Friday, June 24, 2016

A Nightmarish Ooty Trip & 3 Encounters with Police

Going out to new places gives tonnes of excitement and loads of new experiences. But, when we are accompanied by close friends, even a trip to the familiar place would become interesting and memorable. If those friends are crazy, it would even become adventurous than what one could ever imagine.

All the fun ended here...

The Beginning

This incident happened when my college friends and I were at the early stages of our professional lives. There was some common dissatisfaction among us regarding the stress we go through while working as journalists. We started thinking about a productive alternative. At that time, one of my friends, Syam, came up with the idea that mushroom cultivation is profitable and we could easily do it in our home town without much investment.

That thought caught the interest of two of us, Sainu and me. After doing initial research, we found that there are many profitable mushroom farms in Ooty. So, we decided to visit those farms in Ooty, which is just four-hour drive from my home town, Palakkad.

At that time, I was in Bangalore, Syam was in Mumbai and Sainu was in Cochin. All of us decided to meet at my house in Palakkad. One fine afternoon, Sainu, Syam and one of Syam’s friends, Shajahan, who was working in Merchant Navy, came to my house on two bikes.

The initial idea was to travel by bike. But, my father advised us to go by car instead of two different bikes. My cousin’s car was kept at my house and my father asked us to take that car, which turned out as the bad decision. That car, a Hyundai Santro, has an important role in this adventurous story. Syam and Shajahan are proficient drivers. So, we decided to take the car. Right next to the gate of my house, the car stopped, giving us the hint that it won’t be a pleasant trip.

 Hairpin bends and scary ride

By the time we passed Mettupalayam and started taking the elevated curves and sharp bends that head towards Ooty, it was dark. Our car was moving on an average speed and four of us were busy in funny conversations and were pulling each other’s legs.

At one point, after several attempts, Syam overtook a lorry. When we were 50-100 meters ahead of the lorry, we heard a thudding sound and it took us several seconds to realize what has happened. We slowed the vehicle and turned back. That lorry with heavy load tilted towards the left side of the road and fell down on the flat place adjoining the road. As we found people from vehicles that came behind the lorry helping the lorry guys, we decided to move ahead.

After crossing 7-8 hairpin bends, we were moving towards the next one. It was dark with a slight mist. Other than car head lights there were no other lights. As we were approaching the hairpin bend, a Tata Sumo was screeching towards us from the opposite direction. Syam’s reflex breaking action stopped our vehicle instantly with a hard jerk. Just before the barricade, the Sumo stopped.

It was a lucky day for that driver and for us. A fraction of a second here and there would have let the vehicle either to cross the barricade and topple several feet down or hit our vehicle. The Sumo driver paused for a few seconds, took a reverse and turned towards the right route with a sigh of relief. At around 9.30PM we reached my uncle’s house in Coonoor. After having dinner we slept.

Waking up to a dreadful day

We woke up, got ready and started the journey towards the outskirts of Ooty where the Mushroom farms are located. My two little cousins also joined us. Between farm hopping, we met a land broker who got into our car and he started showing interior places that are ideal for a mushroom farm. After visiting three mushroom farms, we realized that starting a mushroom farm is not easy and it requires a lot of investment that we can’t afford at that time.

The land broker continued to show us more places.  After a point, we managed to get rid of that land broker. We dropped my cousins at their house and headed towards Ooty. We decided to drop our business plan and enjoy the rest of the day roaming around Ooty. After visiting some interior places, we reached Ooty Botanical garden at around 3PM. The plan was to start our journey to Palakkad at 6.30PM. We entered the botanical garden. Many school children were following their teachers and here and there we could see family crowds and honeymoon couples.

Gaining the energy for the non-stop adventure...

Globetrotter's Mexican stories

Shajahan has traveled around the world and he has stayed in many countries. Throughout our journey, he used to boast about his foreign trips and the party life in different countries.

He kept on telling those stories while we were entering the garden. We were eating fresh carrots and to avoid Shajahan's self-promotion we decided to play with the carrot pieces. We divided ourselves into two teams with two members each and we stood away. One team would throw the carrot piece high up in the air and any of the members of the other team should catch it. We started playing. Within no time it became interesting. Carrot started flying higher and higher and catchers started running further and further.

Tourists, who were sitting around, started looking at us. A big group of school kids from a boarding school were eager to join us. Then it became a huge crowd on the both sides. The cheering became louder and we started rolling on the grass to catch the carrot piece. All of us started sweating. We continued playing till all the carrot pieces were broken into tiny pieces. Then we introduced Shajahan to those kids as the one who roam around the world.

Shajahan started sharing his travel experiences. All the kids were excited to hear that and they eagerly asked questions. The kids became friendly to the extent that one guy asked Shajahan, "Which country girls are prettier?" After asking the question that boy started blushing. With much authority, Shajahan told them that, Mexican girls look so pretty. No other girls look prettier than them.

Shajahan became a celebrity with all those boys becoming his fans. When the boys were about to leave we took a group photo. After 6PM the garden workers started informing visitors that it is closing time. We started walking towards the gate. We came out of the botanical garden and walked towards our car parked on the inner road away from the gate. Shajahan was searching for the car key. He missed the car key. All of us became tensed and we started scolding Shajahan.

The day light was going down and the main garden gate is getting closed. All the visitors were asked to move out. We ran towards the security guards and told them the situation and requested them to let us in. They asked us to search quickly. We ran all the way inside to the place where we were playing with carrot pieces. It was a huge vacant area. We ran around and searched all the corners till it was fully dark.

Drunken goons & daring efforts

We were totally disappointed and we came out of the gate and reached the place where our car was parked. With a torch light we looked around the car. Shajahan apologized for this goof up. After sometime, we realized that one of the back door windows is not locked. There was a gap between the door frame and the top glass edge. We managed to pull down the glass and opened the car doors. We got into the car. Now the next challenge was to start the car. We tried all the tricks without any use.

As it was getting late, we decided to contact nearby mechanic shops. Sainu and I went in different directions to find a mechanic. There was no mechanic shop nearby. I spoke to a tea shop owner and got the number of a mechanic. I spoke to him and request him for immediate help. He agreed to reach the place in half an hour. With a great relief, I walked towards the car, where Syam and Shajahan were arguing with three drunken localites.

I asked Syam what happened. "They are drunk and simply troubling us." The drunken guys were raising their voice and creating a scene. "I want to know how you guys move out of this place. You people from Kerala have a lot of attitude. Last week a few guys came and showed similar attitude we smashed the front glasses of their Bolero, after which they went away without uttering a word."

I asked Syam and Shajahan to keep quiet and looked at the guy who looked like the gang leader. The guy next to that gang leader started blabbering, "Do you know who his father is? He is the Sub-Inspector of the local police station and he lives in police quarters nearby. Nobody messes with him. Nobody asks him any question."

Now, it is very clear who the gang leader is. I smiled at him and initiated the conversation in Tamil. "I know Tamil. And I'm a Senior Report of a leading Tamil magazine. We are here in your place. We should only take back good memories. We lost the car key and we are struggling. We have to go back today and it is dark. That tension led to this argument."

After a pause, the gang leader smiled and said, "Look how you speak. One should not show attitude in a new place. If you show attitude your car will also be smashed like that Bolero."

I told him that "It happened because of the tension. Leave it."

In a sudden shift, the gang became so friendly, "Do you need any mechanic to repair the car? Our friends are there."

"No. Thanks. I have called a mechanic. He promised to come here in half an hour," I told him.

"We will be here only. Call us if you need any help. If you guys want to drink, join us till the mechanic comes," said that guy in a friendly tone.

"No. That’s fine. Thank you," I skipped.

When keyless entry goes haywire

Soon after the gang left, the mechanic came on a motorbike. We were curious to know how the mechanic would resolve the issue. He tried all the tricks and told us that, "In cars with center locking it is difficult to unlock without a key."

After several attempts, the mechanic started removing plastic coverings fitted below the steering wheel. My blood pressure started increasing as it is my cousin's car. After some time, all the wires connected to the steering wheel were protruding out. After doing all these, the mechanic managed to unlock the steering wheel. Then he said, he needs more tools to do further work. So, he asked us to push the car till his mechanical workshop, which is 2Kms away.

While the mechanic slowly drove his bike, Shajahan took control of the car steering. Syam, Sainu and me pushed the car. When we started moving, the local gang came out and asked, "Is it working. Where are you taking it?"

"To the mechanical workshop. Thanks for your help. See you next time," I quipped.

"You guys didn't have drinks with me. Have a drink and go," the gang leader insisted.

"We will have it next time. See you." We moved out.

It was 9PM. All the shops were closed by that time. We were really tired. The breeze was cold as the mist sweeping in. With great difficulty, we pushed the car all the way till the workshop. The mechanic took another hour to give us a solution. He called all four of us inside his workshop and gave us the instructions. "To completely resolve this, I need one full day. The key slot has to be replaced completely. It is very complicated. Another option is, I will show you how to operate the vehicle in the current scenario. Once you reach home, get it sorted at your place."

We looked at each other; the second option looked fine for all of us. We wanted to reach home as early as possible. All of us were dead tired and starving. We told our decision to the mechanic. He started showing us the wires. "Earlier all the controls were on the steering wheel. Without the key it is not possible to operate it. So, I have removed all the wires. One guy, who is sitting next to the driver, should take control of these tasks. To start the car, you have to connect these two wires and push the car. For controlling head lights these are the wires. This is for horn and that is for the indicator."

That mechanical workshop looked like a practical laboratory and four of us were listening to the mechanic like electronics students.

Encounter 1: A lift to mufti police till CBI office

After clearing the mechanic's bill, we push started the car and got in. Syam was driving the car, I took the co-driver seat. We decided to drive slowly as we have to drive down the hill. Below the steering all the wires were projecting out so we covered it with a small towel. We were very hungry and we cursed that day.

"Sorry guys. All these happened because of my mistake," Shajahan apologized.

He expected sympathy from us. But, we all started abusing him. We started cracking jokes on the incidents that happened. We started laughing.

But, that was not all. Just before leaving Ooty town, a group of police stopped us on the road.
We stopped the car. Before the police came near our car, Syam adjusted the towel covering the wires and whispered that he is not going to switch on the light.

Two senior police officers came near the driver seat. Syam lowered the car window glass.

“Where are you coming from?” one police officer asked and looked inside the car.

“Ooty,” Syam said.

“It is so late. What were you guys doing till this time? Where are you going?” he refined the question further.

“Our vehicle broke down. We got it repaired and it took time. We have to reach Palakkad and we are thinking of staying here tonight as it is so late,” I replied with hesitation.

The police officer introduced us to another police officer in the group, who was in mufti. “He is our staff. He has to handover an important file to a CBI office in Mettupalayam. It is little urgent. So, give him a lift till Mettupalayam. He will help you find accommodation in Mettupalayam.”

We tried to avoid that by saying, “No sir, we are very tired. We would like to stay here.”

“It is urgent. That’s why. Help him,” the police officer took the liberty of opening the back door and the mufti police got into our car.

The police officers outside the car started waving their hands. Syam, Sainu and I fiercely looked at Shajahan and he started looking outside. For some time, there was dead silent in the car. After which, as a precaution, I told the police officer that we lost the key and we are driving the car without key. He said, “That is okay. I can understand.” During the journey he became friendly and started sharing his personal and professional experience.

At around midnight, we reached Mettupallayam. We dropped the police officer in the town where he requested us to stop. Before leaving, he asked us whether we need his help in getting an accommodation in Mettupalayam. We told him that, “Anyways, it is midnight. In 2-3 hours journey we will reach Palakkad. So, we prefer driving towards Palakkad.”

Encounter 2: Highway police on advice mode
From Syam, Shajahan took the driver seat. We felt relieved after dropping the police officer. All of us were very tired. Sainu started sleeping even when the police officer was sitting next to him. In minutes even Syam and I also started dozing off. Shajahan was also sleepy. So, we decided to take a nap. We parked the car on the left side of the highway under a tree. As it was humid, Shajahan removed his shirt and pushed his seat back and we slept in no time.

I woke up hearing the tapping sound from the driver’s window. It was a stick. Somebody was trying to wake us up. There was a jeep parked next to our car. It took me a few minutes to realize that it is a Police Jeep.

Shajahan and Syam also woke up. Shajahan was surprised to see the police guys once again. Shajahan pulled down the window glass and was trying to find his shirt. There were three police officers, one of them asked us to switch on the light inside the car and come out. Shajahan switched on the light. The steering wheel with the wires was covered with the towel. One of the assistant police officers peeked into the window and removed the towel. And the senior police officer also looked in.

“Where are you coming from?” the police officer asked us while looking at the all-wired steering wheel.

“Ooty,” replied Shajahan in low voice.

“From where did you guys lift this car?” the officer asked us to come out of the car.

Sainu was not at all disturbed by all these conversations. He was still sleeping comfortably balancing his head on half-opened window glass. Three of us got down from the car and went near the police jeep.

“Where did you lift this car?” the police officer asked us once again.

“We went for an Ooty trip. There we missed the car key. A mechanic there took all the wires out to help us start the car without key. While driving towards Palakkad, we felt sleepy. So, we thought of taking a nap,” we explained him the situation.

He was not fully convinced. What are you guys doing?

I introduced myself as Assistant Editor of XYZ magazine, Shajahan introduced him as merchant navy officer and Syam introduced him as Senior Reporter of XYZ newspaper in Mumbai.

“What about the guy sleeping in the car?” the assistant police officer was curious.

He went near the door and tried to wake Sainu up. Despite being thick friend of Sainu, even Syam and I don’t dare to disturb him while he is sleeping. After 2-3 attempts, the police officer managed to succeed in his attempt. With great difficulty Sainu opened his eyes. He looked at both the police officers. Without any change in facial reaction, he asked “What?”

Taking by surprise with Sainu’s reaction, the officer asked him, “What is your name and profession?”

“I’m Sainul Abudheen. I’m the Legal Correspondent of XYZ newspaper in Cochin,” he was brimming with irritation and his voice was loud. After replying he immediately went back to sleep. Three of us were shocked after seeing Sainu’s blind boldness.

The police officer checked our ID cards for confirmation. After realizing that three of us are Journalists and one from Navy, the senior officer mellowed down his voice and became friendly.

“You should not park your car on highways. It is risky. What if a vehicle comes out of control and bangs your vehicle. If you are sleepy, park your car in any of the petrol pumps and sleep. That is safer. Don’t park your car here. Have a safe trip,” they shook hands with three of us before leaving while Sainu was sleeping comfortably.

We push started the car and started moving. We made fun of Sainu’s boldness. “Even if Commissioner disturbs my sleep, my response would be like that,” Sainu responded.

Encounter 3: The strict police officer of Walayar

We couldn’t control our sleep not even for half an hour. Once again we parked the car. This time it was a little away from the highway, in front of a closed shop. That area was full of mosquitoes. Because of mosquito bites, we couldn’t even sleep for 10 minutes. We cursed all the gods and push started the car. Syam took the driver seat. All of us decided that nobody is going to sleep. Shajahan started sharing Mexican stories. Once again we started pulling each other’s legs.

With great struggle to control our sleep, we crossed the Walayar check post and entered Kerala. It takes another 30 minutes to reach my house. It was 2.30 AM. Shajahan, Sainu and Syam felt that it is an odd time to reach my home and they felt that it would affect my parents sleep. So, for the third time, we parked the car in an isolated place next to the highway and started sleeping.

In my deep sleep, I heard the tapping sound on the driver’s window glass. Initially I thought it was a dream. When tried hard to open my eyes. I couldn’t believe, once again police! All of us woke up and looked at each other.

A senior police officer was sitting in the jeep and a young assistant police officer was standing near our car. We opened the window and switched on the light. We were asked to handover the car key. We looked at each other. The assistant officer looked inside the car and removed the towel from the steering wheel. He saw all the wires and the key slot was empty. He informed what he saw to the senior officer. Four of us were asked to come out of the car.

“Four young guys, odd time, car parked on highway, no keys, all wires disconnected… What should I conclude?” The senior police officer asked us in strict tone.

Once again we explained the whole story.  With little hesitation, the senior officer said, “Ok. Show me the papers.”

Before we started from Palakkad, my father showed me where the car-related documents are kept.
I went inside the car and took those documents and gave it to the senior officer sitting inside the jeep.
While looking at the documents, he asked me, “Who is the owner of the car?”

This is my cousin’s car. “What is the owner’s name?” he asked.

I told my cousin sister’s name. “No. That’s not matching the name in the document,” he raised his voice.

“Then it would be in her husband’s name,” I told my brother-in-law’s name.

“No. That’s not the name. You guys don’t even know who the owner is?” he further raised his voice.

“Sir, it is a second hand car. I’m not sure whether they have transferred the name or not,” I tried to explain.

“How can I believe you guys? There is no key. You don’t even know the owner’s name. Then how can I believe,” he ridiculed us.

“Sir, I’m a magazine Editor, he is a senior Reporter, the third guy is working in navy and the last guy is also a Reporter. We have ID proofs,” I replied.

 “We didn’t do any offence. We just lost the key.  We can understand your version of things. We ca show you the ID cards to prove our genuineness,” Syam replied.

“Should I be afraid of journalists? Being a Reporter or Editor doesn’t mean that you can escape from anything. I’m not afraid of any journalists and they don’t have any special privilege” the police officer was trying to dominate us.

“Sir, do whatever you feel like! We have seen many police officers like this,” once again Sainu raised his voice.

“If I register a complaint, it attracts a maximum punishment of six-month imprisonment.” The police officer thought for a second and said, “This time, I’m leaving you guys. Leave immediately from this place.” After handing over the documents, the officer asked the assistant to start the jeep.

Before we push started our vehicle, the police jeep moved far away from our sight. Wondering about all that happened in a night, we reached my house. We explained the whole story to my father and we showed him the car. He regretted for his decision to allow us to take the car and he ended up fixing it by spending a huge amount from his pocket.

After that trip, I never met Shajahan. That one adventurous trip was more than enough to remember him for a life time.

Some memories are like this. Even if it is nightmarish, the people who were part of it make it so special.  

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