Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sucharita, or that Random Road-Trip to Konark

One of the nicest things about my marriage is the ease with which we have been accepted as a couple. Avanthi commands a much higher standing among my relatives than I do. And her relatives have been unstinting in the love and affection they have lavished on me, something I am most thankful about. More to the point, our respective friend circles have not merely accepted but duly absorbed the other into them. And over time we as a couple have befriended other couples. Sucharita Sengupta and Adnan Farooqui are an instance. They both teach political science at the Jamia Millia Islamia - bright, socially motivated, warm-hearted, and generally terrific people to hang around with. Suchi and I share a common interest in photography. She also happens to be distantly related: her first cousin once removed married a first cousin to my grandmother. So going by the nomenclature prevalent in India, that makes her my aunt. Anyways, Auntie and husband had a wedding to attend at a resort just outside Puri. Which was excellent news, because it had been a while since I had met them. Then Adnan welshed out, so that left only Suchi and self, since Avanthi and the little 'un were in Bangalore.

Even then we nearly didn't meet. Suchi's hosts had organised a bus for her and other guests directly from Bhubaneswar airport. And another bus to take them straight to the airport once the festivities concluded. Which didn't exactly leave much bandwidth for meeting up. That's when I had this splendid idea of taking a day's leave from the University, borrowing Millan's car, picking up Suchi from the airport, showing her a bit of Bhubaneswar and, eventually, driving her down to Puri. She cheerfully fell in with the idea, Millan readily agreed to part with his car for a day, and the rest of the plan fixed itself up almost by default, as it were.

[A word about Millan's car, now. It's a little Maruti 800, a bit long in the tooth, but well maintained. The engine especially is in good nick, certainly sound enough to sustain a day-long romp to the coast and back. I share an emotional relationship with it. When buying it he took me along; at that time he was not confident of handling the traffic around Badambadi. So I was the first person who drove it after the purchase. And Millan is most generous about lending it out. We have this informal arrangement: whenever I need it I let him know a day or two in advance, and if not inconvenient to him he happily chucks the keys over.]

The day didn't start too auspiciously. I got late reaching Millan's house, not a big surprise. So I was about halfway to Bhubaneswar when Suchi called up to say she was waiting for me, and that too outside the airport building. Damn! I did manage to reach the airport in half an hour. And the revelry started in earnest right away. I suggested getting some mandatory sari-shopping done first. She declared she was most impressed with Avanthi for having me trained so beautifully! To her credit she didn't take a whole lot of time over it. A quick snack later, we were on our way. Actually, no. Suchi said she had never seen Konark, something she badly wanted to do. We didn't have a whole lot of time with us, so that's where we headed directly. In the process forsaking Bhubaneswar's numerous attractions (which for the most part fell within the genre 'touristy', so the loss was not a big one).

The journey was delightful. Beautiful if slightly congested roads, the car behaving beautifully, and the sheer joy of catching up with a valued friend, all added up to yield a most memorable experience. We didn't take too many photographs, we had so much to talk about. Particularly foulmouthing our spouses, who had chosen to miss out on this wonderful experience. And besides I needed to keep an eye on the road and unruly traffic too. One picture I did take was of a minivan laden with bananas. Laden is too mild a term, it had bananas everywhere: crammed full on the inside, and then more on the roof, bunches stacked one on top of the other with long bits of stem curving up and outwards like so many improbably green-coloured flamingoes. It brought back memories of Belafonte's definitive 'Banana Boat Song': "Six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!! / Daylight come and me wan' go home".

Konark was another delight. It was well past midday now, and fairly hot, but to the camera-obsessed, such considerations are at best peripheral. We spent the better part of two hours there.

This was followed by the most picturesque part of the journey. The East Coast Road connecting Konark and Puri is a dream. Beautifully maintained, largely bereft of traffic, and replete with interesting twists, it acts as a lure to local hotbloods bent on showing off their driving skills at high speeds, often with tragic consequence. But who would want to drive down such a picturesque road at high speed? And not take in the vast, untidy charm only mangrove patches can claim for their own? Or the pristine deserted stretches of beach interspersed between the mangrove clumps? These beaches were so beautiful that at one point Suchi insisted we stop and take pictures. A wise choice, and a particularly attractive stretch of beach at that. I was charmed, but then in the last one year or so I had encountered plenty of beaches. The impact it had on Suchi, on the other hand, was nothing short of electrifying. She was thrilled, absorbed, engrossed, and she went beserk with her camera. So much so that she didn't realise she had gained an admirer. Woof! And any time I need to pull her leg, this is the photo I remind her of. It never fails, believe me.

By this time we were quite hungry too. Suchi craved seafood beyond anything else (Adnan's vegetarian, which means she can't make it at home too often either). I had promised to take her to Chung Wah, one of Puri's finest attractions. Which was fine with her; the place is justly famous for its Chinese-style seafood. But as we were bouncing down the East Coast Road, she spotted a signboard advertising fresh seafood. Further signages led us to the Lotus Resort at Ramchandi Beach. By mutual consent we agreed to keep things (very) simple: crab, prawn, and any other species of seafood the place could yield. No rice, chapati, noodles, vegetables, or other inessentials. Perhaps because we had arrived at an odd time, they could offer only a limited selection. We opted for um, don't recall what it was called, but it was in substance crab fried in some sort of spicy chilly sauce. Suchi loved it. So did I, but with some minor reservations: I did think it was a trifle overcooked, and also not as big as I have encountered in so many eateries in Odisha. The prawn, on the other hand, was an unqualified success. At the manager's suggestion we asked for it to be gently fried with a touch of coriander. It did come laced with an incongruous assortment of vegetables, stir-fried and raw, which didn't quite fit in. Then again, they did not succeed in undermining the flavour of the prawn either, so could be happily ignored. The chopped garlic and coriander, on the other hand combined to subtly influence the prawn in the nicest way possible. The prawn itself was fresh, and cooked just right. So it retained its crunchy texture, and its unique flavours. And oozed rich, aromatic, downright intoxicating juices the moment you sank your teeth into it. It revived us no end, we had  become quite tired by then.

The rest of trip was uneventful. I dropped off Suchi at the wedding venue. We spent some time out there, once again spewing maledictions at our respective spouses for not joining us. I then set off for Cuttack, promising Suchi I'll be ever so careful. Not that she needed a whole lot of reassurance; the day's worth of driving had left her most appreciative of both car's and driver's capabilities. The car's behaviour all through the day was particularly remarkable, and fully justified the confidence reposed in it. At no point did it create the slightest fuss. On the return journey too it behaved magnificently, and ferried me home with aplomb. Which places me in a dilemma: should I let Suchi know it didn't have a spare tyre?


Ph.D Grahani said...

Hehe ... Very flattering. Not everyday someone writes a blog on you. Great writing, funny and accurate!

Abhik Majumdar said...

Many thanks Suchi :) We should do it again some time, this time with our SOs too.

And whoa! PhD Grahani???