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Blessings of Arunachala: A Serialized Travelogue - Part 2 of 12

Parag is a software developer turned writer who loves travel, the open sky, animals, books, and writing.

Battery Dead

After stopping for a quick lunch near Kolhapur, I drove on to Belagavi. It was afternoon, and the sun beat down in full force, despite the car AC whirring at the full speed.

Heat has a way of sapping my energy and making me impatient. I can drive forever in the evenings when it’s cool, and the light is soft, but afternoons are a different story—they make me edgy and impatient.

Around 3:15 PM, much to my relief, the map lady instructed me to take the next left and get off the highway. Belagavi had finally arrived! Now, all I had to do was find my way to the Airbnb homestay where I had booked myself for that night.

The moment I got off the highway, all I could think of was a comfortable mattress, a dark, curtain-drawn, air-conditioned room, and a good restful nap. My camper-van fantasy faded out and the heavenly mountains and sunsets made way for a heavenly bed and a heavenly nap.

Abhi, the Airbnb host, had sent me the location of his apartment, which I was able to find easily. There was a parking bay adjacent to the building wall. I parked my car, slung my laptop backpack over my shoulders, pulled out another bag containing some clothes and toiletries, and made my way to the apartment.

Abhi helped me with the keys, told me where I could find drinking water and other essentials. He soon left the apartment to return to his work.

When you drive long-distance, it’s usually after stopping that you realize how tired you are. I felt a wave of relief through my body as I stepped into the room and noticed a comfortable bed and an AC. I switched on the AC, washed my face, flopped down on the bed, and dozed off with my socks still on.

Two and a half hours later, I woke up with red eyes, wondering where I was and what I was doing in this unknown place.

Fortunately, I remembered that I was in Belagavi, taking the first stop-over on my way to Tiruvannamalai.

I somehow managed to stumble, with my eyes still mostly shut, from the bedroom to the living room, with my water bottle in hand.

Abhi had returned from work. He was sitting on the living room couch watching TV. I raised my hand to greet him and tumbled into the kitchen to fill my bottle.

A few sips of water poured consciousness back into me. I managed to open my eyes and walked like a sane human back into the living room. I sat in the living room for a while, hoping that a conversation would help me wake up. I told Abhi about my drive and asked him a few questions about Belagavi. He was a very friendly and relaxed person. And although he had just returned from work after a tiring day, he answered all my questions patiently. Our conversation soon turned to dinner.

Since I had crossed over the border into Karnataka, I was craving for Idlis. I asked him if there was any place close by where I could have good Idlis and Uttapam. He asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner at a dining hall, which he often frequented. They didn’t have Idli, but they had great wholesome meals.

I would have joined him, but I wasn’t hungry enough to have a full meal. Too many hours of driving had reduced my appetite. Besides, I was also concerned about the meal being too spicy or oily. Idli felt like a safe choice.

Very generously, Abhi changed his own dinner plans and volunteered to drive me to “Tumkur Tatte Idli”: a restaurant that served special Idlis.

Tumkur Tatte Idlis offered a delicious feast of “Thatte style” Idlis that were shaped like soft, melt-in-the-mouth one-inch-thick pancakes along with Uttapam and Filter Coffee. I probably ate more than what I might have eaten at the dining hall, but then it’s hard to resist good Idlis and Uttapam. Seeing out empty plates, the waiter came to ask if we’d like to order anything else. I burped thrice in response.

With satiated stomachs, we returned to his house, where he once again extended his generosity by offering me ice cream – which I did not refuse.

I took my cup of ice cream and enjoyed taking small bites while watching fancy gadgets, pretty girls, and Roger Moore’s daredevil antics in a James Bond movie. It was the perfect way to end a tiring day.

I’ve stayed at several Airbnb homestays in different parts of India and met several great hosts, but I have to say that Abhi is one of the nicest and most generous hosts that I’ve had the good fortune of meeting.

After the ice cream, I thanked Abhi, and retired to bed early because I wanted to leave for Bangalore by 6:30 the next day morning.

I slept well, but when the alarm rang at 5:30 AM, my head was still foggy, my calves and lower back ached, my stomach was a bit uneasy, and my body just did not feel strong enough to start the day. A seven-hour sleep had proved to be insufficient for my body to recover from the previous day’s journey.

Even though I’m totally off medication for Crohn’s Disease, I get tired very easily and need more than average time to recuperate. That’s one of the reasons, along with a cultivated love of solitude, why I prefer to travel solo. It’s difficult for me to know in advance when I’ll need additional rest. Traveling alone makes it easier to change plans on the fly to accommodate my health.

I went back to sleep for some more rest.

It was about 7:30 by the time I washed, changed, and stepped out to start for Bangalore.

An hour’s delay wasn’t that big a deal. Bangalore was about nine hours from Belagavi. Even if it took me two more hours due to stops and traffic, I’d still reach Pyramid Valley by 6:30 in the evening.

The extra sleep helped me feel energized, and I walked down in good spirits, loaded the car, and turned on the ignition.

Click. Click. Click. The ignition gave a dead click. No cranking and obviously no firing up either.

The battery was dead. Totally dead. And I did not have a jumper cable

When Push Comes to Shove, Have Idlis

Before leaving from Pune, I had purchased a portable machine to fill air in the tyres but forgot to buy a jumper cable. Lesson learned.

I called Abhi to ask him if he had a jumper cable. He didn’t, but he asked his neighbors. Unfortunately, they didn’t either. However, Abhi offered to help me start the car.

We took turns pushing the car, but after two rounds up and down the road, the car still refused to start.

Meanwhile, unknown to me, a gentleman on his daily morning walk was watching us struggle with the car. He took pity and volunteered to help. The three of us tried for fifteen more minutes, but the car was adamant and we were panting.

It didn’t look like a push was going to start the car, so we pushed it to the side of the road, and decided to wait till one of the local mechanics opened their garage.

We thanked the unknown gentleman who had generously given us his time and energy.

“No no, you are a guest. It was my duty to help,” he said cheerfully, trying to make me feel less guilty.

Abhi said he was planning to leave for work in about half an hour and that he could drop me at a place in the city where I’d be able to find car mechanics.

I waited downstairs, and true to his word, we left in thirty minutes. Abhi stopped his car at a large crossroads a few kilometers from the apartment. He said there were about three mechanics in that neighborhood. He didn’t know the exact locations, but that was fine - I could ask around.

I thanked Abhi for all the help and kindness he had shown me. He said the same thing the other gentleman had said—that I was a guest in Belagavi and he was happy to help. Before leaving, he mentioned that shops in Belagavi didn’t usually open this early. I might have to wait till 10:00 or even 10:30 AM.

“But you might find a mechanic sooner if you are lucky,” he added encouragingly.

I decided to try my luck. Better to try and fail than not try at all, I reasoned.

There were a few traffic cops standing close by at the junction. I walked up to them and asked if they knew where I could find a car mechanic. They knew two shops. The first shop was in a by-lane a few meters to the left and the second was further ahead on the main road on the opposite side of the junction. They also said that the shops may not be open this early.

I decided to try my luck anyway and walked towards the by-lane.

There were some shops on one side of the lane and small houses on the other. The shops were closed and the residents—a few of whom were standing outside – seemed to be fairly relaxed. Two were brushing their teeth, a few were having their morning dose of bidis and tea. A few people loitering around. Two kids played cricket with a stick and a ball.

I had a strong feeling that the mechanic’s garage wasn’t going to be open, but I plodded ahead since I was already there. However, I couldn’t find anything that looked like a garage even after walking around for a good while. It was time to ask for help. I approached a few men who were having their morning tea and cigarettes at a nearby stall.

“Is there a car mechanic anywhere around here?”

They said there weren’t any in this lane but they pointed to the other side of the junction, just like one of the traffic cops had said. One of them added that mechanics and battery shops don’t usually open before 10:30.

I looked at my mobile. It was 8:45 AM. By now, enough people had said that I was unlikely to find what I wanted right now. The great cycle of time was one hour and forty-five minutes away from that magic hour and I was also a bit tired from all the pushing earlier that morning. I didn’t see any point in tiring myself further.

With nothing else to do, I figured I might as well have my breakfast. I walked back to the main road and asked an elderly man if he knew of any place, close by, where I could get Idli and Filter Coffee. He told me to go straight ahead on the main road and turn left at a certain landmark.

I followed his directions and, just like he had promised, there was an Idli restaurant to my right. The board read, “Tumkur Tatte Idli.”

The Gods have a good sense of humor. At least they got me to a place where I could enjoy the famous “Thatte Idlis” for breakfast and relax till it was time for the mechanics to open shop.

Sometimes, I'm Not a Good Listener

Tumkur Tatte Idli was packed with breakfasters (not a dictionary word but it doesn’t sound too wrong)—mostly office goers, some medical staff who worked at a hospital close by, some students, and a few elderly people.

Those who were running late were gulping unchewed bits of Idli and Wada while hastily pushing them down the throat with coffee.

A few elderly men sat with their heads buried in newspapers. They ate leisurely, enjoying the daily grapevine of politicians and their antics.

One table was occupied by students who were relaxed and cheerful. They cracked jokes and pulled each other’s legs as they ate. It seemed to me that they had no intention of leaving any time soon. I figured they must have decided to bunk their morning lecture. From personal experience, that’s the only conceivable reason for a bunch of students to be so extraordinarily cheerful in the morning.

I looked around. All the tables were taken. However, it’s perfectly acceptable for unknown people to cohabit a single table in an Udupi restaurant. I walked up to a four-seater, occupied by an elderly gentleman reading a newspaper, and parked myself on the chair.

I knew what I wanted -- one plate Idli and a Filter Coffee -- but I had time on my hands and the best way to waste some of it was by studying the menu. So I picked up the menu and studied it carefully.

A waiter walked up to the table in about a minute and asked me for the order. I pretended to be confused and said that I needed some more time. He nodded and came back after two minutes. Oh well!

“Order sir.”

“One plate Idli and Filter Coffee.”

He served them promptly in four minutes.

“Thank you,” I said grudgingly.

Now was the perfect time to follow good chewing principles. I had heard that the correct way to eat was to chew each bite until there was nothing solid left in the mouth. The food had to completely blend with the saliva before gently pushing it down the throat. And so, I chewed and chewed and chewed -- as slowly as possible -- waiting for the delicious solid Idli to become delicious liquid Idli before gently allowing it to roll down the throat.

I also checked all my emails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook messages, and so on, until there was nothing left to check. By this time, there was nothing left to chew, either.

The waiter must be eying my plate like a hawk because he magically appeared as soon as my plate was empty.

“Anything else, sir?”

“No,” I whispered, and waited for the bill, which he brought almost immediately with his natural cheerful promptness.

My belly was satisfied with a good breakfast, so I forgot all the misgivings he had created in me with his prompt service, thanked him for the great food, and tipped him before leaving.

It was a nice, bright day outside. The road had come to life with the traffic in full swing. It was 9:45 AM according to my mobile screensaver. I thought it might be a good idea to go to the other mechanic and try my luck a little early.

I walked back to the junction, crossed the main road, and walked a little further until I saw a mechanic’s garage on my left. It was still shut, but there was a young guy pacing up and down, who seemed to be discussing something of great importance on his mobile.

I thought he was the owner of the garage so I waited for his conversation to get over. After a couple of minutes, when I spoke with him, I learned that he wasn’t the owner but a neighbor who lived in the adjacent house. He said that the garage would open in about half an hour.

I must have looked really dejected, because he inquired, rather kindly, if I needed anything urgently.

“Yes, my car battery is dead and I need a jumpstart urgently.”

“There’s a small battery shop about two minutes ahead on this road. He also opens at 10:30 but his phone number is written on the shop. You can try calling him.”

I thanked him and rushed to the battery shop. It was shut, but it had the owner’s number on the shutter. I punched in the number to call him. The phone rang but no one answered. I tried again. Still no response. I tried for the third time. No luck again. Dejected, I returned the phone to my pocket—which almost plopped out immediately when I heard scooter brakes screeching right behind me.

Swinging around instinctively, I noticed a middle-aged man seated on a red scooter with a battery placed on the footboard near his legs.

“Are you waiting for me?” he asked me.

“Are you the owner of this shop?”

He nodded, and I felt like the fates had finally smiled on me.

“Yes, yes, I am waiting for you. I even tried calling you sometime back.” The words tumbled out of my mouth.

“Oh, I was in traffic. I couldn’t answer the phone. Sorry. What do you want?”

I explained the entire situation to him and also explained that I needed to leave as soon as possible because I was headed to Bangalore and wanted to reach before the peak traffic started.

He assured me that he’d get my car started right away.

Motioning me to sit on the pillion seat, he blasted his scooter like a rocket. I grabbed the spare tyre behind me to regain my balance and gave him directions to the car.

While waiting at a signal, he told me that he normally did not open his shop at this hour, but some special work had made him leave home early and here he was. I was lucky to have found him at that time.

We were soon near my car. I got into the driver’s seat, unlatched the bonnet, and waited for him to hook up the batteries. However, he spent a few minutes examining something before connecting the car’s battery to his spare battery.

What I heard next was music to my ears. My car purred back to life as soon as I turned the ignition. At that moment, the car’s rather loud and slightly harsh engine sounded sweeter than Shreya Ghosal’s super-melodious voice.

When I stepped out to pay him, he pointed to a white plastic box attached to the right edge of the bonnet scoop. It was the circuit breaker of the new 90 watt headlights that I had installed before leaving Pune. He explained that it had a short-circuit which caused the light to stay on even after I had flipped off the light switch the day before.

He went on to explain a few more things, but his voice was drowned out by a noisy truck and four auto-rickshaws that rumbled one after the other with blaring music.

The only thing I could figure out was that he had fixed the problem with the circuit breaker.

Sometimes I do things that are outright foolish. This was one of those instances. I really should have asked him to repeat the last part, but I was in such a hurry to reach Bangalore before the peak evening traffic started that I simply nodded, thanked him, paid, and sped on towards the highway.

© 2021 Parag Shah 333

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