Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tell me a story... - II

Continued from ‘Tell Me a Story’

The bus wasn’t expected for a couple of hours, we were told. P and I had just about exchanged dismayed looks when the errant bus rumbled into the terminus. We scrambled aboard, relieved, until we realized that we hadn’t a clue of how to reach our final destination from wherever the bus dropped us off.

“I have a map, if it helps,” a voice piped up from across the aisle.

It was the elderly man again. Helplessness trumped over mild irritation, and we decided to consult the proffered map.

‘Karnataka: One State. Many Worlds’ – read the text at the right hand corner of the map. P and I pored over it, getting our bearings. The elderly man helpfully pointed out our destination and remarked that we weren’t too far from the bus stop. We thanked him for his help, and I casually asked if he was a frequent traveler in these parts.

“This is my third visit,” he told us, “my crew’s already gone on ahead.”

What crew, we inquired.

“The camera crew,” he said. “I work as a producer with Discovery Channel, and we’re doing a segment on Karnataka.”

Appearances can be misleading, I thought. Here I had pegged him for a small town schoolteacher or even some religious sort, on account of the beads and longish hair. He certainly didn’t fit the image of an international TV producer.

Conversation flowed more freely after this revelation since both P and I work with media-related organizations. We exchanged notes about work and Discovery programmes and travel, when he told us offhand that he had a yearly routine of driving to Germany.

Drive, I exclaimed, a little too loudly!

He confirmed that my hearing was good, and that he did indeed drive to Germany taking a route via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and so on, until he reached Germany.

”How many days does it take you?” I asked, fascinated.

“23 days, including rest days,” he replied.

But why Germany, I had to know.

Sensing that he had finally captured our attention, his diffidence receded and his manner became a bit oratorical.

"Germany has given me two things most valuable to me," he said, and then after a dramatic pause, continued, "Firstly, it's given me my doctorate - I did a PhD in Psychology at the Berlin University. And secondly, it's given me my boss."

What a workaholic, I thought. But once again I was in for a surprise.

He laughed at my stupefied expression and said, "Surely you know what I mean – I’m talking of the boss at home! I met my wife in Germany."

Apparently, they travelled to Germany for Christmas every year, she by air, and he, by road. His return route was equally convoluted and took almost 5 weeks, since he decided to spend time in remote islands along the way.

He seemed to be a devoted husband though, and couldn’t stop gushing about how he considered her words as commands from God, and of how he was perhaps the only Indian male to wake up each morning and touch his wife’s feet.

P had a giggling fit, which she quickly turned into a cough. I was amused too, but there were jaw-dropping revelations to follow.

He wasn’t in his 50s as we’d assumed. He was 73 and travelled ten months of the year, including the trip to Germany. He slept for 2 1/2 hours at night, and meditated another 2 1/2 hours. He spoke of papers he’d written and his theories of God. He painted a fascinating picture of places he’d visited. Truth and fiction seemed intertwined in parts, but that only added to the mystique of the story teller. He showed me notes he’d painstakingly handwritten – programme synopses, journal articles, and even an article on a Christian saint, ostensibly requested by the Vatican!

The bus was lurching violently on the unpaved road. It was almost two hours since we’d left the bus station in Hubli, but I hardly noticed. He insisted we keep in touch, but didn’t have a business card. I offered mine, and he said I’d be hearing from him soon.

I never did, but that didn’t matter anyway. I had my story after all.