Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.
Last week, a colleague of mine got married in her home town, which as it turned out was a distant outpost of civilization, in the high ranges of the Munnar Hills. To many people in my workplace, this was an opportunity to get out of the city on a working day, and get some mountain air. And so, we (numbering a nice round dozen) set out early that morning. We were to take the familiar road from Kochi to Munnar up to the town of Adimali; and from there we were to turn away from the highway to reach the town of Panakkankudi, where the wedding was to take place.The ride was as pleasant as any winding up the Ghats – with dense forests, creeping onto the roads, the morning light filtering through the canopy; and in places the trees clear up, giving glimpses of the valleys and plains below. Small streams falling down sheer rock faces here and there; yes! the Western Ghats offer a plethora of tranquil visual frames to all who visit.
Now, the bride had told us it would take just two and a half hours to get to her town. As it turned out, it took us three just to get to Adimali. We took the due turn from the main road and stopped to confirm our direction with some sleepy-looking mallu guys who were sitting in a small tea-shop, reading the paper and presumably discussing the happenings of the valley. They assured us most kindly that we were on the right road, and we only had to go “some 3 kilometers” to reach Panakkankudi. So, we drove on through yet more forests and plantations (tapioca, yams, banana, cocoa, coffee, areca and all that), on and on, upon the winding hill road. After a while, we all agreed we had gone more than the designated three kilometers, and soon spotted another group of well-meaning mallus in a teashop. These gentlemen assured us yet again that we were indeed on the correct road, and had only to go six kilometers more to reach our destination. On we went, for what I personally estimate as 7 or 8 kms, and still no sign of Panakkankudi. The third group of tea-shop gents told us we had to go another 10 kilometers (!). By this time, we were sure we were late for the ceremony. We made it just in time though – the last set of misguiding mallus were somewhat right.
This wouldn’t be the first time hill folk have misled me on distance though. I remember a family trip to another part of the Ghats – Nelliyampathy (Palakkad District), when the driver/cook/errand boy of a private Farm-style guesthouse had assured us that the place was just over 4 kilometers from the heart of town. He convinced us to leave our cars in town and load ourselves and our luggage into his 4-wheel drive which would just be “more convenient” and less of a bother. He proceeded to first drive us through some sort of private estate, where the Jeep went up an impossible incline of (not ROAD) but loose mud (!), then onto a mud track skirting a sheer ravine, over some grassy hilltops, through a spot of undisturbed forests (complete with ferns, bamboos and some of the biggest-damn-trees I’ve ever seen), then through some overgrown and unmaintained coffee plantations – to a small bungalow, overlooking a pretty valley. The distance from the “Town” would probably have been 25 kilometers.
I’m not complaining about the people, the distance or the roads, and definitely not about the views! But I’m now convinced that all hill folk have a skewed sense of distance. It’s just one of those things, like having zero sense of distance out at sea, or a variable sense of space, depending on the perceived horizon (which in turn depends on the time of day, cloud cover, fog, rain etc. etc…). Or skewed sense of time when you’re having fun, getting bored or when there’s a lot of work to be done….
And then after all, aren’t we all laboring, to some extent, under a skewed sense of self?