Monday, November 4, 2013
Dude, Where’s my Cochin?
Disclaimer: After a severe bit of tongue-lashing from my friend and loyal reader (sometimes “only” reader) Mahesh- about my last post where I had switched languages to write in the local language Tamil which he says many can’t read and were disappointed and after a hilariously botched attempt by Google Translate which just couldn’t cope with the earthy local language (colloquial Tamil) I had used in that post- I felt I must provide my own translation of the post for Mahesh and other non-tamil readers. Although re-writing an entire post (even in another language) is a real bummer, I promised to do it for my friend and here it is. So people who have read the previous post in the original Tamil – please skip this one and come back for the next, ok? And oh, this one’s for you Mahesh. Promise redeemed.
Dude, Where’s my Cochin?
Last week I had a chance to travel to the gateway of South India – Cochin in Kerala state to attend a medical conference. Cochin is famous in history as the port of Muziris where the Romans, Arabs and assorted other peddlers (like the Portuguese and the Dutch) came to bargain for spices in historical times. Unlike them I didn’t have to travel in a creaking old ship and get se-sick but opted to travel by aero-plane. The reason I stress the word “Aeroplane” would become clearer as you read down the rest of the post. From my hometown Chennai, I took the ten ‘o’clock Spice Jet flight down to Cochin which was supposed to reach Cochin by 12. Actually it’s not that long a distance away to necessitate a two-hour flight but because the passenger traffic was comparatively less- say 30 people in all for the flight and the tickets were dirt cheap (it was a low cost airline after all) SpiceJet had put in service an ancient Turboprop plane instead of a modern jet plane. So what was a journey of say 45 mins got converted into a two hour flight- which is tolerable if you consider the cost of the ticket and the overnight journey by train.
My companion on the trip was Mr. Kathiresan for whom this was a first time on a plane, any plane. So he clearly enjoyed the entire process including such mundane activities like undergoing the security check – the pervert’s dream of whole body patdown/strip which goes under the name of security check nowadays. Like an overenthusiastic tourist he posed for photos everywhere and with everyone turning me into his own personal travelling photographer. I guess he did a pretty good job documenting the entire new (but old) Chennai airport in his photographic montage series – to show around to his family as “the day I travelled on a plane”. He even visited the various eateries doting around the airport concourse to check the menus and prices – although he never bought anything to eat- the reason for which I learnt as soon as we boarded the plane.
Like every seasoned traveler I knew to avoid the rush at the counter as soon as the first boarding cal was announced but my friend Kathir would have none of it- low price ticket or not he wanted to spend every single minute of his airplane experience on the , errrr, aeroplane to get his full money’s worth. He was first in line to board and willy-nilly I tagged along with him. As soon as we had strapped ourselves in I knew we were in for a long and boring flight. This had nothing to do with the actual flight as such but from a cursory first inspection of the airhostess on view- the single female one for this flight. She was too small and her dress was too large and I usually prefer my airhostesses to be the opposite- large ones in small dresses. So with a sigh of complaint for what goes on in the name of cost-cutting in low cost airlines – even in-flight entertainment is restricted – I leaned back in my seat anticipating a boring two hours.
As soon as the No-smoking/Seat-belts off lights switched off, my buddy Kathir looked at with real anticipation to the large cart being pushed/pulled down the aisle. “Is that the food cart? Do they have everything?” he enquired in a voice thrilling with anticipation. I nonchalantly turned around and exclaimed “they do have a fine selection of both vegetarian and non vegetarian, but if I were you I wouldn’t order too much” he turned towards me and asked “why? You fear for the quality?” I shook my head and replied “no I fear for the bill, these stuffs cost too much- they are marked up very high”. He blanched and exclaimed “but don’t we get free food in aero-planes?” “Ha-ha” I thought “so this is what you think buddy” and then I proceeded to break down his illusions “boss, check your ticket again- this is a low cost flight, here they charge you for everything and usually exorbitant prices too. The only thing I am reasonably sure is free on today’s flight is water”.
But Mr.Kadhir was up and equal to the task- he decided that for the price he had paid for the ticket he was going to get something free from the airlines even if it was just water and he proceeded to call over the airhostess repeatedly to his seat and drank down at least five to six glasses of the “free” water by the time we had neared cochin. Just as we were nearing our destination we hit some mild turbulence and then I heard some scrabbling beside me and turned to find Mr.Kathir wrestling with his seat belt trying to unbuckle it -I forgot to mention that he had made me take a photo of him with the seatbelt on just to show his family and had kept it buckled on for the entire two hour flight and was now making an effort to get up despite the fact that the fasten seatbelts sign had come on. I pointed it out to him when he said he urgently needed to go the toilet as all that “free water” had done its job inside him.
The only way not to attract adverse attention from the cabin crew (and other passengers) and to keep him glued to his seat was to resort to a fib, a small white lie and to hope that he would believe me. I told Kathir in an offhand manner that the reason low cost airlines were so free with their in-flight water supply was that they looked to make money by charging a hundred bucks (plus tax) for every single visit to the toilet. Kathir quieted down then and said in a plaintive tone “Boss, my piss is not worth a hundred bucks boss” and then he held on to it all the way till we finally landed at Cochin airport and he rushed off to the “free” toilets in the airport terminal with a last despairing cry over his shoulder “Get me black bag also will you boss?’ as I made my way leisurely to the baggage carousel to pick up our luggage.
Once we had completed all our formalities at the airport I suggested to Kathir that we book a pre-paid taxi at the airport itself to take us into the city from the airport. But he demurred – cost cutting as usual. He suggested that we go outside the airport where we were sure to find some auto-rickshaws passing by which we can board and bargain with the driver for the trip. Ordinarily I would have said to hell with you and gone on my way- but I didn’t want to abandon a newbie and so decided to tag along and see what else he was going to do to make my trip interesting. Once outside the airport we saw that Cochin does not have the conventional auto’s we are used to here in Chennai but only large share-autos which come cramped with a whole lot of passengers packed tight as sardines inside. Seeing us standing there with a couple of large bags each, most of the auto drivers opted to give us a miss until finally one large hearted (half-empty) auto stopped near us.
As I have a very limited knowledge of the local language Malayalam spoken in Cochin – I just knew the standard emergency phrases which every tourist needs like “I love you, you beautiful babe or give me a hug or how about giving a handsome tourist a kiss”- I left the negotiations for the trip to my buddy Kathir. He spoke to the auto driver in an atrocious Malayalam-accented Tamil “cochin coming?” the auto driver looked strangely at us and said “Ernakulam?” Kathir shook his head “no, no, cochin I said cochin, near cochin cricket stadium” and the auto driver grinned obscenely and said “Same, Ernakulam” while one of the inside passengers leaned over to the auto driver and said “oh, Kalooru, Kalloru”. My friend Kathir was meanwhile shouting loudly enough to make a deaf man hear again “Cochin, cochin, near cochin railway station”. The auto driver grinned even more at us and said “Same, railway station, Edappaly” and he gestured for us to board. I hopped in quickly before he too left us stranded on the road and told my friend Kathir “come on, boss, I am getting bored of this stretch of road, let’s go in the auto wherever he takes us and go stand on some other piece of road for a change”.
As I moved deeper into the auto and sat down leaving kathir to take the door/window seat I at last reached into my pocket and pulled out my mobile phone which I had switched off at the beginning of our flight and switched it back on and activated the inbuilt GPS to look at Google Maps to identify where exactly we were. The maps showed that we were on the correct route- the highway to the city proper and I was relieved. Meanwhile my next seat neighbor (on the other side) – the friendly gent who had leaned over to talk to the auto driver on our behalf made mysterious gestures with his fingers and pointed this side and that and said “This side Ernakulam, that side Edappaly and stadium is Kaloor” and when I asked him “but cochin?’ he excitedly twirled his fingers and said “All Cochin” and then it hit me. All those names the auto driver had mentioned – ernakulam, kaloor etc were just suburbs of Cochin like Mylapore and Adyar were in Chennai. Here we were standing in Cochin proper and for the last half an hour had been asking for transport to Cochin – no wonder they had looked at us as if we were mad. It was like a traveler to New York standing beside the Statue of Liberty and asking for the way to New York.
As I sat there I felt a keen sense of exasperation at my friend Kathir. The guy was the reason we had wasted so much time trying to get to a place where we already were. If only he had listened to my advice and booked a call taxi at the airport itself we might even be in the hotel room by now- for I am sure that airport taxi drivers would necessarily know English to communicate with other state tourists unlike random share auto drivers who get by with just the local language. I decided to needle the guy and so I turned towards him with a plan already in mind. He was staring suspiciously out of the auto at the signboards of all the shops we seemed to be passing by and seemed to have missed out on the enlightening conversation we just had. When I prodded him with my elbow he said “I can understand us sleeping on a bus or a train and missing our station, but how can we miss on a plane? I remember hearing that pilot saying Cochin arrived didn’t you?” I pulled on an innocent look on my face and said “I know what we should do boss. As soon as we get to where we are going we should ask for directions to the nearest police station and then go in and give a written complaint about it. Puzzled he asked “Complaint to the police about what?” And I answered with a grin “That we have lost our Cochin and they should find it for us”. His subsequent shout of outrage “Gansssss” (my name) could be heard all the way in Chennai.