Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Gifts money can't buy

Birthdays have always been special, all these years.   Even this year.

The plan was to go to Kochi, where J is, and spend a week there, to celebrate my birthday with him.  And I thought to myself, yeah, I can do with some pampering.  After the hectic theater rehearsals and an awesome show day where we did 2 shows within few hours, I definitely needed to rest awhile and let my hair down.  Luckily, my work permits me to work from wherever there is network connectivity, and all official approvals in place, was ready to enjoy the devilish monsoon of Kerala.  As a Madrasi, Its been a long while since I even heard the pitter-patter of a feeble rain.

That’s when all plans went topsy-turvy.  

Mom took ill and we had to put her through an Endoscopy which led to an biopsy, for which we are still awaiting results, with our fingers crossed.  Don’t ask me how worried we are.  I am tired of putting up a brave face in front of my parents and my younger siblings. And sometimes people just assume you are the strongest, while you know you are the weakest of all.  And the problem with showing up as a strong person is that, no one even wonders if you are okay. 

The first thing I did was to bring my parent’s to my home, and made them stay with me.  Though reluctant initially, they budged.

J immediately made plans to come to Chennai, during the weekend and stay on with me on my birthday, 18th June, which fell on a Monday.  I can’t believe he took off on my birthday – he has hectic schedules, is such a workaholic and still chose to take off. He had traveled even the last week to watch our performance.  Oh yes, he helped me calm down and he is quite a strength when around.   One of my best birthday gifts this year.

The same week when mom took ill, my best friend and soulmate was travelling on a holiday and though I wanted to pour my heart out, I refrained from doing so, lest I would spoil the family vacation with my problems.  So, I was trying to sound normal, cheerful, and took care not to let let the cat out.  I must have put up that facade for a few days and I was convinced that this friend believed in my act.  Just before my birthday, out of the blue, I get a message – Hey, something tells me you are not okay. I stare into my mobile and the words blur as tears well up and blind me.  Felt so emotional that I almost froze.  Few hours later, I mustered some nerve to send a curt reply.  Stop cooking up stories in your head.  Have fun and enjoy your holidays. I also message back saying J is coming down from Kochi and will be here for my birthday.  That nailed it. I get a cryptic response “Good”.   

Yep.  Yet another birthday gift, no amount of money can buy – to be loved so deeply that a friend intuitively knows whether you are okay or not.  

I walk into the church that Sunday, 17th of June, feeling a bit depressed and worried.  I have a few existential questions that runs in my head.  Worry distracts me to a point, where I am not able to focus and pray.  And the Choir sings my most favorite song as the entrance hymn and the chorus goes something like this -  God still, still loves the world.  So throw your life into his arms, day by day discern his plans, God is passionately busy loving you and me. I realise that my Lord is wishing me a happy birthday in his own way. I join in and belt it out as usual and my catechism children chime in along with me.

And yes.  The best gifts are what money cannot buy.

You can listen to the song that played in the choir,  here

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pura Goa Gaja

The first famous temple of Bali that we girls set our foot on, was the Balinese Ganesha temple, also known as Pura Goa Gaja or the Elephant Cave temple.

This temple is an ancient structure built in the 11th century as a spiritual place for meditation, when Bali was ruled by King Udayana and it was at rural Ubud,  the part of Bali which is still unspoilt by urbanization.  Most of the temples we visited, had magic woven into the stones and it was amazing to see the stone artwork.

When I heard the name Elephant cave temple, I was waiting for a gigantic dwelling of the God, full of pachyderms, but that was not to be. This is an archaeological site of significant historical value and is one among the top visit sites in the Island of Bali. Though we kept pronouncing Goa like our Indian state Goa, it actually has to be pronounced as Guha which means cave and Gajah  means Elephant.  Pura means Temple.
colourful Souvenir Shops on the way 
Some more interesting Souvenirs
We walked on a concrete footpath constantly reminded by Kevin, to watch our step, crossed a concrete pathway lined with brightly adorned souvenir shops and refreshment kiosks.  We were all dressed appropriately for a temple visit as we had read that our clothes need to be below our knees. We still had to tie a bright yellow Sarong, which looked like a Sash around our waists.  The temples would offer these Sarongs for the tourists at the entrance.  But they are particular about wearing them when inside the temple.

The central meditational cave entrance was a carved out stone structure that depicted a massive goblin like creature that looked straight into our eyes and we had to get inside its mouth.  The cave was itself small and shallow but anyone can feel its history rich in tradition along with a kind of mysticism.  
The Cave Entrance - look at the amazing stone work.

The main Deity - Balinese Ganesha
The main deity was Balinese Ganesha with a black and white checked Sarong and there were also other shrines, one which housed three Linga's representing the Hindu trinity, each wrapped in red, yellow and black clothes, within the cave. Black soot lines the cave walls and there are several empty indentations, which probably is the place where the meditating saints sat.  Probably.  Kevin also told us this is a shivaite temple, but i did notice some elements of Buddhism all over the temple. 

The Hndu Trinity

Inside the cave, All four of us fell silent, which is rare, Sudha meditated a while and we let the serenity fill us. And that's something I find quite enchanting with the four of us.  We are all chirpy, talking, laughing and making fun one moment, but when one of us needs the space, we all are willing to give it to each other and step back. 
The huge tree :to show the scale
From the cave we moved to a courtyard that has a century old ( or more than that) large tree.  The tree had a large black and white checked Sarong just like the deities.  We then descended to another courtyard and Wantilan, that is filled with relics that was excavated from the site, as late as the 1950's.

Relic Courtyard
We also saw a huge Buddha's head broken into two, and the sculpture had fallen into a river.  Somehow missed to click a picture of it.

The pool which is opposite to the site where the relics are kept, features five out of supposedly seven statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as water spouts and we actually went down there but found the rocks a bit slippery so didn't really touch the water.  Kevin did tell us the names of these statues were Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathy etc., its a pity, I do not remember them now. (whacking myself for noting it down and for not writing a blog immediately after our trip).
Water spouts
A sense of calm engulfed the four of us, as we took in all that ancient  history. In my head, i was relating how India and Bali were connected by Hinduism as well as Buddhism and how the religions are differently depicted and practiced in Bali.

Kevin must have had some relief from our chatter for a few minutes, then.

This post is inspired by Ramesh, one of the expert bloggers, I admire.  His travelogues are the best I have read.

Monday, June 04, 2018


This is a guest post from one of the girls babes who was part of the effervescent gang that is determined to enjoy life to its fullest.  

When I suggested if the girls babes can come up with a guest post, lively as she is, Sudha jumped at it and even before I batted my eyelid, was done with a beautiful post. 

Here we go with the first guest post, ever, on my blog (yaaaayyyy).
While researching about what we will do in Bali, I got to know that one of the days of the trip is going to be a ‘silent-day’. Silence is such an oxymoron when 4 of us are together, we never had a dull moment :-). Then I read further and found out that there are no activities on that day. People fast and are confined to their homes, even the airport is closed!!  That did not deter our spirits. Also, found out many people plan to go to Bali to immerse themselves in this cultural and religious festival. 

Some of the high end resorts also have Nyepi day activities like Spa, special breakfast, access to pool etc. So that brought me back to one of the agendas of the trip – self pampering :-) it would be a welcome chance to disconnect and witness a centuries-old tradition on an island where religion and ceremony play a pivotal role in daily life. Though Indonesia is predominately a Muslim country, Balinese people follow Hinduism.  Already day dreaming about the temples, architecture, beaches, Nyepi added a new pleasantly surprised dimension to the trip.

The Balinese new year, Nyepi,  otherwise known as silent day, coincides with Ugadi and few other Indian regional New Year dates. The day is dedicated to worship and there are large Ogoh-Ogoh, demon like statues built and paraded throughout Bali. The Ogoh-Ogoh are believed to scare away the evil spirits that visit Bali during this time. Also on Nyepi day due to the practice of no lights, no fire (no cooking), no travel, no noise the  evil spirit thinks that no life form is existing in Bali and they go back. Also its noteworthy that even the airports remain closed on this day.
First sight of much awaited Ogoh-Ogoh.  He looks scary doesnt he?
Good reason for Bali being called ‘the island of the Gods’. There are offerings to God kept at each shop, house entrances, street intersections and even inside the cars, boogies etc.  The offerings consists of flowers, rice, leaves on a handmade coconut palm leaf plate or bowl. Coconut palm leaves are used in decoration in the temples and to hold other forms of offering too.
offering on a road side in a coconut palm container
Decoration made of coconut palm leaves

Coconut palm decoration in front of a temple
Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali and we got to stay there at Santi Mandela. Vincy had dedicated a whole blog about this place, you can read ithere, in the earlier post.

The day before Nyepi :

From Ubud, we left to Nusa Dua the beach haven. On the way we witnessed many processions. We found that the days preceding Nyepi, there are huge processions that take the Ogoh-Ogoh along the road to the family temples. Each clan, if I can say have their own temples and each of them compete on whose procession and Ogoh-Ogoh is better.  Most men wear customized t-shirts, most women wear their traditional costume for the parade. They walk with offerings perched on their head. Again bamboo vase like baskets carry fruits, flowers etc.

The decorated Guardian statues in front of a temple, also called as Dwarapalas, on the eve of Nyepi
We also saw school going children in their uniform having a parade of their own. The Ogoh-Ogoh looked less scary. The whole island comes together to celebrate this.

We reached Hilton en-route to Tanah Lot - what a picturesque temple, there should be a blog on that as well.  Nusa Dua Hilton is a luxurious beach resort. We stepped out for lunch and found an Indian restaurant. We were secretly craving for Indian food :-) I would admit. 

The Evening is the day for the grand Nusa Dua parade. We found the temple venue and took a cab to witness the celebration. There were  Huge Ogoh-Ogoh, accompanied by people carrying fire torches.  The people were dressed thematically. We found people playing different kinds of percussion and wind instruments.   There were dance and music performances from each clan. Its equivalent to our Kovil Thiruvizha (temple festival), complete with chariots, band, music et all.  But not the commotion and noise. It was surreal.  We noticed that the people were with devotion, committed to the success of the parade.  The events were synchronized, and onlookers were also well behaved. Was a night to remember.

We had a quiet night by the beach. Stars looked bigger and brighter, and we all felt we might not have seen so many stars in the regular sky (pollution).

Here comes the Nyepi day : We had a grand buffet breakfast, and spent the day resort bound.

I could sum it up as : Lots of chirp, chatter and cheer. Eat, sleep and repeat. Photos, photos and more photos. Sun, sand, and pool.. Rest, relax and rejuvenate.. Wonderful vacation with a day for ourselves. No regrets whatsoever. We learned that, there is no other day like this ! Anywhere else in the World – Nyepi – Balinese New Year.

A week after the trip during my conversation with Rosy, she said – When will we ever get another chance to gaze at the stars, lying down at the beach?

A wonderful experience, for the eyes and the soul.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Santi Mandela, Bali

After a really long and tiring Journey, the fever and my nausea had gotten the better of me by then, but it didn’t dampen any of our spirits though,  we reached Den Pasar airport at Bali after a brief transit at Kuala Lumpur International airport. Santi Mandela Villa & Spa, a peaceful resort which was an hours’ drive from the airport was our first stop at Bali.   Sudha had done pretty good homework before choosing this resort and had amply educated us girls about the geography of Bali.
A panoramic view of  Santi Mandela - From one of the cottage balconies to the other 
Our Cohort met Kevin, who would be our friendly guide for the entire trip, as soon as we disembarked. I remember Kevin introducing himself in his traditional Bali name, it must have been the look on our faces, that he insisted,  we all call him Kevin. Apparently that happens to be his sons name.  Fourth son. Kevin is a young man with a ready smile, extremely helpful,  knows when to intrude and when to stop his banter, and makes real good effort to speak in English.  In fact, he pauses quite a bit during his speech in an attempt to be  clear and effective in his communication.   Every single day, pretty early in the morning, Kevin would show up punctually and we know our day is going to be fine.

The best part was that,  Kevin came dressed in traditional Balinese  costume on all the days of our trip.  Traditional Balinese dresses are colorful and aesthetically pleasing.  Large portion of the population, at least the places we went to, chose to wear the traditional clothing like our guide Kevin.   Kevin’s costume was mostly collared half sleeved shirt with floral motifs and it was paired with Sarong which is just a layer of dark colored cloth tied around the waist.  Kevin wore two sarongs, the regular sarong on the inside, and a shorter sarong called "Saput" on the outside, so the regular sarong shows underneath.  We girls, much to his embarrassment, asked him the details, and Kevin told us all about it with a shy smile.  We even tried touching his clothes and we saw him go pink in the cheeks.  He also wore a head band, which is called Destar. Balinese women we saw were pretty, petite and wore more colorful clothes along  with an innocent coy smile.  The girls at the resort too wore Sarongs and paired it with lace tops.  Unlike men they did not wear any head gears.
The cohort with Kevin, our Guide, dressed in traditional Balinese costume
Santi Mandela is set in some 4 hectares of hillside garden, on the outskirts of a scenic village called Ubud. The entire resort is set in a calm, serene and pristine surrounding, we felt the peace of Bali even during the night that we landed there.  Panaraga Giri river, flows right through the resort and the sound of the flowing water had a calming  effect on us, the girls from the bustling metros.  We really couldn’t get enough of the river, and loved to watch it flow.  And there was no escaping it – The Boga Mandala restaurant  and the swimming pool overlooks the river.  There is a little river dam across this river within the resort, that can be seen from many places in the resort and it was such a pleasant sight.
another view of the river
In fact, when we reached the resort, it was quite late in the evening and from the entrance we were transported by a buggie.  It was pretty dark and we had to cross the river dam and that’s when we heard the sound of the raging waters of the river first.

Imagine a serene, tranquil place with a mild drizzle and sound of water flowing interrupted mercilessly by the constant shrill sounds of cicada’s.   That’s when all of us fell in love with Bali, with Santi Mandala and within few hours of setting foot om the shores of Bali.

The little river dam that we need to cross to reach the resort's lobby from the entrance
The tropical flora and fauna, reminded me so much about Gods own country to which somehow all four of us were connected.   Our cottages were nestled in a lush green rain forest, surrounded by water sources and we had booked honeymoon suites for ourselves.  :-) After all it was an all girls trip.  The rooms were quite spacious made of wood and the roof of the cottage was covered with some kind of hay like stuff, the typical Bali roofs and we all loved the open to sky showering spaces with huge bathtubs.  We all laughed and giggled about the bathtubs and how we need to be careful in them.  We had large balconies where we usually had our late night get-together's, dancing and huddling before we went off to sleep and we also did some early morning photo shoots.

The interiors of our cottages - The peacock shaped setting of the Towels,
 bathtub, open to sky showering spaces

multiple shades of green in a fancy plant
that grew on a concrete wall

Green is always a soothing and peaceful colour.  A million shades of  green could be spotted  in this resort ranging from the luxurious Emerald green to the dark matte Shamrock and the springtime Mint green to the striking  loud parakeet green and we reveled in its natural beauty,  Santi Mandala was love at first sight for all of us and on the days we stayed there, we were looking forward so much to get back to the resort in the evenings.

The Panaraga Giri River with the temple within the resort in the background
This place also had a little waterfall, a temple, a space for teaching cookery classes, a great Spa, and multiple cottages in different nooks and corners with the traditional Balinese architecture.  The entire resort had well manicured bright verdant lawns all around with air so pure that we could feel its freshness in every breath and it completely rejuvenated us.

Santi Mandala was the perfect quiet hideaway for us girls at Bali and just the right retreat away from the crowds.

P.S:  Just figured out that this looks like a review for Santi Mandela, but it is not.  And I am not being paid for this.

And finally here we are, "the babes"  at Santi Mandela, Bali

posing at the Swimming pool - part of our early morning photo shoot - Jay. Sudha, Rosy and Moi :-)
The babes again
A couple of swans that didn't seem to move
 from that spot throughout our stay
 Phew !!! that was one long post with an overload of photos!

Friday, May 18, 2018

A twist in the beginning of the tale… errr.. holiday

So after months of meticulous planning, multiple calls and messages, discussions, disagreements and conciliation's,  lunch outs to finalise stuff and finally some random group shopping, Bali trip was finalised.  Our WhatsApp group name which changed from “ Babes to Bangkok”  to “ Babes are back”, now changed to "Babes to Bali".

If adventure and fun was the theme for Bangkok,  this time it was culture, architecture and pampering ourselves. ( for the new readers of the blog, 4 of us friends had done a Bangkok trip last year and you can read about  it here, here, here, and here). 

We were sure we had ticked all the things-to-do lists multiple times, cross checked with each other and this trip is going to be a smooth sail like our Bangkok trip.

It looks like our families are happy without us, and in fact, the youngest kid amongst our families, Sudha’s son was also waving us off in animated excitement at the airport. We bid the husbands and sons a pretentious sad farewell and waited for them to leave.  Then  we did a loud Yahooo and punched the air and gave each other the wickedest of our smiles.  The realisation that we are  mothers, corporate women and most importantly not left home turf yet, dawned on us and we quickly  regained our poise and balance.

Luggage’s in one trolley all set to go to the counter, we pinched ourselves yet again, to make sure this was real.  The four girlfriends ( One of the girls would join us from Australia)  were making it yet again for another holiday to Bali and it really sounded preposterous.  Twice as nice.

I signalled Jay and Sudha to stay on, and I went on to check at the counter.  We had time at hand and we were not in a hurry.  The counter space of our airlines was eerily empty and I thought to myself that we have reached much ahead of our time.   I still thought I will check in the next active counter that was buzzing with activity and the staff at that counter when enquired casually said, oh the flight to Bali?  That stands cancelled.  

This guy does not know a thing, I think to myself, and ask him if he was sure.  He says yes.  I think to myself again, we got a confirmation to web check in 4 hours before we left home and how can this be?

Jay and Sudha, who are standing a bit far away, smile at me slyly and I know they are pulling my legs.   I am sure they are saying, Vincy is flirting with the staff at the counter.  I see them giggle.  Now I am sure that’s what they said.   I smile back at them and show them signs to hold on.  I don’t want them to know there is some issue at the counter and want it sorted.  I still think, the staff is giving wrong information.

I insist that he checks again.  He sees a persevering woman and so pulls out a phone and calls the airline staff and confirms that our flights are cancelled. And the best part was, the flights were cancelled two months ago and our agent didn’t let us know.  Not just that, there was also a confirmation about our fight timings 4 hours back.

My face turns ashen, and  I couldn’t smile anymore.  I signal the  girls to come and tell them our flight is cancelled.  Sudha is furious and Jay is speechless.  I am lost.   Sudha stepped into action, partly because she was the one who booked the tickets and felt terrible about this mix up though it was not her fault.  

We called  the MakemyTrip team  and fired them left, right and centre.  Luckily for us we had all the documentation including the request for web check in details. MMT disagrees with us initially and then they finally accept their blunder on phone.  They asked us to take the next days’ flight which was not acceptable to us.  Our entire planning would go for a toss. 

Multiple escalations and arguments later MMT agrees to repay us the costs new ticket we would purchase right then at the airport.  We record the entire conversation for documentation purposes.

Indigo had a flight that starts almost at the same time of our flight that we were supposed to take, but with a  layover at Philippines and I run to the counter to pick the tickets.  A man is waiting before me and I tell the lady there that I need 3 tickets to Bali.  The man has an ashen face too, that would beat mine and he says he has to go Philippines to pick up his brother-in-laws body and I just fall silent.  The omens weren’t good.  He gets the ticket and I walk to the counter and the lady starts working on our ticket. Just then, She gets a phone call and says I am sorry Ma’am.  The airline’s itinerary has gone to the airport authorities and they have asked us to stop issuing the tickets. Second blow.  This was our chance to put it all back together.

I come back and tell this to the girls.  We all are fizzled out completely.

By now the airline staff at the counters who had seen all the drama unfold have started feeling sorry for us and they did the searching and told us there are tickets available in an airline but the flight would  start 8 hours later.  The ticket prices are exorbitantly high.   I look at the girls and make a decision - we are going for this.  Bali it is.

After some more drama of getting out of the airport, purchasing tickets  and some more drama to get back in, finally we three dance together looking at our Bali tickets.  The airport staff join us in the merry making.  They seemed more happy than us.

Nothing, absolutely nothing could bring down our spirits ( yeah except for a few minutes).  Not even the scare of not having tickets for our holidays.

After an excruciating 7 hour wait at the airport ticketing area,  Batik Airlines takes off with the three resilient women.   

Joyous laughter and chatter fill the otherwise dull early morning flight, in the knowledge that the worst is over.

Postscript :

As we had predicted we had a wonderful time in Bali.  I will try posting about the places we visited in Bali.

We fought our way through with MakeMyTrip guys and got back every penny that we paid for the new tickets. Thanks to the persistence and regular follow up of Sudha.  MMT budged, but they did put up a good fight with us. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


As she  closed her eyes
She soared to the heavens
Like a midnights’ dream
And It altered everything forever

Something in her perished and
Something else came alive
Could it still have been a dream?
That she conjured up in blazing fever

She is petrified one moment
Exhilaration takes over the next
It stirs and surges through her
And she asks herself - Am I insane?

The ghosts in her head wake up
Dance around triumphantly
And relentlessly torment her being
The once clear mind now held captive in quagmire

Fear and confusion mucks her thoughts
Monologues in her head continue to frighten
And she teeters aimlessly with no end in sight
Did she  give you the power to destroy her?

Amidst all this pandemonium
In the deepest, darkest, most naked corner of her soul
There’s a sweet melody, like the energising elixir of universe
A fairy tale lie, more than love, a muse.

Vincy Joseph

Glad tidings

No I haven’t forgotten my blog-space.  Always been there in the back of my head.  So many stuff I wanted to share in this space.  I took on more than I could chew and had my fingers in many pies.   Oh, I should admit, Life has been interesting after all.

There have been great milestones I have crossed, ticked off items in my bucket list, done stuff I never thought I would ever ever do and I am on a roll.

I want to actually start off from November where I got into Theatre – yesssss.. you heard it right.  I participated in a Theatre workshop that was conducted by EVAM, (My friend TMK is part of this Theatre company and it suited my schedules).  The workshop itself was 2 days long and the batch had to work on  putting up a public show, and the participants had to do everything right from booking an auditorium, arranging light and sound, stage set up, marketing and PR, sales and of course act in the play.  We had audience who paid for our show, and we had a full house at Alliance Francaise theater hall at Chennai.  Our group called ourselves Theatre brats and our play was titled “ 7 Tales at 7”.   We as a group put up 7 short plays at 7 pm on 9th of December last year.  Woo- Woo!!!  Today when I look back it sounds like outlandish dream. Ahh that reminds me there were some more dream come true moments.

If my life was not already hectic, this whole thing just complicated it further.  With a full time job, managing a house, and a whole lot of commitments including  catechism classes at church and other volunteering activities I am into, going for play rehearsals every day, was a challenge.   Looking back, I guess I could manage it, and we had a magnificent  show day. 

I want to tell you all the little things I enjoyed during the workshop, the rehearsals and the show day.  One day I will. 

The babes, my girlfriends and I had a nice trip this year to the mesmerizing land of gods, Bali.  We all fell heavily for Bali, the temples, the Gods, the unsophisticated loving people, the serene village settings,  the vast blue oceans and even the ghastly looking  Ogoh-Ogoh’s.  I know you wont know what an Ogoh Ogoh is, but I promise to explain.

But before I tell you my unending stories, let me wish you all a happy new year and good tidings for the rest of the year. ( I must be the only crazy soul, who wishes people happy new year mid April  :-) )

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mohan Master

This post is an ode to the man I owe my independence in locomotion. The man who helped me slay yet another ghost in my head. This is a long pending post.  A swaggering 3 and a half years.  Better late than never don’t they say?

I think of this guy almost every day for the past few years, thank him in my heart,  say a bless you in my head, and start my day.  ( BTW J knows about this guy in my life :-) :-) :-) ).  Car driving is one of the most rewarding learning of my life and the freedom to move around, without depending on anyone is almost a miracle.

I got to know about Mohan Master ( that’s how he likes to be called and makes it clear) through a friend, who said he specializes in teaching women to drive.  That was bang on my need at that point in time.

Thus starts my tryst with MM sometime in February - March 2014.  As promised he arrives at 5.30 am and asks me to start the car.  I have difficulty even with that.  I wonder how I ended up getting my license in 2009. 

MM reassures me.  Maddam, ( that’s how he calls me with an emphasis on the syllable D)  if you can walk in a city road, I can teach you to drive and I am certain you will be able to.  I do not believe him, though I desperately want to.

MM starts with the basic lessons in driving.  The actual  ABC’s of driving.  Accelerator, Brake and Clutch. He tells  me to wear shoes without heels and ones that are comfortable, driving without a shoe is a strict no-no.  Then a little advanced lesson – how to hold on to the steering.  The 9 – 3 position.   Both hands on the steering and the hands never crosses over each other.  Ever.   He says it with a kind of  sternness that I would dare not disobey.

The steering should not be held tightly and your hand glides on it.  I say Ok Mohan Master, very obediently, our terms have been established.

He takes me to an empty ground and asks me to circle the empty ground in the car.  I am able to do it.  He asks me to get down and look at the wheel tracks and see if it was a perfect circle.  The circle that I thought I actually drove, is an poor oblong longing to be a circle. He gets down from the car and asks me to do that again.  I  remember being worried about driving without him next to me.  He smiles and says, someday you got to drive alone. Second time it was simpler.  Same routine – get down and check the tracks.  Third time I feel a bit proud of myself.

He tells me to get back in the car.  I get back in more confidently.  Now he says track the number 8 while driving.  My eyes pop out.  MM gives a knowing smile and I know I have no option.

The ensuing classes get tougher from circle in the reverse and a number 8 in the reverse, and  I have serious doubts if I was actually a retard. 

The coffee table topic and the lunch table topics at office is always about my driving classes, those days.  My friends pre-empt what MM will make me do in the next class.  A circle with the help of just 2 front wheels, maybe?  The next would be just the usage of 2 side wheels.  Amidst all the laughter I realise I am no good at driving.

But this man does not give up on me.  By now we have moved from the empty ground to the real road.  The timings are the same. Early morning.  Rain or shine, MM will be there at 5.30 am.   He speaks dime a dozen, about various topics.  His travels around the world, his Vietnam trip, and how he loved China. I wonder silently if this man would stop it, so that I can focus.  Made a mental note to myself to stuff my ears with some cotton the next day.  He must have seen it cross my mind, he said, Maddam my conversation may irritate you today, but tomorrow when you drive with your friends you will thank me for the invaluable skill that I have taught you.  I smile sheepishly at being caught.

MM has another peculiar habit which kind of annoyed me.  Imagine me, trying to still figure out how to hold the steering and mind you always in 9 -3 position, manage the co-ordination between my left and right leg in-between figuring out which the A, B and the C are, and to also change gears ( most often I forgot the gear component of driving).  And then I got to focus on MM’s gibberish. 

It must have been the third or 4th driving class.  MM asks me while I was trying to roll the vehicle on a highway, how may brakes does your car have?  What the heck, I thought.  One brake is what comes to mind.  Then I realise there is something called a handbrake, and I feel smarter already.  I blurt out two a little too loudly.  That’s when he shows me my place.  Maddam, you have 5 brakes in the car and I am thinking is this fellow out of his mind?

MM explains : The moment you take your leg off the accelerator, you are slowing the vehicle and that’s a kind of brake,  The car horn slows people down on the road, that’s the second one.  Applying the clutch is another form of braking.  Then the original brake and finally the handbrake.  Smart guy isn’t he?.  Now for the annoying stuff.  Maddam can you repeat whatever I said in the same order please?

And I was like WHAT?  

MM continues very calmly, repeat Maddam please.    By now I have forgotten the sequence and even the question,  remember I am driving.

He won’t relent at anything.  Makes sure you say it, the way he wants to hear it, even if it means I got to say it 5 times.  Every lesson he teaches including the steering position, gets repeated by me word for word the way he likes it.   The lessons advanced from moving up the gears while driving, take U turns on a busy road ( by now the timing changes to 7 to 8 am), reversing the vehicle, where to look while reversing, starting a vehicle using handbrake while you stop on a slope and also Parking the vehicle. 

The lessons overwhelm me, but when  I realise MM is around, I kind of feel confident to drive.

I especially like his sense of humour.  During one of the drives, MM says, Maddam your car has four wheels.   I am wondering which lesson he is going to teach me now.  Two in the front and two in the back. I quickly think there is one wheel in the boot.   MM continues  you forget the left wheel in the front of your car.  You got to pay attention.   Ohhhhhh… that’s the lesson.

By now, if I make a mistake, MM makes me pull over to the side of the road.  I felt like a school kid then.  I got to tell him what mistake I did and what should have been done instead.  And he will not help me with the mistake I did.  There were days when I had to pull over at least 3 – 4 times, and MM would be quite unsympathetic while I am actually figuring what went wrong.

So the lessons moved to a national highway where he made me unlearn some things that he initially taught. If need be, you gotta drive with your hand on the gear, so  on the highway, he wanted  me to hold the gear and the steering with one hand each and my hand should not move out of the gear.   The speed should be at 100 km per hour.  He would also appropriately motivate saying, Maddam you do so much of stuff that I cannot do, why do you even have these doubts.  Trust yourself and go on.

Some of what MM said may sound pretty fleeting, but I realised had very profound sense in them.  Once he told me, Maddam why are you looking so tensed when you are driving?  If you get tensed your mind will go blank.  Keep smiling.  You have a nice smile.   And that will also help you to think clearly.  I realised this guy is talking about what Amy Cuddy, a behavioural scientist speaks about in her TED X talk on how our body language defines the way we think, after decades of research.  I consciously smile after hearing that.

Finally I start driving on my own, and the lessons that he made me repeat after him, comes to mind whenever I make a mistake.  Maddam  do not change the gear while you are overtaking, I hear Mohan master say it in my head, when I do that on road, even today.   I smile in gratitude for those lessons.

A couple of weeks back, I parked my car in a an unobtrusive spot and when I come back from shopping, see a pick up truck just behind my car completely blocking my way out.  I waited for a while, to see if the driver is around.  I saw a guy hovering around the vehicle and checked if he was the driver.  He says the driver has gone into the building and will take 30 minutes to come.  I tell him that I need to take my vehicle out, and check if he can move the vehicle a little forward.  I cant drive, but the truck’s key is in the vehicle we can get someone to move it forward, he says.  Couple of men passed us and none one of them knew to drive.

Thats when it dawned on me, what the heck, you can drive Vincy.  I got into that fully loaded Yellow TATA 407 pick up truck and with some difficulty started the engine, figured out the first gear and moved it to the place I wanted. 

Hurray, Vincy !!! Mohan Master will be proud of you!!!

I wish I remembered to take a selfie :-(