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12 Jul 2022

Destination Kasauli. Or is it?

So I get into the car that would take me from Dharamshala to Kasauli, early one chilled morning in June. I was moving from one workshop engagement to another.

“Kasauli” I said cryptically to the driver.

The car had been arranged the previous evening with me sending the requisite, or should I say, desired, destination address by text. Driver details shared… driver called… you know the drill.

With a propensity towards motion sickness, I had some principles in place to ‘travel without trouble’: leave very early in the morning, travel on an empty stomach, take your preventive meds, and sleep as much as possible once on the road. On the morning of the travel I got into my ‘saintly demeanour’ of popping two pills (anti-emetics, mind you) and (as the Lord is my witness) foregoing my coffee, without complaining, at which point I get my halo.

“Kasauli” I said cryptically to the driver.

I knew the journey would be all mountain roads. Adjusting my self-bequeathed halo, I got into the car, settled in, closed my eyes and drifted quickly in to a coffee-starved, drug-induced stupor.

I had mapped my journey

Before starting I had mapped my journey. But once on the road, the mountains greet you with spectacular views, but sorry, not sorry, no network. Oh well… I shut my eyes, slipping once again into ‘one more medicated peaceful moment‘ (Song reference: Orestes. Link below)

Every time I stirred and looked out, the mountainscape greeted me with a smile. What I didn’t realise was that it was not a smile, but the wicked all-knowing grin of a Cheshire cat.

I had also ignored a slightly confusing conversation I had had with the driver, Rahul (his name, cleverly gleaned from the phone details). Rahul was a tall, pleasant-looking Haryanvi (my guess. Could have been Punjabi, or from Himachal itself, (for this narrative, Haryanvi sounds good) with snazzy dark glasses, a man-bun and (I presume) a Punjabi-music fanboy (it played through the journey non-stop) and looked like he was ready to jump into a movie scene straight after dropping me.

What does Google know?

But back to the confusing conversation. I had asked him how long we’d take.

“4 and a half to 5 hours”, was his estimate. He added the asterix bit, “Depending on the traffic.”

Of course. He had proclaimed all this confidently in a very strong Haryanvi accent (or was it? We from Mumbai don’t know. But maybe another time about my Hindi-speaking or even Hindi-deciphering skills!)

Google maps had shown me almost 7 hours. 6hrs 49 minutes, to be exact. But once I got into the car with Rahul Haryanvi driving like he was Lewis Hamilton, I thought, what does Google know. Google is not driving. Rahul Lewis Hamilton Haryanvi is. And so we trundle along. Well, trundle is my stupor-induced word. I think we were flying – the phrase, as the crow flies, comes from Rahul L H Haryanvi, for sure.

Call it what you will.

Assumptions. Presumptions. Trust. Blind faith. And yes, stupidity. Bravado. Foolishness. Take your pick.

At about 12:30 pm or so, he proudly announces that we are only 36 kilometres away from our destination. Next to me is a flowing river. We are somewhere near Kullu, and, years ago, I’ve been down that river, white water rafting. But I don’t remember Kullu being anywhere close to my destination. But (presumptions again) what do I know of these parts… I am not from the state of Himachal. I am from Maharashtra… know parts of that well.

This was the time when by the flowing waters of the Beas river, some sense trickled into me. I sat up and shared my ultimate and desired destination with tomorrow’s Ranveer Singh! He looked at it amazed.
“Kasauli? Did you want to go to Kasauli?”

Why was I sensing derision in his voice?

Why, oh why, was I sensing derision in his voice? I couldn’t fathom it. He was almost looking down on me for making a meaningless decision like that. I ignored it with my head held high. My retreat resort, my fellow yoga enthusiasts, my next set of workshops, awaited me in Kasauli, and yes, that WAS where I wanted to go. How would he know the importance of the breath as also the pause between breaths? And that whole feeling of being together. (Frankly, I think I was looking down on Rahul Ranveer Singh Lewis Hamilton Haryanvi.) But condescension went flying out of the window and swiftly rode over the babbling waters of the Beas (joining the Cheshire Cat) when Rahul R S L H Haryanvi, said the next few words:

“But we have come to Kasol!”

In the history of humanity, there have been times when many an obstacle has come in the way of humankind. Many a Gods have been fervently prayed to, before the start of journeys, and through them, to help avoid obstacles. In fact, Lord Ganesha, well known as Vighneshwara – the remover of obstacles – has been the receiver of many tokens of sacrifice, fruits, flowers, incences, even grass, and bowed heads to avoid the presumed obstacles. But I had not prayed before I left. And didn’t think of starting now. And wait, my journey had been smooth. No obstacles. None, whatsover. Yes, there was coffee-deprivation. But you could not classify that as an obstacle. It was just a temporary inconvenience and it fed into the light of the halo. So well…

But this business? Didn’t it sound shady?

This Kasol business? Didn’t it sound shady? Now wait a minute, I’ve told you I was not from these parts. First I didn’t know a place called Kasol existed. I also didn’t know what it meant – air quotes here. You can also, kind soul, see that the spellings are distinctly different (so much for my M.A. with English Literature and my keen knowledge of phonetics). And finally, I admit ignorance of the geography of my vast country, I didn’t even know where Kasol was in the general lay of the land.

Are you from New Delhi?

NCR? Noida? Gurugram? UP? Uttarakhand? Himachal Pradesh? Punjab?

If you’ve said yes to any of these, either your hand has dramatically flown to your mouth in dismay, or you have fallen off your chair rolling with laughter. Hrrrmmph! Depending on what your reaction is, I now know your age!

Well, that said, we were now approaching Kasol. At this time Rahul of the Kasauli-being-mistaken-for-Kasol fame, took an executive decision and took a U-turn. And the Gods of the Internet blessed me with a working Google Map!

The Map, the Map and nothing but The MAP!

I gingerly checked my destination. My drug-induced stupor was all gone. It was over 5 hours since I had left for a destination, roughly 7 hours away. The MAP showed me that I was 6 and a half hours away from my ‘desired’ destination! We had gone West instead of South! That’s when I felt my halo slipping down* (Song reference: The Noose. Link below)

I took a deep breath.

Several ones. With pauses in between, mind you. What was next? I asked Rahul-Kasauli-Kasol-Ranveer-Singh-Lewis-Hamilton-Haryanvi. This time he took a deep breath… and said, let’s go to Kasauli! Finally! A driver in agreement with me! I couldn’t be more blessed. I had nothing to do but prep for the next lap. Taking two more pills for additional winding-road journeys, I settled down again. Not being able to eat while on a road journey probably is a good thing, I thought. It saves time especially when you’ve got your destinations mixed up! And maybe this was the scenic route to take. Hello River Beas. Nice to see you again.

Several traffic jams, rivers, streams, hills, mountains, roads later, we reached the real-actual-desired-awaited destination late that evening. I had been on the road for over 12 hours. I had eager ‘co-retreaters’ waiting for me. Some worried, some relieved, some wondering why I was not much worse for the wear. I gave Rahul-Kasauli-Kasol-Ranveer-Singh-Lewis-Hamilton-Haryanvi, a tip for his expert driving in all directions. (Yes, I did!) And for the rest of the days that we – the retreaters – were together, the Kasol-Kasauli debacle kept coming into our conversation creating mountains of mirth and laughter!

Someone asked me, weren’t you worried?

Not really, I said. And that’s the truth. My only question to myself was, what do I learn from this? And the answer came grinning at me. (Welcome Cheshire Cat again!) Avoid Assumptions, it told me. (Yes, my fellow Grammarians, both A’s are capitalised). That’s the first chapter of the book I just co-authored with John Britt, a published author in the US.
I had presumed so many things here. Thinking the driver had the final address. Thinking he knew where to go and not double-checking. Thinking he will understand my “Bombay Accent” of saying Kasauli (though I still have not figured how to say Kasauli, more distinctly from Kasol. Maybe it should be spelt Ka-soul-eeeee). Thinking I can go to sleep when maps don’t work. And presuming that just because I have a halo around my head it won’t end up like a noose* around my neck. (Song reference: The Noose. Again. Link below)

The saying goes, practise what you preach. Sure, you do that. No one told me to practise what I write. Oh well… lesson learnt. At least, I can safely say that I know my wonderful co-author, John Britt does.

Song reference: Orestes

Song reference: The Noose

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