It was a rainy night. After all, it was the monsoon season. I had had a light dinner in preparation for a long bus journey. From Cochin to Mysore. I got into the bus and in a short while, the bus started and, unusually enough, I slept off.
After a comfortable sleep, I woke up and peered at the watch. 6 am. The bus was not moving. I parted the curtains and looked outside and found that the bus was in the bus stand of some town. As the cobwebs of sleep cleared from my brain slowly, I sat up with a jerk! I realised that that the bus was still in Kerala whereas it should have been in Karnataka, in some town close to Mysore. Gundlupet or Nanjangud perhaps. But, why????
My fellow passengers were all fast asleep. I got off and found the driver in a tea shop. He told me that there was a land slide on the Wayanad Ghats road. It was being cleared and that we would start soon. My hopes of reaching home to a hot cup of coffee, a bath and breakfast receded by at least by six hours. So I changed my target to a hot bath and lunch at home.
The bus started, as promised, after I had a cup of tea. Having slept through the night, I was wide awake and could enjoy the scenes outside of the wet and dripping Wayanad. The bus started making its way up the curved road. Outside, it was the verdant forests stretching as for as the eye could see through the steady drizzle. Then a cool grey sky stretching up from the horizon. Large and small wisps of pure white clouds moving up the green slopes of the ghats is an unforgettable scene.
When the bus moved ahead a kilometer or so, it was met by a landslide blocking its path. Luckily enough, we had just passed a small stretch of road that was a little wider than the rest of it. Wide enough to allow a skilled driver to maneuver the bus and turn it around and head back down the ghat. There were some discussions if it was the right thing to do. The rains which had appeared to be getting lighter had in fact become heavier. The stretch on which the bus had stopped, was right at the top of a sheer drop to the right - a prime candidate for a landslide - bus and all. To the left was another sheer slope that could slide in on the bus itself. The incessant rain made that a real possibility. So it was decided that it was better to head back.
Unfortunately, by this time, there were half a dozen vehicles behind our bus. The possibility of turning around had almost disappeared. Within a few minutes, there was no need to fret about it because there was another small landslide behind the last vehicle that blocked that option.
So, we all sat, hour after hour, listening to the rain make a monotonous noise beating on the roof of the bus. The green covered hills with a grey sky and wisps of while clouds climbing up the ghats through the tops of the trees that looked so enticing and beautiful just a few hours ago completely lost its charm. I tried to read a book even in the dark interior of the bus trying to ignore the stomach clamouring to be fed and thinking too much of the real danger we were in.
There was a lady in a seat a few rows away who had two small children and she was trying to manage them with some snacks and milk she had carried. People talked of their previous experiences from their travels, none of the pleasant. Much of the talk was in Malayalam which I barely understood, which was a good for me, I imagine. Everyone was wondering why no one had come to clear the landslide.
The minutes and hours moved agonisingly slowly. Some people, with their dhotis folded up till the knees and holding umbrellas for protection, walked down the road. They informed us that there was a landslide up the road nearly at the top of the ghat and there were PWD men clearing it and they would come down to clear "our" landslide. They also said that they would be done in an hour or so. Apparently that was a bad, large one.
Somehow this news seemed to galvanise some people into action. They said that if we could somehow clear our land slide, we could go ahead and the other bigger landslide would be cleared by then. That sounded like a good idea but how does one clear a landslide without equipment. Someone went and enquired with the driver of a truck behind us if he had something that would help in the task. Well, he had! A few crowbars! I also got off the bus in the pouring rain and joined hands with those who had started trying to clear the debris on the road. Fairly big boulders, small trees and mud and grass and driftwood had to be cleared. We were all thoroughly soaked but the camaraderie in the air was something exciting. A few lengths of rope and a few pick axes appeared as if from nowhere. Soon there were a bamboo baskets and steel bowls used in construction work and so on joined forces. I had to take my glasses off as it was getting wet and water vapour from my breath was collecting on it and hindering me. My only pair of leather shoes was taking a beating.
Working in steady rain on a stomach that had only seen a cup of tea some eight hours earlier did not seem to matter. By about four in the evening, we had managed to clear the path. With a collective cry of jubilation we all hurried back to our vehicles and the convoy started up the road. I had to go through all sorts of contortions to change my clothes on the moving bus.
Thanks to this experience, I can add "road worker" to my résumé, perhaps?
I remember that when I finally reached home at seven in the evening instead seven in the morning everyone at home was relieved. No one had an idea what had happened to their son/brother until I reached home. I remember that there had been some disaster the previous day and the newspapers had screaming headlines but, I can't remember what it was!