Tourist Trap

A tenement hotel on the lower bank of a back water stream. It is too late for traffic but it rings out anyway.

In a town of fishmongers, I lie sleepless on a paper thin mattress. The hotel room seems to contract trying to collapse on itself. The walls seem to sweat and the night grows warmer. Ugly neon lights pour in past the dust caked curtains, reflecting on the stains that mark all the furniture.
The walls thin and tried did nothing to stop the shuffling and humming of a hundred sleepless patrons- in it’s own way gasping for breath. I walked to the window and saw a police van pull up.

I shuffled out, the dust grabbing my feet, slowly over the peeling floor. I looked out to the hallway, the lights dim and fluttering. I went to my neighbours door, a fast friend. Both of us sleepless and drowsy eyed. We had been drinking away the inescapable stench of the day.

He seemed skittish that night, a grim expression of resignation. I frowned- I kept him around to cheer me up. He saw me upset and smiled, inviting me with more grace and eagerness than I ever expected from him.

I sat on his dusty desk, after pushing his carelessly strewn papers. There was some ash lining the edges of the desktop. He offered me a glass, the same one we’d been drinking from for a week. I told him the usual things, how work was going, how the story seemed to have died on the vine. We were both tourists, as I repeatedly told him, both of us just wandering in and out of towns. He usual seemed baffled by this but tonight he smiled.

My editor had me barking up trees and I wished I had a listener who actually understood what I was telling him. My neighbour was some kind of salesman, always with heavy briefcases and wooden boxes. It’s how we met, I went to introduce myself and complain after I heard one too many thuds and muffled sounds of objects being dragged around.

I noticed he was wearing his Sunday best tonight. Well whatever best he could muster probably. Large sweat stains had formed under his armpits. I laughed and asked what he could have to do this late. He just smiled and refilled my glass.

I looked around as he told me he might be going back to his home town. He had told me something about that before, but I couldn’t remember what he’d said. To be honest what he was saying now was boring me too. I worried what I’d do next week.
He excused himself to go out for cigarettes and asked me to wait for him. I wished I had better neighbours. I got up to look around when he left. There were a lot of vans outside the hotel, something was going down. I decided not to care, I wasn’t paid enough to bother.

I walked over to his bed and smelt something rusty, his whole room was brown and leather like. The boxes he had stacked up seemed to have been stained by the same smell. An ugly reddish brown had seeped down to the bottoms of the ones he had stacked up next to his bed. There were a few bags by it too. Nothing well kept in the whole mess.

I couldn’t help but notice a handle sticking out from between the bags thrown about. I went back to the window. Something was certain to happen. My neighbour had kept me too long. I walked over and pulled on the handle. It was a soggy knife covered with a smelly thick layer.

I pushed one of the boxes and a strange feeling washed over me. I heard footsteps marching and thundering up the stairs. You could hear anything in this hotel. In slow motion I opened one of the boxes, already realising what my neighbour had been dragging up each night and that he wouldn’t be coming back.

I reached inside a box, hearing the door crash open behind me and the shouts breaking into the room. Murder weapon in hand, bloody evidence before me, I had missed the big story of the night.

The Slow Wagon To No-Where

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.