By G Waugh aka Jeeva P
This was the first time I was travelling in a bus that ventured into narrow, serpentine roads full of bends that were extremely sharp that the driver seemed to drivelike a Rajnikanth-replica in a 90s Tamil movie climax trying to dodge the villain’s tanker lorry that intentionally wanted to crash the vehicle he was driving in, with a petrified heroine screaming beside. Every ten minutes or so, there was a huge speed-breaker that the bus had to scale and dismount. I was sitting on my father’s lap who was trying to entertain me with his fascination for the layers of thick, deep forests that looked stacked one upon another through the window. Soon the bus was marching right into a dense cloud cover and my dad was asking me questions about how it felt like for the first time to pass through something as strange as that. To an extent, I couldn’t help being exhilarated about whatever I was witnessing but something inside my body did not allow me to enjoy the whole experience in a single, unperturbed frame of mind.
I should have been seven or eight years old then and it was the first among twenty-five odd times we were visiting Tirupati. The sensation of inhaling the cold wind of the virgin mountains did not grow into one of pleasure and satisfaction but rather unfortunately into a feeling of unease and anxiety. Soon my ears started getting blocked and a fluid that I hadn’t tasted before felt like snaking across my stomach to move and rise into my throat. What the hell was happening to me? My father continued to humour me without noticing the changes in my countenance and I kept trying to swallow the mysterious fluid. I wanted to tell dad that I was not feeling very comfortable but I looked around to see my mom sitting beside him with eyes closed as though she were meditating. Just before I wanted to wake mom up to tell her about this, the bus took another sharp turn to the right and climbed over another steep speed-breaker killing the impulse to open my mouth instantly. I decided to close my eyes and lean on the window grill when all of a sudden, a spring of the same mysterious fluid surgedfrom the stomach to gush across my mouthlike a hurt anaconda rising out of the lake in rage. Boom!
Within an instant I had vomited upon the pants of my father along with those of mine. The spicy and the wholesome samosas that I had wolfed down during my three-hour journey on the early morning Sapthagiri Express from Chennai had all reappeared in a completely unrecognizable form on the floor of the bus leaving no place for me to stand or sit near my father’s seat.
I was completely clueless as to why I had vomited. I was neither sick nor had I eaten something that I hadn’t done before. The sensation to vomit took another ten minutes to fade by which time almost the entire three-seater we had occupied had to be vacated for another place in the back of the bus.
The same nightmarish experience repeated on the return journey too within the next day. This time I felt as exhausted as how Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman must have felt after batting through a whole sultry daywithout getting out against a testing bowling attack at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001 against Australia. During my return journey on the Sapthagiri Express to Chennai I had started thinking deeply about what was happening to me all of a sudden.
We used to visit Tirupati according to my mother’s wishes who had promised the Almighty that she would come and visit Him every year if He could save my ailing father from throat cancer. My dad survived luckily almost twice and the ritual of visiting Tirupati was usually reserved for my summer holidays. Since Andhra Pradesh had been the first state outside Tamilnadu that I had visited and since it was the very first time I was subject to the horrible experience of vomiting profusely on such a journey, every single thing that was associated with the state- the people, their faces, their language, the names of the cities and the towns in the state, the crowds that gathered to have a Darshan of the Almighty, everything had started feeling uncomfortable to me from then on (Till date, Telugu films are always last on my to-watch list). And since the experience repeated every time I visited the Holy Abode of the Lord, I sometimes used to start chanting the name of the Lord during the bus journey to keep me away from a terrible fit of vomiting.
Sea-sickness is sometimes characterized by sensations of vomiting and people who often undertake voyages to faraway lands were naturally prone to the ‘disease’. It is believed that when you have a highly sensitive brain to involuntary bodily movement, on such occasions when you are moving without actually intending to, your brain assumes that the movement is on account of you having mistakenly consumed a poisonous substance that has knocked off your bodily balance. This leads to the brain generating fluids of a kind that I had mentioned earlier whose job is to empty your gut of the assumed ‘poisonous’ substance and immediately save your life.
It took close to one and half decades for me to find such a ‘scientific’ basis for my illness that occurred and vanished as and when it liked especially whenever I was taking my much-awaited, my father’s meticulously planned and budgeted trips to the hillsides.
It is not easy for someone who doesn’t have this physical ‘abnormality’ to completely understand and appreciate the pain of its victims. After a few years, I soon woke up to the horrifying realization that sea-sickness need not be something that visitedpeople only during their trips along snaky Ghat roads and sharp hair-pin bends. When I was twelve, during our bus journey from Dindigul to Periyakulamto visit my father’s brother, to my absolute shock and disgustI had succeeded in vomiting close to a record seven times within less than three hours.
Soon the disease started visiting me everytime I boarded a bus that did not belong to the Pallavan Transport Corporation (later the MTC) and everytime the journey exceeded two hours. Whenever my father planned a trip to a new place, the first question I used to ask was- “After the train journey appa, how long should we travel by bus to our destination?” The answers were never less than two hours and I used to curse the Union government for not having laid enough railway networks to cover every nook and corner of the country. Trains usually were harmless for me and may be because of my romantic fascination for them, the metal serpents always treated me like how an avuncular Samuthirakaniused to treat kids who doted on him in his films.
The disease after I reached adolescence began to take even more terrifying dimensions. It was our school trip to Queensland if I remember correctly near Poonamallee that I vomited inside our school van in front of my class girls. I would have jumped out of the window on the highway and ended my life beneath the wheels of a speeding tanker lorry then and there but I didn’t have that much guts then.
After some months I soon found out that whenever I was sitting aligned along the direction of the van’s movement, I had a better chance of dodging sea-sickness than when I was seated on the opposite side with my back facing that of the driver. This trick was working for a while whenever we made van trips to Thirukadaiyur for our relatives’ sixtieth marriages and I started having a good time during these week-long affairs.
By the time I reached the end of my teens, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams had laid a fresh set of roads with lesser hair-pin bends and speed-breakers and I was actually managing to ward off the devil with reasonable rates of success. Drinking lemonades before I started out or smelling lemons whenever I felt nauseated were all moderately successful strategies. There was a solid remedy in the form of a chemical that was sold in the name of Perinorm which managed to push me into a session of imperturbable sleep whenever I felt nauseated. Even before I booked tickets to Kerala for trips with my friends, I used to make sure that my travelling bag was never short of a strip of Perinorm and thankfully I was doing better than before in my early twenties.
During our family trip to Ootacamund, the bus journey took almost three hours uphill from Coimbatore. I must have been twenty-one then. Without taking a pill from the strip of Perinorm and without having to chant the name of the Lord even once, I somehow had actually managed to keep the devil at bay. What a phenomenal achievement that was! I still couldn’t fathom how I had managed to exorcise it awaycompletely and the next couple of years all my trips to hill-stations were all fabulous and memorable experiencesthat had no use for the polythene covers and the umpteen 7up and Limca bottles that I used to carry.
Right from my adolescence, I had always dreaded the day when I had to get married and take my wife for honeymoon to some supposedly romantic hill-station. What if my new bride with whom I hadn’t had even a semblance of a conversation till then finds me wallowing in a pool of my own disgusting fluid? Why can’t we travel to places that are mostly plains and no plateaus? Why can’t we travel to a Delhi or a Bangalore or a Madurai for the honeymoon? Why are ninety-percent of India’s best tourist places always perched on a mountain? Why are only hill-stations and snowy peaks deemed romantic and exciting?
Having somehow found ways and means to escape the devil finally at the age of twenty-one, I had somehow within a year managed to certify myself as ‘an eligible bachelor ready for marriage’. Even the much-dreaded one-week college tour that was arranged during my final year in Engineering was a smooth, vomit-free experience for me and I had grown to the stature of helping my class girls with bottles of soda and Limca and handkerchiefs and tons of warm advice whenever they were teetering on the edge of vomiting along the treacherous Ghat roads of Kerala.
I was twenty-seven and the very next day after my would-be accepted my ceremonial ‘I love you’ through Whatsapp, my first question to her was about our honeymoon destination.
She wasn’t sure about where to go and I was the one who suggested Munnar.
We got married within months and in less than a fortnight, our trip to Munnar commenced.
We hired a Swift Dzire Tour at Aluvafor our week-long visit to various places in Kerala and the driver was very friendly. We both sat in the back of the car and held hands as the car started moving. Slowly she, wrapped in a graceful, newly purchased, lavender coloured gown gave me a pretty glance, moved to her left and leaned over my shoulder. I had wanted to appear not very excited about her approaching me and I opened my phone to continue the E-book I was reading. The car within minutes and without warning, started moving like how a besieged snake tries to escape from its prospective captors and the driver I found out to my alarm, had decided to orchestrate his expertise on negotiating the difficult Kerala terrain to both of us.
Within seconds, I had to stop reading and return the phone to my right-side pocket. Since all of my last few trips to Kerala and other hill-stations with my friends had all been vomit-less affairs, I had to my misfortune decided against carrying all of my ‘accessories’. I must have listened to my mother who insisted that I carry at least a strip of Perinorm. I had told her to shut up stridently and not insult me in front of my new wife.
I badly wanted to yell at the driver who was driving with a smirk to slow down and keep a steady pace but I was shocked to see that my wife was enjoying every single second of the ‘adventure’ through the wet and the dense forests.
It must have been less than ten minutes. I could slowly sense the taste of my saliva changing. I tried hard to dismiss the thought of the devil and divert myself by imagining romantic situations for the night. I closed my eyes.
Had the devil that had vanished altogether for the last six years or so decided to reappear andrear its ugly head now? That too at the most inopportune moment of my life when I was travelling alone for the first time with a girl whom I adored?
Yes, I know you Jeeva, you are a loser. I knew when to strike you at the right time and that is precisely why I had decided to let you loose all these years! Now you are off-guard and you are all of mine! Come on!!!
I opened my eyes.
You must have guessed by this time about what had happened next.Yes, there was no twist.
Well, the lavender-colored gown had to be cleaned and washed the very same night at the hotel. The display of my ‘exotic’ skills at love-making had to be put off by a day. I had to finish sipping half-a dozen cartons of Apple-flavoured ORS first.