My father has this amazing ability to change opinions depending on how far away he is.
When he’s in Mangalore, everyone agrees that a car ride with him is torture. His trusty steed is a dented, old Wagon R, is painted brown by the omnipresent coating of dust [legend has it that it was once as black as the hair dye my grandfather always gets all over his neck]. The Wagon R has a disturbing tendency to fall apart in the oddest ways, ooze strange fluids that seem to have been food during a bygone age,have strange insects crawl out etc. The furious family head shaking at my father driving [which gets my grandfathers hair dye all over the rest of the family] dies down the closer to Bangalore my father gets. By the time my father has driven into city limits everyone seems to have forgotten about their disgust at his driving, and insist that I have nothing better to do than accompany my father to where ever it is he needs to go.
My family has this weird thing about road. To most people road’s don’t matter all that much unless they’re being launched into orbit by some inconsiderate pothole or being offered an unwelcome shower by a motorist who hasn’t noticed that the pothole you are walking next to is filled with water. To my family it’s the pinnacle of civilization. Show them a documentary on the Romans? “Wow look at those roads!”. Images of Afghanistan? “My god look at those roads! How can they be so good when Taliban and American terrorists are bombing everything?”. My mother has recently become interest in Urdu poetry. Every time the discussion turns to Pakistani poetry and some patriot uncle decides that Pakistan is nothing but my sand, my mother will argue “That’s not true! Don’t underestimate them, have you even seen their roads?”
Perhaps this love of perfectly paved tar can be traced to Mangalore. Mangalore and the villages in the area ,like Bantwal, have for a very long time, had atrocious roads. How atrocious? So atrocious that every single car ride must warrant comment on the roads. There has never, and I mean NEVER, been a car ride without complaints about the road. So my father who has been bouncing up and down the poorly laid mixtures of tar,dirt and speed bumps for most of the day-long car ride from Mangalore to Bangalore achieves a state of maddened euphoria when he sees patches of good road. Suddenly the accelerator is his worst enemy that needs to be crushed under his foot, the break needs to be kicked violently or it’ll disappear and ever traffic jam a excuse to stop and snooze while maintaining a 7 meter distance from the vehicle in front. Unlike my family, normal motorists have a consistent view about my father’s driving.
Every time we start off from home, a hour later than planned, my father and I spend a minimum of 15 minutes sorting the many many plastic bags, ferrying all the things he’s brought into the house, throwing away all the random derbies and aged fruit his journey has accumulated. My father also has this habit of buying fruit juice every 20 minutes of the car ends up having a lot of thing spilt all over it. Occasionally he’ll hang it on the door locks. If your aren’t careful the paper cups with the juice can get caught between car and door. A wet explosion of water melon is sometime I’m all to familiar with. Once my father didn’t notice I was half red and drenched till we got back home.
Honestly I’m surprised by how easily I’ve reached 600 words. I guess that’s because we travel everywhere by car. It’s always the first option which is weird since none of us can stand each other. My father and I have debates about religion, or at least we used to when I was foolish enough to think I could change his opinion. He has some pretty bizarre ideas, like moon rays affecting everything he does, random anecdotes about wells filled with money being proof of god etc. At one point of time he hoped I’d become an astrologer.
My father also comes up the weirdest of conspiracy theories. Rahul Gandhi is a cocaine addict, the CIA funds global warming etc. Occasionally random friends of his who are almost always filthy rich hotel owner from Goa who dress like hobo’s and share his taste in cheap hotels that where built back when Joseph Stalin was yet to hit puberty. I could go on the utter bizzarness of the conversations but if you really want to keep your mouth shut you can which is a plus. Or maybe he’s learnt that it’s no use trying, I’m not very sure.
He always sends passenger to fetch morning, afternoon and evening papers. They can be any south Indian language, but if they are Kannada he has to get a copy from very specific publishers, who’s names I can never remember. I don’t know anyone else who read’s afternoon or evening papers. I guess this is because he spends most on his day inside the car like some 21st desert nomad on his camel.He doesn’t have a modern phone either [he has three Chinese made one which have survived a ridiculous amount of punishment and are of the following colors: Pink, Bright yellow and violet.
Occasionally if we’re on some scenic route, he’ll start driving slower than butter melts in refrigerators and become the most mundane travel guide ever. Stories of how some random grand uncles, nephew’s wife’s friends substitute teacher fell down while running barefoot will turn up. At time the choice of sites leaves me baffled. “Look a golf course”,”Look a field of paddy”,”Look a river” . I’m not quite sure how I’m expected to respond to that. Or why we took a 30 minute diversion to go see it. If my mother is also with us, she’ll rip the back of the drivers seat to shreds[ I always ride shotgun, it’s not that I care but it’s been my default position for some reason.]
For a stinky, sweaty, battered, old car that always leads to some fight or outrage, it has a lot of memories that tag with each trip.