Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
Public Domain Books
Chapter 7: A Vacation within a Vacation
My stay at the Pune Snake Park was to be for about three weeks but I was enjoying the experience so much that I was reluctant to return home. To my good fortune the family decided to spend the Diwali vacation holidaying in Rajasthan and since it was necessary to travel to Mumbai to catch the onward train north, I persuaded my parents that I would come to Mumbai directly from Pune where I would meet them at my grandparents’ house in Girgaum. So I got myself a few extra days at the Park and another experience of finding my way around, this time in the big city of Mumbai.
Sujit bought me a bus ticket to Mumbai and dropped me off at the bus station as well. I had earlier received elaborate instructions on the phone from my dad on how I was to get to Girgaum once I got off the bus at Dadar and backup information from my nervous Mum on what I should do in case I got lost. I later learnt that my uncle and family were also put on alert to receive a call from their nephew in distress, which did not happen for I was determined to find my way on my own, and I succeeded in doing so.
The bus left Pune at around 10 a.m. and arrived in Mumbai a little after 2 p.m. I took a taxi, gave the driver the address and watched carefully as the taxi sped away down unfamiliar streets. I could barely recognise the place where the driver dropped me off but I asked around and after wandering about for around 20 minutes, found myself suddenly at the doorstep of the familiar 47/C Khotachiwadi, my paternal grandparents’ house. My aunt and uncle were expecting me and so were my favourite cousins, Lucano and Ricardo. An hour later came my parents’ anxious call from Goa to find out if I had reached safely. By then I was already in my shorts watching a movie on TV with my cousins.
The next few weeks were strictly not part of my sabbatical programme for it was a holiday along with my family, with snakes and frogs and fish left far behind. Our holiday included a brief visit to Ahmedabad where we stayed with Korah and Sue Mathen. I had met Korah and his daughter Nidhi a few months earlier at the organic farmers’ meeting in Wynad. On knowing that there was a snake park in Ahmedabad we simply had to visit the place, just to satisfy my curiosity. At the park, we found pythons, Russel’s vipers, kraits, chequered keelbacks, boas, ratsnakes and a king cobra, all in glass cages. The park also had starback tortoises, monitor lizards, ducks and geese of various kinds, monkeys and other small animals. There was also a small aquarium, kept very poorly. I don’t know whether the whole setup was run down because of lack of funds or lack of interest.
From Ahmedabad we went by train to Jaipur where we spent the next eight days at the home of Srilata and Mahendra Chowdhury. Although our base was Jaipur we visited and stayed two nights at a real fort, on the outskirts of Jaipur. It was my first visit to a fort and it was quite an experience living high up in the residential part of the fort with its cool rooms, some large, others tiny, some corridors so narrow and so low one had to bend one’s head to walk through. The time of our visit coincided with the famous solar eclipse which was the talk of the town but I was disappointed with the eclipse as it darkened only briefly before returning to normal again. My friends told me later that the TV experience was far more wonderful.
In Jaipur we went sightseeing almost everyday, visiting forts, palaces and shopping bazaars, and had delicious kulfi and lassi in mud pots, and mouth-watering chicken tandoori. We drove down to Udaipur, where we went boating on the famous lake, saw some more palaces and then to Srilata and Mahendra’s second home in Ghantali where we swam in the river behind the house and fished with the village boys.
The vacation ended with a 3 hour bus journey to Ratlam station, from where my brothers and I returned to Mumbai with my mum while my dad went on to Delhi. This time we stayed at my maternal grandparents’ place in Mahim. My grandfather, a sprightly 86 year old and a very active gentleman, was there to greet us. It happened to be his birthday and he decided to take us all out to dinner to a Chinese restaurant not very far away from the house. I recall we were all dressed and ready to go when Mum asked Grandpapa how we were going to the restaurant. To which he said: “You and the boys take a taxi, but I will walk. I prefer to walk.” I was quite astonished. Of course, we all decided instead to walk to the restaurant, with Grandpapa briskly leading the way, and had an enjoyable birthday dinner.
My mum and my two younger brothers, Sameer and Milind returned to Goa soon thereafter, but I stayed on with Grandpapa in Mumbai for a few more days, since I was to proceed from there directly to Chennai where I would spend the next two and a half months in the pleasant company of spiders, earthworms and my all-time favourites, crocodiles and snakes.