Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Diaries Down Under – Part 3!!!





When I heard the above song from Namaste London in 2007, I loved the music and the way it has been sung. But somehow lyrics didn’t make any sense to me and I termed them as meaningless.

Yesterday during my trip to The Great Ocean Road, when I head this song, I understood each and every word of this song and was so much moved by them that I requested to change the song – it was evoking homesickness. Sometimes you need to be in the mould to understand things that are designed for some purpose.

The trip was fantastic. We had rented out a car. Thanks to GPS and driving expertise of the friend who was driving, we reached the destination without many hiccups, if not any.

There was a minor hiccup for me though.

My biggest worry about travelling out of India was food – being a vegetarian and spoilt by home cooked food for ages, you really struggle out of your comfort zone when it comes to food. Luckily it hasn’t been a problem in the city – thanks to many Indian restaurants in the city and amazing hospitality of the friend with whom I am staying.

But I knew there could be a few problems whenever I go out of the city. While we stopped by on our way to 12 apostles to have lunch, I couldn’t get many options in vegetarian. Somehow I located a shop, explained the shopkeeper about what exactly I was looking for, bought the spinach wrap and had it as my lunch. It was tough to swallow but swallow I did.

Within a few miles, I was returning the wrap to The Great Ocean Road. Such was the reluctance of my body to digest the wrap that I ended up throwing out last night’s dinner too. Just in case you happen to visit 12 Apostles via The Great Ocean drive, it is the Hitchcock Memorial at Mount Defiance near which I left my mark. I hope you know what I mean.

Drive on The Great Ocean Road is amazing. All along the drive, you have mountains on one side and beautiful ocean on another. The road you are driving on seems to be the only separator between the two of them. If drive isn’t enough, view of 12 apostles will surely sweep you off your feet.

Just in case you have got bored by reading this piece, there is no need to get. This is not a boring travelogue but description of incidents which made us feel like Naseeruddin Shah and Vivek Baswani who spend an entire night in an attempt to put a dead body in a safe place in the movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Don’t worry; there wasn’t a dead body with us. It was the car we had rented out – we had to park somewhere during the night and return it next morning.

One of the conditions car renting agencies here have is about the fuel – you get the car with full tank and you return the car with full tank.

We had to get the tank full, park it somewhere for the night and return it next morning. Best way would have been to fill up the tank before entering the city because locating a petrol pump in the city which has more traffic rules than its population, wasn’t going to be easy.

One of us is staying in a hotel. He enquired at his hotel and was informed that parking was available. One third of our problems were solved. As we entered the city, in an event of extreme good fortune, we somehow drove directly to his hotel. Two third of our problems were solved. Although we wished if this bit of problem was solved after the remaining one third – getting the tank full.

More than an hour later we learnt a big lesson in life. Solving problems in life is important, but the order in which they are solved is also important. It is a challenge to become a father but one must solve the problem of searching for the right girl and marrying her before solving the problems of parenthood. I hope you know what I mean.

Before I write any further, let me try and explain some of the traffic rules in Melbourne.

One needs to follow the lane discipline. But being a democratic country, there is space of individual freedom. You can choose not to follow as well. All you need to do is break the rule and be ready to pay a minimum fine of AUD 300 – no questions asked. Hence, one must follow the lane discipline.

Right most lanes are for trams. One can drive in them but cannot overtake the tram from left. So if you need to overtake the tram, you need to go to the designated lanes for overtaking the trams.

There can be a scenario when you need to take right on a crossroad while the tram is on your right. There is a way to do it. When on a crossroad, you should to go to extreme left, wait there at the middle of the crossroad (there is a space to wait) and then turn right to cut the tram from right. You need to look for Trams’ traffic lights, pedestrians’ lights, cyclists’ signal lights, school signs, no parking, no left, no right and signs for kissing bikini babes – if you see a sign, you must go find a chic roaming around in a bikini, take her autograph hand it over to a cop, take the receipt and only then you can move.

Okay, I made up the last one. BTW, did you find abovementioned a bit overboard and difficult to understand? You have just read them. We had to drive. Compared to that, driving in India is lot simpler. All one needs to do is drive. Everything else is other’s worry.

Parking too has multiple rules which are not easy to understand. There are places you can park for five minutes, there are places can park for hours after paying. There is a whole lot of world somewhere in between – parking for five minutes, parking for not more than an hour, parking if your car is not lengthier than 2 meters, parking 2 meters right and 3 meter left of the parking sign, parking for just one car, parking while you either sit at the roof of the car or sit inside the bonnet.

Okay, I made up the last one. It is so simple in India. Parking signs come with just one sign – “P”. Even if it is a “No Parking” sign, it is only for the first car. Once a maverick musters courage to park his/her car there, others simply follow the suit.

Coming back to last night, we started our hunt to the petrol pump. While entire India was getting ready to submerse itself in the glitter of Diwali, we were getting lost in the glitter of traffic lights. There were so many of them of so many different kinds. To assist them, there were cameras installed almost everywhere. If that wasn’t enough, speed limits varied frequently. Even if that wasn’t enough, we didn’t understand half the traffic signs. We had no

Just to make sure we don’t miss a turn, we had two GPS systems running – one in the car and one in the phone. Not surprisingly, both the systems were telling different directions at one given time. What we were doing, we weren’t doing anything. Confusion was driving us towards another direction.

After roaming around for more than half an hour within the city in which we wouldn’t have covered more than five kilometers, we managed to locate a petrol pump. We were punching fists in the air, like a Rohit Sharma does, as soon as we managed to enter the petrol pump. I don’t remember if I have ever been happier after seeing a petrol pump.

We came out of the car and picked up the tube to fill up the tank. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a question emerged out of thin air – “Is it petrol or it’s a diesel car?”

Question was valid. Plus, we didn’t want to take any chances. Filling up the wrong fuel may well have resulted in losing a month’s salary for paying the damages. Alas, insurances don’t cover of ignorance or negligence.

We tried looking any signs at the tank. No luck. We tried looking any signs at the car. No luck.

I smelt the fuel tank. It smelt like petrol but then, I was too confident of my nose which was already suffering from severe cold. If there was a way to find out if it was a petrol-car or diesel, it wasn’t visible.

I even asked an Indian cabbie, “Bhaiiya, humko pata karna hai ki humari car diesel wali hai ya petrol wali. Kaise Karen” (Mate, we need to find out if our runs on petrol or diesel. How can we do it?)

I know I sounded dumb but the cabbie trumped me with even a dumber reply – “Lete time nahi poocha tha kya?”  (Didn’t you ask when you took it?)

I felt like telling him, “No I did ask and know. I just want to check if cabbies in Melbourne know the difference between diesel and petrol so that I can report it to Arnab”

Soon one of us said, “Let’s look at the manual”

It was a brilliant idea. We searched for the manual, found it in the dashboard and started to search in it. Well, three thirties something standing beside a car, in a petrol pump which is deserted, around 10:15 in the night, frantically going through a few booklets and looking for something is a sight not seen every day or night. But it was one of such nights.

Soon we discovered that it was a petrol driven car, filled up the tank and started driving. The rut of GPS telling us to go right, right displaying “no entry” sign and us going nowhere continued. Amidst this confusion, we committed a cardinal sin. We drove in the rightmost lane (the one meant for trams), missed the designated lane to overtake the lane and stopped at a red light. It was a two way lane and we had some company. Car on our left was full with a few drunkard who were laughing at us like any drunkard would and taking our pictures – maybe to put on facebook’s funny pics gallery. We had no entry facing sign facing us. Only way to go was to turn right which we did. But the most interesting company was coming from behind.

It was the tram.

We had stopped the car right on its way. All my life I have had one complaint about trams – they are so slow, I wonder if running them has any use.

That very moment, I didn’t complained one single bit about tram’s speed. In fact I wished if it could run any slower. I was just imagining the scenario of a tram honking for us to clear its way.

Thankfully, we got lucky. The traffic light turned green before tram could hit us.

We survived.

Then we took a wrong turn and again had to take a full circle. As our roundabout at the circle ended, we realized to have encircled the wrong circle. When we wanted to be in the left lane, somehow we managed to find ourselves in the right lane. Need I tell you that after the tram incident, we just didn’t wanted to be in the right lane.

Chaos, chaos and chaos.

It was nothing but chaos.

There came a point when we could have simply climbed the stairs and entered the hotel we were looking for. Alas, car wasn’t designed to climb stairs. Hence we had to keep driving and looking for right roads.

All we wanted to do was get rid of the car – somehow, anyhow but without paying any fines.

Finally, we managed to find the parking and returned the car next morning without many hiccups.

Now the suspense.

Did we get lucky or we were caught.

If we were, how many places. How many tickets did we get? If we did get some tickets, shall we have enough money to pass rest of the month after paying the fines? Or more importantly, do we have enough money to pay the fines whenever we get to know about them. Although I am sure we did not break any rules but then, driving in an unknown territory always gives you some jitters.

The long wait begins.

*Work of fiction.

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