and watched as the clouds swirled by. It had rained in nearby Bangalore, I could tell once we entered Karnataka. The darkened edges of the huge clouds loomed particularly close, and I was fascinated.
“Wow,” I said, “It almost feels like I can lasso one of those and pull them down.”
At this, my road trip partner frowned and said, “Do you not know what clouds these are? Have you not studied this in school?”
I sighed and let it go. 12 years of ego satiation – that’s what he had wrecked upon me to feel better about himself. What would these 12 hours change?
In a while, I found myself nodding off, sleep overtaking my senses in that typical way when you are travelling – not quite there, but still slightly rested and lulled. Suddenly, the car seemed to veer to a side and my eyes flew open. I sat up and adjusted the travel pillow around my neck. He slowed down and blinked several times as I hit him on his arm and said, “Hey, what are you up to?”
“Sorry,” he mumbled, “I think I fell off to sleep.”
“Well, then take a break. We could have broken this journey into two trips in any case. I don’t know why you insisted on doing it in one day.”
“I don’t need to stop – just berate me some more and I will wake up.”
“Are you out of your mind? I am aghast that you have the audacity to treat me this way…”
“Thanks – that will do for the next 20 minutes. Will wake you up again.”
I clamped my mouth shut and decided to sleep. He went right back to humming some tunes as he drove.
After a while, the road trip began to get more interesting as the young one was now awake and taking it all in. There is a gentle charm in watching the world go by, through the eyes of a child. Which is why she is my best travel buddy. Ever.
“What do those windmills do, Papa?” She asked, pointing at a wind farm.
“Well,” he said, “They generate electricity.”
“No,” I countered immediately and he looked at me momentarily in surprise. I continued as he glued his eyes back to the road, “They are generators of the energy that propels and activates appliances.”
He grinned and said, “I know what you are doing.”
“I’m sure you do,” I said testily, “Considering how well you do it each time I open my mouth, especially in public.”
“Oh God,” groaned the daughter from the rear seat, “There you both go again.” She pulled her blanket up over herself again and decided to go back to sleep.
“Hey, come on,” I said, cajoling her to give us and the road trip another chance, “Wake up – let’s do something.”
She sat up and said, “Well okay, I’m hungry. I’ll just look into the food bag to find a snack.” She put her hand in and then said, “Mom, why are we carrying a knife?”
“What?” I asked as I turned my head. There it was, my red knife from my kitchen knife block.
He said, “Oh, I carried that for the mangoes.”
“You were going to eat mangoes and make a mess – while on the go? Could you not wait until we got to Bangalore? And why did you bring my knife? I am coming back by flight – I cannot carry this! My set is spoilt!!”
He put his hand over his mouth and then said, “Oh hell, I never thought of that.”
To which I answered, “Let me see who is going to ingest any mangoes for the next 24 hours!”
More laughter happened.
As a pleasant departure from his usual stance, we stopped for lunch, risking a half hour delay in his pre determined schedule. And we did not even have to hang out of the window screaming for help – he stopped on his own! Okay, not really on his own. He almost stopped at 3 restaurants and he decided to drive a little further to look for a better place. I had to threaten to unwrap the cake we were carrying, in his precious car. He stopped immediately. At a Kamath’s! We ate and then continued on our way.
Finally, it was time to align the Bluetooth Gods and beseech them to accept one of our phones so that we could play some music. I remembered that lone road trip where the three of us had sung songs in the middle of nowhere when the radio connectivity had disappeared. A time when I probably had a little more patience and tolerance than I did now. I wanted to remind him of that trip, but I bit my tongue. Then, I thought – oh why the hell not. I asked him about the incident and in his characteristic way, he said, “Nope – no memory of that.”
But our daughter was intrigued to know that we had actually ever had such a good time together. She began asking questions and my writer’s memory came back to tickle me and haunt me in equal measure as I retold many an incident that may have fooled me into thinking that we could indeed face our incompatibility and make it to the finish line as a married couple.
By this time, his mood was dark. I could tell by the vibes he was radiating through his silence. His body language had changed and the humming had stopped. He was now serious and ready to snap. Instead of watching my step, I put on the music. For a change, I was about to control the tracks and I played all those old black and white songs I used to listen to with my parents on our road trips. I told our daughter about my childhood – things that he had never bothered to find out. And his mood darkened even more. Situations like these, especially when I was getting to choose the music, would make him feel like he was just my chauffeur. Because he could not possibly participate in something that I had chosen. He was just wired like that, I had come to realise a long time ago. All of my weekend suggestions would be met with a “no – I want to stay in,” only to get dressed a few hours later to proceed to someplace of his choosing. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
It was dark now and we were nearing Bangalore. I was irritated that he was irritated and we were both selfish enough to start fighting about it in front of our daughter. I accused him of taking a wrong turn and he asked me to shut my mouth. It was all downhill from there.
We finally reached Bangalore. Home where my brother was. As we settled in, we fell into the now familiar act of being a couple. I quietly let him ask me to hush when I would participate in a conversation, and I smiled back when he asked me about the songs I was playing the car. One could not imagine what a storm we had been through in the last 15 hours, or in the last 12 years.
The next day, my daughter and I stood waving goodbye. At least she was. Her father was now leaving for Ooty where he was stationed. And this road trip would be made alone. This was our last road trip together. After a few months, he would return to file the divorce papers and get his “life sorted” as he likes to call it. He did not even look at me or say goodbye. And I was angry that I was still expecting him to.
I held on to my daughter’s shoulder, knowing that the tremor in her little body was from the knowledge of what lay ahead for her and me. And I could nothing to stop the car we had sat in the day before, as it pulled away out of sight, his arm extended to wave as he drove away – no doubt in tears that we could not see.
In the night I sent him a message, “Happy now?”
The text above is a work of fiction. This chapter is from the upcoming book by And All Publishing – Dreams of the Morrow.