I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
I am sipping black tea with a tinge of sugar (just decoction, as they called it), sitting on the stone bench in front of a small shop selling groceries in a village called Devi Gere. I have just finished my bottle of chilled Thums Up. I am surrounded by men, one of who brandishes a sickle. And… I feel perfectly safe.
Conversation flows loud. The man with the sickle is quite the character, greeted with amusement by all. “Women should behave like women,” he says with vituperation, evoking shouts of laughter from the men gathered. “I go to Kengeri, and she is there with her mouth full of betel nut, shouting “Evrre! No dignity!”. More hoots of laughter. I sip my tea, smiling with them at the old man’s antics. “He is a character,” I whisper to my friend, as we watch his histrionics.
The Bangalore sun woke up with a flu today with clouds promising a respite from a heat we are not used to. But it is now making up for lost time, scorching the noon with its heat. My car waits in the sun, patiently. It is ready for the next road, the next lane, the next village on a day, which was never meant to be an adventure, but somehow turned itself into life’s own surprise.
I had set out in the morning to take my guest of the day to Pyramid Valley, a meditation center on Kanakpura Road. I love going to this center with a serene lake in the center. But as we turned right from my apartment complex, we came across a traffic snail jam from hell. Ongoing construction work has made the road a narrow constricted artery that is choking its way to a heart attack. I turn back quickly. Sunday is not a day to be spent clogging up roadspace. “Do you want to see the Art of Living Center?” I ask in desperation. But Sri Sri Ravishankar also didn’t appear to be our Sunday kind of guy. So, we chose to get lost in the right direction.
I take a turn off the highway to a road I had never been on. We pass through beautiful fields, shimmering in the sun. Farm after farm pass us by as I crawl along. Resorts I had never heard of crop up. We gaze in wonder at an old, abandoned farmhouse that seems too forlorn in its loneliness. A signpost says “Vaderahalli 1.50km.” So let us go to Vaderahalli, we decide. That seemed like as good a destination as any when you have no fixed road and no fixed plans. Life just frees you up then. I crawl along, taking in the countryside. “I live just a few kilometers from all this?” I think in wonder.
Vaderahalli comes into view on a gentle curve. I slow down, taking in the inevitable banyan tree that often heralds a village.
“Can you help?” pleads a voice from outside. I turn around to see three women with a boy of around eight years. “He is not well, has a high fever, we are taking him to the clinic.” Could we give them a drop? Of course, we could! “Where is the clinic?” we ask. “Just ahead,” they say. I drive for a kilometer. Then another. Where could this clinic be? That’s when it dawns on me. These women were going to WALK all this distance. My odometer shows 4km by the time I pull up in front of the clinic in Thataguni. The women thank us profusely. The mother of the child who is unwell beams at us, a radiant smile not creased from worry. “Get well soon” I whisper in my head, as they walk away. More than 4km to reach a clinic. Yet they smile. People ask me why I travel. Should I give more reasons than this?
The road leads on. Past BGS Residential School, gleaming white in the distance. Past more fields of grain and more fields of nothingness. Jackfruit trees, heavy with fruit, wink as we drive by. Mango trees compete for attention. The road meanders on, caring not for Nature’s bystanders. And then we meet the man with the sickle and the men who give us vignettes of rural life.
I sip my tea as the villagers at the shop shoo away the man with the sickle away. We plie them with questions and they answer with good cheer. “You should shop on Amazon,” advises Nanjundappa who has come by on his TVS XL moped, as general advice to the motley gathering. The shopkeeper disagrees. The women of his house go to Majestic or Malleshwaram, if need be, to buy clothes. “But even that is unnecessary as almost everything comes by on a cart here,” he says. This is better than online shopping, I think. Here, the shop comes to you! Do they watch movies in a mall? They snort. “No time for all that,” they say.
There is only time to go to KR Market to pick up provisions and back. Who needs to go and watch a movie when you have TV? they ask. The subject veers to farming. Some of the farmers here grow silk, selling it for Rs 450 a kilogram in Ramanagaram. Ragi and corn are their main crops. And then they become travel advisors.
“Go to the Big Banyan tree,” they urge. “See as much as you can.” Those words stay in my head as I drive past them to see, for the third time, Bangalore’s biggest tree. It has been more than four years since I last came here, but nothing seems to have changed. But wait. The main trunk is no longer there, the victim of disease. The monkeys are there still, though. The vendors outside selling sugarcane juice and spicy mango are still there. The sense of comfort we gain when something from the past appears in our present. It makes me wonder if nostalgia is just wistfulness for what was or remorse for the change that led to the present.
We make the way back more winding roads with a now-fiery sun. I pick up a plant at a farm on the way, hoping and praying that I don’t live up to my own self-inflicted-reputation as a plant murderer.
The lavender flowers smile at me as I lay the pot in a corner in my living room, a grin that says perhaps, today, you lived. Did you see as much as you could today?