Visiting the Queen – 4

I sensed the bus sharply swerving round a petrol bunk when I woke up from my head knocking back and forth upon the glass window.  With a sweaty neck and parched lips I realized I had turned on the exhaust sometime earlier, thanks to the indisputably misdirecting arrows on the AC vent over my head. The attendant understood the restlessness of the craning heads and announced that we had reached Salem for a 30-minute halt. For the first time in my life, I had a bloodrush to instigate a mini stampede within the bus. And in no time, I found myself heading the line into the battered restroom that looked like a clear suspect on first sight. Maybe the others were intelligent enough to see the precedent in me. Upon tripping the yellow signboard that I assumed would be reading, “Caution! Wet floor. Cleaning in progress,” I stepped in like a royal guest. Seconds later, I scrambled out on toes with a silent scream exploding on the inside just to see the signboard, which was in fact reading, “Toilet brokern” – ‘r’ being silent. After a while of futile attempts to find a proper restroom nearby, I realized the universal truth that there is no bigger paradise than the open space where you experience relief of the highest order.

I bought some items to snack on and stood outside watching the crew change tyres, while the fuel tank was refilling. Then, once we took off, I settled down, brushing aside all the mental blocks, having wonderful dreams of how this little trip was going to turn out. Occasionally waking up with bleary eyes, I saw the green fields outside. A spectacular thing to wake up to! Forgoing the sleep, I quickly slid the window open and let the chill breeze ruffle the hair back from my brows that allowed the rays directly strike my forehead. We were then snaking through the curves of Mettupalayam, where one of the passengers, received by her father in arm-baniyan and multicolored lunghi, got down. As we moved towards the foot of the hill, there was an array of bunk shops. The driver parked the vehicle in the queue of buses and lorries halting before the ascent.

The bunk shop vendors invited the regulars with wide smiles and all I could smell was the brewing tea in those large boilers.  And those butter biscuits in glass containers and vadas to be served with hot idlis stacked up in neat columns never fail to catch your attention. I ordered tea while some of the fellow passengers were busy unpacking their brushing kits on the road. Some of them looked very edgy during the process of brushing. They always bent down like they were going to puke and then parked the brush inside.  They brushed like someone had ordered them a high-octane dental overhaul while some of them stood absolutely erect with the brush parked in the mouth, and then steering it like a worn-out coupling rod from an extinct locomotive, gazing cold-bloodedly over the dosa-cook who was sweeping the laying-stone with a coconut broomstick. Oh, sometimes they could just stop to talk through the froth and yet make sense. As I slowly held the glass of tea, got carefully acquainted with its warmth, and gently blew over the white froth on top to take that first invigorating sip, I realized that the hunt for the recipe to the perfect tea in the world ended right there.

I just recalled that Mettupalayam was the boarding point for my return journey since I had planned to take the toy train for the descent. So, I asked the vendor, “Where is Sivaranjani theatre?” as KPN travels had mentioned that as the landmark for the boarding point. For a moment, they all looked at each other and scoffed at me. I thought they suspected me that I was a fan of C-grade movies and that I was in a lifelong hunt for rejoicing the thrill of catching the action in theatres. Then he said, “Saar! That was brought down long back! You didn’t know? By the way, why do you want to know?” and had a good laugh about it with his co-workers. Glad they were having a good time. I then inquired about KPN office in Mettupalayam of which no one, including the bus crew, had a clue. Ignoring the situation that had the potential to add more insult to injury, I got into the bus.

We started for the ascent 10 minutes later. After months of emotional turmoil, and so much of disappointments, frustrations, scuffles that I had to go through before this sudden getaway to Ooty, eventually, I found myself touching the feet of the queen sitting pretty at the top.

To be continued…

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