5 Star service in the Lodge from Hell!

Luxury AccomodationI lift up the pillow and a nest of beetles scurry away from the light.

I do the same with the next pillow, sending more beetles scuttling away in to the darkness.

I quickly brush them away before The Boss spots them and throw my own clean bed sheet over the whole bed, pillows and all.

The pillow is the same shape and consistency as a bag of cement and within 10 minutes I have a throbbing headache.

The bed too short for my height so I am forced to lie at an angle with my feet hanging over the side. The room bathed in a dim glow from the fluorescent yellow street light outside the window as I listen to late night wedding revelers returning noisily to the rooms next door, shouting at each other in Tamil despite their proximity and the late hour. I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night.

Earlier that evening after a fruitless search for some quality accommodation in this small rural town we finally settled for the best of the rest and took a tiny room in a lodge down a noisy side street. It’s wedding season and everywhere is booked solid in a town that is not big enough to warrant a hotel of any kind.

The room qualifies as luxury accomodation as it has AC and a TV. One thing it lacks though is hot water. With hand signals and a few words in English and Tamil we explained to the owner that we wanted hot water to bathe in and he explained that he would supply us with an immersion rod, an electric element which you suspend in a bucket to heat the water. It needs to be suspended using a wooden stick so that you don’t get an electric shock but it is surprisingly effective.

Immersion heater

By 8pm it hadn’t arrived so I climbed down the narrow stairway to what functions as the reception. The lodge owner was still there juggling calls on his two cell phones.

“Hot water, hot water” I asked him.

“9 o’clock coming” came the answer. “Fresh piece.”

As good as his word, at 9 o’clock there was a loud banging on the door.

The elderly watchman, barefoot and clad in a white vest and dhoti, handed me a plastic bucket, a wooden stick and a brand new immersion rod still in it’s box.

Closing the door, I looked at the price stickers still on the bucket and the immersion rod box. The total cost was Rs650.

The rent for the room was only Rs600!

The Boy who grew Wings

The village boy who grew wingsIndia is a land of stories. Some of them make you angry, frustrated, and cynical. But there are just as many if not more, that inspire you, fill your eyes with tears, and restore your faith in the strength of the human spirit.
This is one of those stories.
Imagine a boy, born to a poor farming family in rural India. A childhood running barefoot through the fields, playing with friends in the shade of a Banyan Tree, swimming in the muddy village pond, an idyllic life for a child but for the parents struggling to make ends meet and to put food on the table, a tough hard life.
As he grew older and finished his education he looked further afield for ways to support himself and to care for his aging parents. He travelled to a big city in another state. The language, the culture different but unperturbed he looked for work, eventually landing a job as a waiter in a restaurant. His hard work paid off, his rudimentary English improved, and over time his income increasing. Still a paltry salary but with careful living and long hours of work, it was enough to send a small amount home to his family each month.
Over the years he became popular with the regulars, his ready smile and helpful attitude endearing him to the customers. In conversation one day he spoke of his dream, to go beyond waiting tables and to train in the kitchen, gain skills as a cook, and maybe, if he was lucky, eventually get work on a cruise ship. He had found a school that would train him but the fees meant it was beyond his reach and his dream would remain unfulfilled. His father was ill and what little savings he had managed to accumulate were spent in hospital bills and replacing his father’s lost income.
His story touched a chord and one day some of his regular customers presented him with money to go towards the course fees. With tears in his eyes he reluctantly but gratefully accepted the donation, scraped together the balance needed and shortly thereafter handed in his notice, leaving to join the cooking school.
Six months passed and he appeared back in the city, a changed young man, seemingly more confident, English more polished, his way of dressing more modern, looking more like a young IT professional rather than a waiter from a village.
Proudly displaying his certificates and coursework, he explained that he would return to his village for a while to see his family, to take care of outstanding debts and obligations and would then seek employment with his new-found skills.
A month later, now with tears in their eyes, his benefactors listened as he conveyed in a breathless, excited phone call his great news.
No-one from his village had ever been out of the country. No one from his village had ever flown in an airplane.
The next day after a total of four connecting flights he would arrive in Italy, where he would be joining the kitchens of a P & O Cruise Ship sailing the Mediterranean.

The World is Mine

 

IMAGE: The planet Earth as viewed from space. Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

IMAGE: The planet Earth as viewed from space. Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

My post  “The Toilet Angel” (Part 1 and Part 2)seemed to affect a lot of readers profoundly and prompted a lot of discussion and comment both on the blog and privately. As Carissa at Everydayasia.com commented “puts into perspective her own mild hurdles”
One of my readers sent me the beautiful poem below which I thought I would share with you. I don’t know it’s origin or who the author is so if you do please let me know.

The World is Mine
——————–
I saw a very beautiful woman,
And wished I were as beautiful.
When suddenly she rose to leave,
I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and wore a crutch.
But as she passed, she passed a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two legs; the world is mine.

I stopped to buy some candy,
The lad who sold it had such charm,
I talked with him, he seemed so glad,
If I were late, it’d do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me,
“I thank you, you’ve been so kind.
It’s nice to talk with folks like you.
You see,” he said, “I’m blind.”
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes; the world is mine.

Later while walking down the street,
I saw a child I knew.
He stood and watched the others play,
but he did not know what to do.
I stopped a moment and then I said,
“Why don’t you join them dear?”
He looked ahead without a word,
I forgot, he couldn’t hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine,
I have two ears; the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I’d go,
With eyes to see the sunset’s glow,
With ears to hear what I’d know.
With loving family & friends to enjoy life
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine,
I’ve been blessed indeed, the world is mine.

The Toilet Angel – Part two

Read Part 1 first

The next day having reached Pondicherry we were sitting in one of our favorite restaurants waiting to place our order.

We spotted our regular waiter crossing the restaurant on crutches.

“What happened to you?” we asked.

“On the way home from Pondicherry on my motorbike one evening I was hit by a drunk driver.

I spent 2 months in hospital but the doctors couldn’t save my foot”

The Toilet Angel

 

Toilet Just Do It

I pull off the highway into a large motorway services complex similar to what you would see alongside motorways in the west and now increasingly common in India.

This one has a large petrol station, coffee shop, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant and quite probably the worst McDonalds in the world.

It’s 8 am and we are heading from Bangalore to Pondicherry for a few days break.

The South Indian restaurant serves lovely Masala Dosas for breakfast but one of the main reasons we stop here is because it has possibly the cleanest public toilets in the country, a rarity in a nation where entering a public toilet usually requires the wearing of a hazmat suit and gas mask.

Having broken our journey here many times over the years we have always been impressed at how well the toilets are maintained by a young Tamilian lady. Meticulously scrubbing and mopping both the men’s and ladies toilets she ensures that whatever time of day you visit they are always clean and smelling fresh. She lights up our day with a beautiful smile and over time we have become nodding and greeting acquaintances despite not sharing a common language.

It’s been 9 months since we last came through this way and we were shocked to see her limping as she worked. A piece of leather encasing the stump where her foot should be.

With hand signals and the few English words that creep into every language she explained that she had been heading home from work one night and while crossing the highway to reach her village was hit by a speeding lorry. Badly injured she spent 2 months in hospital but in the end the doctors were unable to save her foot.

Life in India for the working masses is tough, seldom affording the luxury of a long convalescence.
She is back at work, scrubbing, mopping, ensuring the toilets continue to be spotless.

And despite the missing foot…………….. still smiling like an angel.

 

Read Part two here

Running the beautiful Kaveri Trail Marathon

KTM1

A peacock’s call shatters the silence of the early morning.

It’s 6am and I am standing in that half-light that comes just before the sun raises its head above the horizon.
A river flows gently past to my left and there is a nervous shuffling as 700 people gather for the start of the 8th running of the Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM).

The race director’s last minute announcements are interrupted by a spontaneous singing of “Happy Birthday” somewhere in the crowd prompting a proud mother to climb up onto the podium and grab the microphone. “It’s my daughter’s birthday today too” she cries out, “please sing for her as well”. The crowd breaks out into another “Happy Birthday” for the daughter who hides in the crowd and doesn’t raise her hand when the race director asks her to identify herself.

As the large digital clock ticks over to 6.30, we set off up the dirt path, red bibs pinned to the chests of those running the half marathon, blue denoting those running the full. All shapes and sizes are here today, lean fit looking runners accompanied by less athletic looking entrants tackling this distance for the first time.

Many have made the 3-4 hour journey from Bangalore to run a race that has become known for the beauty of the course, following as it does the meandering path of a tributary of the River Kaveri, a major water source for the state of Karnataka.

KTM5

 

Starting as we do, near the entrance to the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary, the route teems with birdlife. To the right of the trail are lush sugar cane fields and even at this early hour, farmers get to work tending their crops before the heat of the day makes the task unbearable.

The field spreads out, stray dogs standing on the edge of the path in bewilderment as scores of runners trudge past. Farmers in their white lungis and vests taking a break from their work to watch and wonder as people from all over India and the occasional westerner, run by.

KTM3

 

KTM6

 

A sea of green t-shirts surrounds me, emblazoned with the logo of Amazon India, a company which either encourages running amongst their employees, or has thought of a novel way of marketing themselves.

Finding my rhythm, I feel a little smug and self-satisfied, running as I am in minimalist shoes as others tread on in their heavily cushioned “traditional” running shoes. That is, until a young man rapidly passes me, his bare feet padding rhythmically on the sun-baked earth below.
Catching up with him, we chat for a couple of kms about our experiences of transitioning from shod running to barefoot running. I congratulate him on going the whole hog but we eventually part ways when he pauses to remove some large thorns from the sole of his foot.

The sun slowly rises above the horizon bringing with it a heat, the intensity of which increases by the minute despite the still early hour. I sip a few mouthfuls of water at the well-stocked aid stations but ignore the trays of bananas and fruit, knowing that if I stop for too long, the voices in my head telling me to give up might become too powerful.

Bullock carts laden with harvested sugar cane occasionally block the way on their way to the market forcing me to either stop for a moment or detour into the long grass.

KTM4

Ahead some small village boys, already dusty from playing in the fields, offer runners sweets with outstretched hands, grinning with excitement while the stray dogs, earlier standing sentinel beside the path, have retreated, still puzzled, to the shade of the banyan trees.

The last few kms pass in a blur, the beautiful scenery which had enthralled me on the outward leg, no longer grabbing my attention, as I look only for the next distance marker and the next patch of shade.

2 hours after starting in the cool light of dawn, I cross the now sun-baked finish line, a proud sense of achievement dispelling all feelings of exhaustion.

Someone hangs a finisher’s medal around my neck, and I turn to shake the hands of those who finished with me. Spying a “nariyal pani wallah”, his bicycle laden with coconuts, I head towards him and down in quick succession the water of two young coconuts, nature’s best electrolyte replacement drink.

This was my first ½ marathon in over 20 years and I am happy that I chose the KTM to run this distance again. The running community worldwide is a friendly one but the relatively small number of runners at the KTM lends a camaraderie to the event I haven’t felt on larger runs. That coupled with the beauty of the course, the peacocks, the bullock carts, and the locals lining the course make this event unique and I know that this race will always hold a special place in my thoughts. I will be back next year.

A while later as I limp through the hotel lobby, my race bib still pinned to my chest, my medal in my hand, the hotel manager greets me and asks “for what purpose is everyone running?”

I grin but can’t think of a suitable answer.

Only another runner would understand.