At first, the helper gazed at us without a blink. I thought he was in the state of mind receiving messages from his higher self; much like a sage who sleeps with his eyes open; a sleep so profound that any question from a visitor could be answered with a silent gaze and a plastered smile. As they say, “You are only a disciple because your eyes are closed”. Since I was the visitor, I prompted him by repeating the question, pointing to the flyer with spiritual curiosity, “Could you get us there?”
He said, “No, we don’t provide cabs,” reclining in his chair, “only room reservations,” reclining further until the chair squeaked like a mouse trapped in rising warmth.
As we thanked him and moved towards the prepaid taxi counter, he interrupted, “But I can help you get there,” and took out a piece of paper and began jotting something before I said ‘please’. I felt bad for him. He really needed something to do and maybe he saw us as a godsend. I got so drawn into the moment when I thought he was drawing amoebas, snakes, trapeziums and a circle dotted with banana peels and toothpicks. All looked together much like a cryptic Pictionary that we needed to solve.
“Do we get a free ride on solving?” I supposed, “Is this what he meant by helping?”
I angled my head like a curious child to align with the perspectives but he had his drawing well concealed with his big fingers that seemed as though I was trying to copy his answers. Then he handed me the paper and said, “This is the Vembanad Lake”, pointing at the amoeba that seemed to have grown a little lumpier in the final draft, “and these are the multiple routes from here”, pointing at the snakes cutting across various sections the lake. He must be a genuinely freestyle artist, I thought; someone who couldn’t care less about maps on smartphones equipped with advanced keypads that sometimes autocorrect ‘functional constitution’ to ‘functional constipation’. To spontaneously pick up a piece of paper and draw directions not with mere lines but as a map with distinct terrain features was definitely the sweetest gesture by someone ever since the newbie cabbie who had forgotten to turn on the meter until halfway to the airport.
Before I wanted to clarify what the trapeziums meant, I figured out by myself they were boats docked near someplace. I again scored some points for myself, figuring out that a stick figure in the diagram represented an actual person.
He said, “He is your helper and point of contact. He’ll be standing on the jetty.”
I looked transfixed for a moment and asked, “But where is the jetty?”
He pointed at the docking place that resembled a mountainous lump. He then pointed at a few arrows drawn from the jetty towards another isolated circle adorned with cones and banana peels parked on toothpicks. Looking at them closely, I could make them out as the resort dotted with array of cottages surrounded by coconut trees. Voila! I was getting better at this. Before I could clarify whether the arrows were water currents, he said, “This is the direction to Coconut Lagoon from the jetty. The helper will assist you to get into a boat. Take a prepaid taxi and get down at the Kavanattinkara jetty.”
We suddenly remembered calling the resort 2 days ago several times on their official and on all the alternative numbers listed on the Internet but no response whatsoever. At one point in time, we had been even speculating whether the resort actually existed. Based on the credibility of TripAdvisor and its user reviews, we believed there couldn’t be so many travelers rooting together for an imaginary resort unless they belong to a fan club that collectively hallucinates. So we asked, “We have a booking already. Nobody picks up the phone at the contact number provided in the confirmation voucher. Do you have a working number?”
He immediately speed-dialed another number and informed the receptionist about our booking and noted down a couple of other numbers on the same paper; surely it looked like he did a number on the stickman in the drawing. I folded the paper meticulously like a Vibhoothi wrap and safely tucked it into my pocket.
The Auto-Upgrade Hypothesis
He asked whether we needed an AC vehicle and we opted for a non-AC one since the weather was alright. He came along with us to the prepaid counter and spoke to the lady there who was rigorously typing as though the computer were going to explode any minute. We discussed between us and told him we’d go for a sedan, probably a Fiesta as it was mentioned in the list of cars along with the rates per km. But all the cars had the same rate, so the chart maker while using the MS Excel had probably done a default drag-down in the Rates column. Once she generated an order and gave me the bill that exceeded 2000 rupees, I asked him whether they had booked an AC car when we particularly opted for a non-AC.
He told, “It is because of the Auto-Upgrade feature in the prepaid booking system.”
“What upgrade?” I asked, muttering under my breath, “Just when I thought good help is hard to find…”
“Small cars come with non-AC but bigger cars come only with AC. The booking system auto-upgrades your request based on the vehicle.”
“Nice of the system to give an upgrade without options but does it give it for free?”
“No, no. But sedans come only with AC.”
When I asked the lady at the counter whether she could cancel this and book us a non-AC sedan, he swiftly jumped into the conversation to clarify with her on a pressing tone, “Sedans don’t come with non-AC right?” as though he silently prayed to her, “Please tell yes!”
She shrugged it off and rebooked an Etios non-AC due to non-availability of a Fiesta. The bill was of course less by 200 rupees. We thanked him for the contact numbers and went out where a controller directed us to a taxi waiting in line for pickup.
“To Kumarakom jetty,” I said, handing over the booking slip to the driver and got in with my partner totally thrilled that we were just 2 hours away from the much acclaimed backwater paradise.