A visit to Manali last year involved some death-defying activities &mdash a) sitting in a car that barely clung to the slippery road to Rohtang Pass b) jumping off a cliff at full tilt while harnessed to some flimsy flying gear c) taking a 15-hour bus ride with the most lethal co-passengers possible a three-generation family of Bengalis.
I&rsquom not a fan of long-distance bus rides in India. Blame it on the atrociously dirty highway loos, numb legs, and the ceaseless, loud cell phone conversations on board. These die down eventually. But the one battle-cry nothing can ever silence is &ldquothanda lege jabeeeey&rdquo. Anytime you are near some Bengalis, you&rsquore certain to hear this shrill, dire warning against catching a cold, even in mid-June.
And so went the grandfather in this group. This gent produced a running commentary on everything around the bus before the trip began &mdash naturally, only he could aid a busful of blind people. When the wheels finally rolled, he began demanding that his 12-year-old dadubhai be protected from the overhead air-conditioning vent, which, as everyone knows, kills children in mysterious ways. Bursts of &ldquoAC off korey dao, thanda lege jabey&rdquo came at 30-second intervals. Gramps filled these 30 seconds with gems like &ldquoCall the driver in Delhi, and tell him it&rsquos 6.30pm now, and we&rsquoll reach at 7am&rdquo &mdash Delhi must have drifted off to a time zone different from the rest of India.
After an hour or so, Grandpa got his way with the AC. The overfed grandson, soon suffocated by the lack of air, began throwing up. Now Grandpa demanded that the AC be turned on to cool the child. The mother, holding several paper bags full of puke, stood up inside the speeding Volvo to chuck them outside. The bus lurched, she stumbled forward... and dropped all the bags on the driver, spilling the contents. &ldquoLook, the driver is washing himself,&rdquo Grandpa informed us. &ldquoYou&rsquore lucky,&rdquo I thought to myself, &ldquothat he hasn&rsquot trussed up your whole family and thrown you all into the luggage hold.&rdquo This, in the middle of a moonlit night, with the Beas running alongside the road, the mountains looming above the gorge. Silly of me to think I could enjoy the scenery. Epilogue at the dinner stop, Grandpa declared to his irritated wife, &ldquoYou don&rsquot understand. I have to look after everything.&rdquo Who would doubt it