Following many requests to write about my travel experiences, I am publishing this light-hearted article, my experience in one of my innumerable concert tours in the past.
Ignoring the mobile which was ringing in my hand, I checked my handbag for the umpteenth time to see if I carried my train ticket. Thank God it was there! My husband reminded me about my water bottle. Wiping the sweat on my brow I replied, "Ya, I think the watchman kept the bottle in the car." Finally I answered the mobile, my guess was correct, it was my mother. "Amma, emiti?"
My mother sounded anxious, "Gayathri, neellu theesukunnaavaa? Trainlo emi thintaavu?(Have you taken drinking water, what will you eat in train?)"
"Amma, don't worry, we are having our dinner in Woodlands on the way to station."
"Be careful, call me as soon as you settle in the train."
I assured her, " Don't worry Amma, I will....."
She cut me short,"Have you packed the contact mike, veena strings and .."
I told impatiently,"Amma I have to rush, I will call you as soon as I board the train, ok?"
My mother was not satisfied with the conversation, "Ok, but don't forget to call!"
"Sure I won't!"
My husband was already outside the house, waiting in the car for me.
Hurrying across to the pooja room, I prostrated to Sri Vidyaranya Swami's idol and coming to the drawing room I stood in front of Lord Venkateswara's photo for a second and in front of Sri Ranganatha Swamy's photo too and prayed.
"Saab bula rahe hain." It was the watchman.
I rushed out of the house and pulled the door shut, my tension building at the thought of carrying my veena safely through the crowds in Chennai Railway Station.
As we drove to the hotel I declared thoughfully, "I don't want to travel with veena after this, I am fed up of carrying the instrument in all that crowd."
My husband observed, "You keep telling this everytime you go on a tour."
I sighed and started counting the hours to get back home, 2 nights in train, approximately 36 to 40 hours to come back home!
Thank God it was not a long trip!
As our car entered the railway station, I eyed the chaotic scenario in the railway station complex. Cars were lining up at the entrance to drop off passengers and their luggage.
Getting out of the car I looked around anxiously for a porter who seemed efficient enough to carry a musical instrument like veena. Even before I could call somebody, I saw my husband handing over the luggage to a porter.
I told my husband anxiously,"Don't give the instrument to him, he will not be able to carry the suitcase as well as the veena."
The porter understood my telugu.
"Don't worry Madam, I know how to take the guitar along with the suitcase."
Momentarily confused I realised he was referring to my veena!
Without bothering to correct him I exclaimed,"No no, you can't take both!'"
My gaze scanned the surroundings for another porter.
The porter highhandedly bent down to pick up the veena, suitcase in his other hand.
"No!", I shrieked and ran to grab the veena from the porter.
"Ayyo, Madam, why are you so worried?! Just last week I carried a guitar for an old lady along with 2 suitcases! I know how to do it, just leave it to me."
Refusing to be convinced I said firmly,"No means no, just give it to me."
My husband assured me, " Athanu theesukuntaaduley, nenu athani venakaaley velthaanu, veena kindha padakunda choosthaanu, nuvvu oorikey worry avaku! (He looks capable of taking the veena, I will walk right behind me and keep a watch on the veena to see he doesn't drop it. Don't panic!)"
Feeling helpless I winced as he bent down to pick up the instrument in a swift movement, lifting it up high, and placing the trunk of the veena over his shoulder.
I tried not to shriek as I voiced my protest.
"I know how to carry Madam..." I could see that he was getting impatient.
I told him firmly, "Look here, you either carry the instrument the way I tell you, otherwise give it to me."
He relented,"Ok, pl. show me how I must carry it."
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my husband smiling at me while I showed the porter how to carry the instrument.
"Lecture-demonstrationaa?" my husband teased me.
"Yemi chesedi, kharma!" I answered. Suddenly feeling a wave of boredom and tiredness wash over me I realsied that I must have gone through the same railway station-scenario over a zillion times, in all my countless concert tours in the past.
As we walked through the chaos inside the station, the porter tried to chat me up.
"Do you play guitar on tv?"
The interview session was always the most dreaded thing for me as I hated answering questions regarding my profession.
"No." I said briefly, trying to move away a little in order to avoid conversation.
Not taking the hint the porter adjusted his gait towards me "Do you come in some tv serial?" he persisted.
My eyebrows knit in irritation, "No", trying to divert his attention I added, "You may drop the instrument, be careful."
The porter replied carelessly, "Don't worry Madam, I won't drop it."
After some silence he looked sideways at me, his eyes bright with surprise and pleasure as he exclaimed, "Now I know, you are a newsreader on some tv channel, no wonder you look so familiar!"
I had to smile in reply. The very next moment the veena slanted towards the back and I caught the instrument, preventing it from sliding further.
"Look, this is what I have been cautioning you about and you kept telling me that you knew how to carry it, now just give it to me."
"No no, I will manage", he protested, adjusting the veena back into position once again.
Glancing around the station, my eyes were inevitably drawn to a huge hoarding that displayed a collage of passport size photographs of petty thieves and criminals. The caption in bold letters, "BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS....." warning passengers of the presence of such criminals around the place brought a smile to my lips. That poster always reminded me of what a mridanga vidwan told me once (who is well-known among music circles for his tremendous sense of humour) while we waited on the platform to board the train. A well-known music organisation advertised its performing artistes of the year in a similar fashion and the mridanga vidwan joked that the general public could be confused between the two hoardings (Central Station hoarding and the poster advertising the music organisation's artistes), owing to their identical designs and layout of the hoardings! I chuckled to myself as I reached for the ringing mobile in my handbag. It was the same mridanga vidwan on the other end,he asked,"Hi, are you already in the station?"
"Ya, where are you?"
"Just finished a concert and coming directly to the station."
"Oh, what about your dinner?"
He replied that his wife packed his dinner for the train.
"Oh, good, then we will meet in the morning."
"Ok, bye!" he said
"Bye, good night!"
As I was nearing the train another porter walking past our way teased my porter,"Hey, when did you start playing sitar?'
My porter retorted,"It is not a sitar, it is a guitar."
Rolling my eyes upwards I walked towards the compartment to search for my name on the chart.
Relieved to find my name on the chart I got into the train, my husband took the veena from the porter, asking him to keep the suitcase inside the compartment while he waited on the platform with the veena.
After paying the porter my husband got down from the train,"Call me as soon as you reach there. Be careful, take care."
I waved bye to him but found him making a u-turn and walking back towards me as though he suddenly remembered to tell me something, a hint of a smile on his lips.
"Emiti?" I asked curiously.
"You know, some people came to me and asked me for my autograph while I waited with the veena on the platform." His smile broadened.
"Your autograph?!" I exclaimed, my eyes widening in surprise.
"They mistook me for Chittibabu!"