The Toddy Shop

The Toddy Shop

We are in Sri Lanka traveling from Colombo, north, to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. We had hired a car with a driver, an affable young Muslim man who entertained us with stories of some of his less than agreeable clients.

Being well versed with the route he detoured off the main road and took a shortcut through beautiful lush green landscapes, mile after mile of jungle interspersed with emerald green rice paddies.

Spying a hand painted sign beside a track leading into the jungle he pulled over and asked us if we would like to try Toddy. Toddy is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the Coconut palm. I have seen many of these local Toddy “Bars” in India but never tried it and leaning more towards the adventurous side when on holiday I said, sure why not.

We set off on foot up the dirt track, into the jungle, the driver leading the way. After a few minutes we spotted a local man on the track ahead, walking in our direction.

In fact, walking would be an exaggeration. A more accurate description would be some form of tribal dance as he bobbed and stumbled from side to side. One step forward, two steps sideways, one step back, pause, wave arms in the air, shout into the undergrowth, two steps forward, one step to the other side, one step back. It took him almost 5 minutes to cover the short distance between us.

Our driver, Rahim, approached him and asked him if he knew where the Toddy Shop was. The local stopped his dance and stood swaying like a tree in the wind, considering the questions, spittle forming bubbles on his lower lip.

Rattling off a long explanation in Sinhalese, he gesticulated with both hands while, peculiarly, each eye rotated independently of each other.

Translating for us, Rahim explained that the toddy shop was a long way off and it had taken the local man most of the day to reach us from the shop. He was in fact exhausted by the long walk.

The local started babbling again, the spittle on his lips now morphing into long strings of drool, one eye looking left while the other looked up. The only word I could catch was “dhura, dhura” which I assumed meant the same as “dur” in Hindi, far. We thanked him and he continued haltingly on his way, one step forward, two steps back, 3 steps sideways, two long strings of saliva now reaching the ground.

“Are you sure you want to keep going?” Rahim asked, “It sounds like it is quite far away. He did say it has taken him a few hours to reach us”

To the right of us another local was standing by the side of the track leaning against a coconut palm, watching the proceedings, a big grin on his face.

Wondering whether to continue further into the jungle I thought it wise to get a second opinion.

“Excuse me, How far is the Toddy Shop’ I asked him.

“It’s just around the corner about 50 meters away”

Footnote:

In the end we didn’t partake of any Toddy. The kindly local warned us that it wasn’t pure and in fact had all sorts of nefarious items mixed in with it such as formaldehyde and battery acid, which goes a long way towards explaining the independently rotating eyeballs of the “tribal dancer”

Road Rage

Indian Traffic

Driving in India can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience at the best of times. The complete disregard for road rules and personal safety never ceases to amaze me.

Over the years I have had a number of “near-death” experiences and although over time, I have become immune to all but the most idiotic maneuvers there are still times when I need to go home for a change of underpants.

Most people, and in particular ex-pats, in an effort to keep blood pressure at manageable levels, will have a driver. They then cower in the back seat, praying fervently or texting their last will and testament to loved ones, anything to take their mind off what is happening outside the vehicle. I have toyed with the idea myself on a few occasions but each time the driver has scared me witless as they sought to prove their driving skills are worthy of a seat on a Formula 1 Team while simultaneously demonstrating that rear-view mirrors and indicators are superfluous items on an Indian motor vehicle. After all, mirrors are only for checking one’s hair- style or for picking at ones teeth while talking on the phone. I can’t read or look at my phone in the back seat without being overcome by nausea while the driver insists on testing the body’s capacity to withstand lateral g forces in excess of those experienced by fighter pilots.

In the end I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to adapt to the conditions, drive myself, and lower my expectations for sane behavior in a motor vehicle. I must confess I have become quite good and suspend judgment on most things that I see or experience. It has been helped also by the fact that I now drive an SUV and in India “might is right” on the roads so most other road-users afford my vehicle a little respect. The exceptions of course are the Government buses, which despite being the largest vehicles on the road have mirrors the same size as the one the dentist sticks in your mouth while he asks you what you did for your holidays. Motorcyclists also drive me to distraction as they seem to live in some other dimension when it comes to road behavior (see another one of my rants on motorcyclists here).

Occasionally though, I must confess that my saintliness does wear off and years of suppressed road rage comes boiling to the surface like lava during the eruption of Vesuvius.

Recently I was waiting for traffic to clear at a junction so I could turn right. Finally spotting a gap I started to turn, when my 6th sense for self-preservation, honed over years of flirting with death while commuting across Indian cities, made me glance in my right-hand mirror. The driver behind me, deciding that 20 seconds was too long to wait at a junction, pulled out to pass me. Slamming on the brakes to avoid being speared in the side by the errant Toyota, I snapped.

Drawing on my extensive knowledge of contemporary rap lyrics, I spewed forth a virulent torrent of abuse. I summoned up every curse, defamatory phrase, and vituperative epithet I could think of. Every sentence I screamed at him contained new and innovative uses of a word that rhymed with “trucker” and “trucking”. I used it as an adjective, a noun, a verb, an adverb, and often in inventive ways not normally found in classical sentence structure. My college English teacher would have been proud of my eloquence.

Finally pausing for breath I noticed The Boss in the passenger seat beside me, mouth agape, staring at me in shock, having never imagined that the calm, beautifully mannered and well-spoken husband of hers could articulate himself in such a vernacular fashion.

Sensing his chance, the deviant driver pounced on the opportunity to respond to my tirade.

“Get lost you bloody rascal!”