We filed out, wrapped and packed, lugging our luggage along. It was bitterly cold, and the sun was still not completely out. We stood there near the gate of our house, watching the Traveler sputter to a stop, as the driver, Pappu, opened his door and jumped out.
A ‘gamcha’, or cotton towel, was wrapped around his head, and as soon as he got down on terra firma he discharged a long stream of red beetle shower by the roadside.
‘Ew’, my children exclaimed as I smiled inwardly.
‘Banarasi’, I thought. For eight or nine long years ‘Banarasi’ had been used by us as an invective, to denote anything we found distasteful and below par. But today, the word put me at ease, I felt completely at home by this strange creature vomited out by the Traveler.
‘How are you, Pappu’, I said? The familiarity in my voice surprised even him.
‘I am good, Sir. Are you ready to go?’ came the reply.
‘Yes, as soon as we have loaded our luggage and you have had a cup of tea and some snacks,’ I said.
His eyes shone. Obviously, he had not expected this.
And thus, as we hauled our luggage inside the eighteen-seater, Pappu sat in the verandah and had tea and toast. We soon found out, to our chagrin, that the Traveler doesn’t have any luggage compartment. So all the luggage had to be either piled on top of the vehicle or kept inside the cabin. But we had enough space since the vehicle was an eighteen-seater and the passengers were only eight. So the luggage was stashed on the rear seats of the vehicle and we got in. I sat in the front, adjacent to the driver and we were off, to pick Appu and his family on our way to Banaras.
As the vehicle sped along the empty city roads, dense with fog, I could hear the children whispering and giggling at the rear of the vehicle. I turned to look at Vaishali, and as our eyes met, I could see we both shared the same excitement. It was Alma Mater to both of us, and we had spent some very formative and interesting part of our lives there. It would be great to touch base again!
We stopped on the way to pick Appu, my bumchum and room partner in college, and the dearest friend besides Vaishali. During college we had been close and had shared more than just a room. We had also shared each other’s triumphs and travails, successes and disasters, joys and sorrow and, most importantly, a scooter. Well, to be fair, the scooter was his but was used mostly by me and Vaishali. That is where our love story had begun and had taken wings. But more of that later, let me not get ahead of the story.
The vehicle honked as we reached his house, but I soon saw that this was unnecessary. He and Swati, with the kids in tow, were already down and waiting for us outside the house. It was obvious that it was not just I who was excited!
After I had ruffled Vedantu’s hair, pinched Sona’s cheeks and said hello to Swati, I hugged Appu, a split second longer than usual. This was a momentous occasion of our lives and I was so happy that we were all together to share it. Appu, Swati, Vaishali and the kids – I had my whole world with me, and I was going back to Banaras. Excitedly, all of us boarded the bus and the vehicle took off.
The driver drove tentatively at first, he was not familiar with the roads inside the city. But as the bus navigated from the city roads on to the highway, the vehicle picked up speed steadily and was soon cruising on the highways. We huddled inside the cabin since there was no heating inside and peered outside through frosted windows to see when the sun would come out. Soon I heard a pop, and looked back to see Swati open a bag of chips…..I smiled, the picnic had begun.
‘Where is our stuff?’ Appu asked.
‘It’s here’, I pointed to a bag lying near my feet beneath the seat. ‘It’ was the beers we had brought along to add more fun to the journey, but we will wait till the bus was out of the city limits to pop the cans.
To be continued………………………………….
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