Is that THE Sonia Gandhi?

So last week’s post ended with a whole bus-load of intrepid travellers in mortal danger on the winding mountain roads of Munnar. We arrived fairly safely, however, and the next morning, set out to explore the splendidly-named Tata Tea Museum and Plantation (about 30 of us were piled into a military convoy of three Jeeps!) and then to take a quick elephant ride; the handlers, who I suspect may have been slightly mad, were wriggling around and dancing the entire time, occasionally pausing to play Indian music straight into the elephants’ enormous ears via some speakers and an MP3 player!

Due to some maladministration by the hotel – who’d have thought it? – there was a slight shortage of rooms booked for our group, so we spent a pleasant and fairly amusing hour rearranging furniture, taking tables and chairs out into corridors, finding space for extra mattresses, turning huge double beds on their side etc. to accommodate everyone. Slightly less accommodating was the rather counterintuitive sign, “Hot water only in tape. Do not put waste down the toilet.”

Bus-station blues

I’ve gradually been discovering that if you want to get anywhere in India, you have to be outrageously rude, but I was just unprepared for the scenes of utter bedlam at Theni bus-station as locals of all ages and genders clawed desperately at each other’s luggage, clothing and personages to fight their way into seats. Without letting those of us who were leaving to get off first, of course. I personally gave one particularly obnoxious woman with particularly sharp elbows a scolding, and she stood to the side rather abashed. I was quite pleased with myself.

Catching a connecting bus to Madurai was more or less impossible; there was hanging-off-the-side room only, and while that can be quite exhilarating, it’s not ideal for an hour and a half’s journey. But our saviour Victor from Projects Abroad went off for twenty minutes (for some unclear reason taking my mobile with his SIM-card in it with him…) and returned with a large minibus, which drove us back to town in relative comfort. And was still cheaper than a short bus journey in London.

Gordon Ramsey’s Cochin Nightmare

Every Tuesday evening, all the volunteers have dinner together at one of Madurai’s rooftop restaurants. It’s usually the Park Plaza, but because the service there is pretty ropey, we decided to defect to the Residency this week. The Residency was far, far worse.

After waiting fifteen minutes for a Sprite (about half the people had been served drinks, in no particular order, by this point) we took it in turns nagging the waiters from a sedentary position, and then it was my go to get up and threaten the Head Waiter that if he didn’t provide the drinks within the next five minutes, we weren’t paying. We got them in three. The problem is that just being firm doesn’t work, because it requires a knowledge of the English language slightly better than restaurant staff have; you can only convey displeasure by raising your voice. Which isn’t quite as therapeutic as it might sound.

It took more than an hour and a half to get served our food. After about an hour, we tried complaining to a waiter, and got a nod and a nice smile for our troubles. Finally, when waiting more than forty minutes for the bill began to pall rather, we went over and formed a line at the cash-desk. The cashier eventually got round to doing his job, and when it was my turn to cough up, he claimed that I couldn’t pay my 199-Rupee balance with 200 Rupees because there wasn’t enough change. I asked if that meant I didn’t have to pay for dinner at all. Then he somehow found a 1 Rupee coin from somewhere. Strange that.

I don’t think we’ll go there again.

Ridin’ the rickshaw

Our rickshaw ride home from the Residency marked a new low. I somehow ended up sitting next to the (visibly drunk) driver and clinging on for dear life, while he talked such utter drivel as I’ve seldom heard before. He started off by informing me, “I am a small businessman. Small,” helpfully removing his hands from the wheel to mime the word ‘small’.

Next, he raised a finger, clicked, called out, “Hello!” and generally silenced the conversation m’colleagues were having in the back, because he wanted an audience for the following announcement: “I have friend in England, name Sonia Gandhi.” He repeated this until I nodded understandingly.

When we finally got out (and I was thankful for my limbs, since he had been going at a ludicrous speed down the wrong side of the road for a not insignificant portion of the journey) he confided to me, “Your friends… talking too much. Too much talk.” Shaking his head reprovingly, he sped away. Thank goodness for that.

Time for a competition

As must surely be obvious by this point, India takes an incredibly weak position on road safety. Some of their campaigning gems include the following:

  • Don’t drink and drive while driving
  • Avoid drunken driving
  • Avoid using your cellphone while driving
  • [Picture of four people on a one-person motorbike: big cross. Picture of two people on a one-person motorbike: big tick!]

This week’s challenge is to comment and suggest other equally watered-down rules for life in general, such as, “Do try not to rob banks,” and, “Make an effort to pay for your own moat-cleaning insofar as you’re reasonably able.”

One Response to Is that THE Sonia Gandhi?

  1. Sandra Webber says:

    This week’s challenge:

    You could re-work the 10 Commandments in mild form e.g. “Murder is against the advice of the Authorities” and “Stealing can have disadvantageous consequences”.

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