Saturday, January 03, 2009

TFN nights: Chinna, chinna asai

It's true the Tour of Nilgiris is all about cycling, but the story's incomplete without the after-hours. On a good riding day, the evening was always effervescent.

The first one in Mysore was understandably low key, just a rest stop. By the second day, in Mercara, everyone was ready for more. That afternoon and early evening were filled with easy conversation, mostly post-mortems and story-swapping of the day's experiences. Later, it was cold enough to have a bonfire, which always helps. Though it was early to bed (we were in the middle of a sporting event, after all), and it was only a small group that remained after dinner, there was time enough for a little music and a ghost story or two. Avinash produced a flute, Vasu, Satish and our good doctor revealed singing talent in addition to the many other sterling qualities we'd already seen, and a brief power cut brought out the most brilliant stars I've seen since my camping times in Oman.

The next day was difficult, Sultan Bathery was unprepossessing and the night equally solitary and troubled. But the morning dawned bright and promising, the ride to Ooty more than made up for the previous day's shortcomings. That night was the fourth one; by then everyone had more or les found their level, made at least acquaintances so the group round the campfire was a gathering of comrades. There was much music, the volume was high and when the fire died down, the cold drove everyone in, so they crowded into the "girls' room" to continue into the small hours. I was tired and sleepy (and can sleep through an earthquake if need be) but Avinash is a rollicking storyteller with a beguiling ability to laugh at himself, so not listening was not an option.

The fifth night saw it turn into a group of friends, the entertainment enlivened further by dragging people forward to sing songs in their native languages (Kerala was conspicuously absent for once, since the two representatives that might have contributed were not present and the two that were present were not quite qualified to do so). An unexpected bonus was the Swiss farming song from George and it set me thinking that my discomfort on his behalf when we were singing Hindi songs was uncalled for – he probably didn't feel left out at all because there were so many degrees of fluency present in the room that translation was constantly being demanded by someone or the other. It was one of those times that made you sentimental about the diversity of the country and what it could be like in an ideal world.

There were two flutes that night, Murali having produced one that morning and entrusted it to my reluctant care (foster-parenting the delicate musical instrument of a serious musician is a lot of responsibility). Diksha turned out to be one hell of a singer as well, so the overall quality of the group singing was higher than is usual in the circumstances and it mercifully never had to come down to Antakshari. A formidable amount of talent was displayed that evening, but for me the most memorable part was Sourabh's own composition. Both words and music were his own, a sweet, lilting song about not being able to bring himself to tell someone he likes her, a sentiment with which every listening mind could quietly empathise.

(Epiphany: I need a thing, an act that I can trot out and hide behind. Not being able to do anything and being too awkward to attempt something impromptu makes one far more conspicuous than if one did anything stupid.)

The last evening in Mysore was prolonged a little, everyone aware of its finality. A little bit of amateur fortune-telling, a lot of laughter, a pleasing sense of schoolgirl truancy in breaking the Youth Hostel curfew, some sharing of pleasures, a few uncertain steps towards new friendships, perhaps.

The warm TFN nights fortified the relationships shaped by cycling or working together in the day, like clay in a kiln.

Chinna Chinna Asai, Roja, 1992


Subbu Allamaraju said...

Thanks for an excellent series of posts. I did not take biking seriously while I was in India, and having done a few tours in US, your posts are making me consider riding next year's TFN.

Thanks Again.

neuromancer said...

I simply love your writing style. Thanks a ton for capturing our moments in such beautifully sculpted text.

abhishek said...

really nice article. I am a member of the Gurgaon cycling club viz bikes on roads and really envy the great Nilgiri trip enjoyed by you people. Will try to join the TFN next time.

Srikanth said...

It was great tour wasnt it ?Met some very interesting people and was fun seeing you getting involved so much into our bikers world.
nice write ups and style there.
Do you know there is a famous bike model called "Epiphany" from Ellsworth bikes.
Did you get inspired from there- here? :)

Anonymous said...

I still dont understand why you did not borrow a bike and run up to the Pykara Hill or the Dodepetta, it would have been the experience of your life. But of course there is always a next time.

I would love to go up there again, and also from Dodepetta to Kotagiri then to Coonoor, by a road least travelled, by humans for fear of wild life !
( where I first sat in the driving seat of a jeep and promptly hit a "wild" horse travelling in the reverse direction, who like some of the new generation drivers probably did not know it had to keep to the left ! ) to Metupalayam , and over Bhavani Dam somewhere there through the forrest to a small clearing (400 Acres) about 20Kmts away, made for the local trbes, growing sugarcane and banana for their livelyhood, infested with elephants, ( and later with People like the Brigand Veerappan ), where I was welcomed with a dinner of live boar
( cooked), wild fowl and Corn on the cobs, slept in a hut, woken up at midnight to chase away wild elephants destroying their sugarcane crops, with crackers and gun shots in the air.! ( I remember , that was the night when the local drunk was plastered to the forrest soil by a lonely Elephant, Next morning a group of us went to scoop him up into a bucket and gave him a decent burial ! )
Ha, I love those days. I wish I could go back there and spend my remaining life with those innocent tribals, i.e if the poachers have left any thing behind ! achan

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