So on December 23, I flew back to Mumbai to take a morning meeting on the 24th with Shyam Benegal and Raghava KK. It was a quick trip north. I went from the meeting back to the airport and flew from Mumbai to Coimbatore. My uncle met me at the Coimbatore airport and we jumped on a bus to Salem. (These aren't necessarily famous Indian cities, which should give you an idea of where all I'm traveling). I was wrong about the taxis Indian cities showing us that miracles exist. It's regional buses in BFE India that prove miracles exist. This Coimbatore to Salem bus is an education. (I'm typing this on my phone while on the bus). Indians take using their horns to a whole new level. There is not a driving instant that doesn't seem to be made just a bit better by slamming on the horn. This bus driver could be measured by when he is NOT hitting the horn. It would be easier to calculate.
So, I got on the bus and there is a speaker literally tied to a luggage rack with jute rope that is playing the best of Indian film music from the 70s and well… 70s. I think I recognize the music from my parents' playlist. Even then there are guys with their headphones in playing their music loud enough to where I can hear it clearly. On top of that we have 2 people who decided to forgo the entire pretense of headphones. Between the multitude of music and the car horn, I feel like had Ives been Indian, he would have been proud.
Then we have the drunk guy at the back door of the bus who asked everyone to move, proceeded to take his sandals, use them as pillows, lie down in the aisle and go to sleep. Unfortunately, as the bus got more full, he kept getting accidentally stepped on. He would wake up and yell at the guy who stepped on him, roll over and go back to sleep.
We reached Sankari. I hadn't been to Sankari in over 15 years. My uncle had been the head of marketing (after working his way up through the ranks) at the India Cements factory. We used to go there every other summer. When we first started going, there wasn't even a train station. The train would slow down in the middle of these sugar cane fields, and we would literally jump off a moving train. A lot has changed, but much around the factory has stayed the same. (Though now it is my cousin who works there as my uncle is retired). My cousin, by the way, is sporting a seriously Tamil Cinema mustache.
The next day, we jumped back on a bus and headed to Salem to see my aunt, uncle, and another cousin. It was a nice trip to Salem, though the mosquitos are still ridiculous. I think you could hit them with a baseball bat and they might even fight back. That night it was back on the bus to Sankari. I was able to spend the day hanging out with my "nieces" (my cousin's daughters), then it was off to the night train to Chennai.
I used to love taking these night trains, but of course, much like the discussions of the snake infestations in Sankari freaked me out, the discussions of people in the AC cars being robbed freaked me out. Also, supposedly the blankets they hand you for the journey can at times be infested with insects. (I used to have such a sense of adventure - I feel like stories like these and the fact that they freak me out are showing me that I'm getting soft. Though I'll elaborate on the snake story in a second and that may vindicate me).
I made it to Madras at 5:30 AM and proceeded to make my way to the prepaid autorikshaw stand. (In India, be sure to use as many prepaid autos and taxis as possible. They really do work on hosing you - I speak Tamil and STILL got hosed). As I was walking to the prepaid stand, I was accosted by the usual auto drivers who were trying to get me to use their vehicles. My favorite was the guy who said he would take me to my destination for Rs. 150. He was saving me money because the prepaid asked for a fee. Yeah - the prepaid fee is 3 rupees and the prepaid fee was Rs. 111. Ironically the guy who took me only had a 10 Rupee note to be able to make change, and I ended up having to pay him Rs. 140. Oh well. They always find a way to cheat you.
So the snake story - the first place I ever saw a cobra in the wild was at the India Cements compound when I was younger, so I know there are snakes on the grounds. My aunt tells me that they recently brought snake handlers in to clear the grounds and caught around 40 dangerous snakes. Great. That inspires confidence. Well, a day before I got there, a poisonous snake was captured on top of someone's bureau in their house and its mate was caught in a suitcase near by. This was AFTER the big snake hunt. Then while we were in Salem, a snake fell on my cousin's wife while she was in the car port. Anyone else hearing Samuel L. Jackson's voice?