Back to ‘bad (Ahmedabad)

My journey on to the next destination began with an early morning flight back to Mumbai: alone, since my companions were taking the car back to Pune seperately. Here, I was expecting to have to find my way back to Sunil’s empty city flat, let myself in, sort out my luggage, lock up and make my way to the railway station for a night train to Ahmedabad. My rail ticket was still “wait list” and Mumbai is a huge city which I know not at all, so to say I was a little nervous about the undertaking would be an understatement. Of course, this is India and things just don’t work that way. Neighbours were already waiting with a luggage boy to carry my suitcase up the three flights of stairs and ensure that I could manage the locks. And would I care for some chai and maybe a spot of lunch later?

Nandu is a former colleague from Sunil’s Air India days so he seemed to relish getting to work on checking the travel arrangements for me. We also chatted about the resigned attitude that Indians seem to have to corruption and how we both found ourselves busier than ever after retirement. Later when his wife, Jyoti, got home from her kindergarden teaching job he insisted on “offering moral support” while she prepared the obligatory picnic without which no Indian train journey is complete. I was able to leave much of my luggage behind and pack lightly for the next phase so I fitted neatly into an auto-rickshaw for my trip to Mumbai’s Bandra station. The traffic was indescribable so a good auto driver who could negotiate the back-doubles was invaluable but, even on arrival at the station, my worries weren’t over. The Indian rail ticketing system is very efficient if you understand how it works but most of us really need someone to explain it.

Now: last September I paid a many times over the odds for an agent in the UK to obtain my tickets through an agent in India, which was frustrating but necessary under the circumstances. The alternative being to arrive in India without arrangements and find myself at the mercy of the stay-at-homes. This time the Wimbledon I.T. boy, Amit, assured me he could manage the reservations for me but, as it turned out, an apoplexy-inducing series of delays and misunderstandings meant that I ended up wishing I’d just paid the extra money for peace of mind. When I finally found the “Second A/C” carriages (and those trains are probably half a kilometre long) and saw my name on a print-out attached to one of the doors I was so relieved I had to take a quick photo. Crazy foreigner!

Next came the usual swapping arrangements. There is always a grandmother or mother-n-baby combo who need my lower berth and I’m always happy to oblige in order to attach myself to a family for safety’s sake. I have not a word of Hindi, after all. And I slept well, knowing that my stop was at the end of the line and that I would be met by a representative of the hotel-near-the-station. He was indeed waiting for me, although it took a couple of calls for us to meet up outside the splendid old locomotive which has come to rest outside the ticket hall. Of course I snapped it for my grandson Ted.

Mr Kazi of the Ahmedabad Ritz Hotel, for that really is his name (titter ye not, Beatrice) went to a great deal of trouble to prepare a complicated itinerary for the next nine days. It is an unusual combination of dental work, sightseeing trips and visiting the relatives. I also found myself very comfortably settled in his establishment which is slightly more up-market than I’d budgeted for but where the incidentals are surprisingly inexpensive and the service is second to none. Bearing in mind the fact that Dr Bhalla started work straight away and left me to my own devices when it came to getting a prescription filled, finding myself somewhere where the doorman will nip out to find the necessary meds while room service make up a comforting sweet lhasi (yoghurt drink) to help them down is of incalculable assistance.

The sightseeing is yet to come and the relatives, well Kundan’s relatives, have written themselves out of the picture by not taking any calls and bolting the door. It’s a long story and has nothing to do with any of the remarks that I made in earlier posts on my blog – there’s no way that they ever bothered to read them. It was highly embarrassing to turn up and find the door locked and no message left and you can be sure that I did check for messages with the neighbours on both sides. Someone else is going to be embarrassed when they get back: “no, thank you, I’d love a cup of tea but I’ve just come from the dentist (clutches cheek in show of pain) and I’m not allowed hot drinks, perhaps if you would be kind enough to just give them a note”. Everybody in the block must know by now.

I’m so sorry that this difficult situation has arisen: in India male relatives still frequently believe that a widow’s possessions should be theirs to dispose of as they see fit and it is beginning to look as if brother and nephew are trying to help themselves to the flat. I was due to pick up a couple of things (including some of my own spare hot-weather clothes) and pass on a message but I really can’t see what I else can do. I can offer Kundan more support back at home and in the meantime, well, I’m off to see the textile producing region of Kutch next so I’ll just have to do a bit of shopping.


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