Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Loose in Ludhiana

Last week, I shipped myself off with the mater to Ludhiana, where the brave people of the Christian Medical College attempts to make my sister the absolute terror and harbinger of doom to millions of people. In simple words, the job would be called a dentist. Ludhiana, as you may know, lies in the state of Punjab; as north as North India gets if you were to cough surreptitiously, scratch your nose and forget about Jammu and Kashmir.

The transport mechanisms in place in India made it pretty hard for me to get to Ludhiana, probably in the altruistic thought that the farther away I am from my sister the better. The whole procedure was done in several steps. First, I had to take a flight to Delhi, about which I was pretty psyched. It is not everyday that one gets to board an aircraft, let alone one with in-flight entertainment options. If one were not traveling through a travel package offered by one's parents' employers, I would advise them to take a train out to Delhi, which would take you three days if you are lucky.

Once I landed in Delhi in one piece, I was required to reach the New Delhi Railway station to take a train, mysteriously branded as an express, to Ludhiana. Once you reach the railway station, it is as easy to reach the college in question as it is to learn to ride a pantomime horse. You sit in the assigned seat, in the case of reaching the college, the seat is in an auto rickshaw, and get out when you have had enough.

Ludhiana is a bustling city of considerable proportions. Like that oft repeated cliche on India, Ludhiana has two faces- Old Ludhiana, where the streets are narrow and markets are smelly, and New Ludhiana where there are swanky malls and the wide well laid roads are dotted by Audis and BMWs. As it was, I did not get to see much of either as I was largely cooped up in my cell (officially known as Guest Room 2) with the outside temperature at 13 degree centigrade. The mercury dropped to 5 when the solar steeds fled with Helios' chariot.

The College itself is a small place and is more like a boarding school than a college, though if you were to ask me the difference between the two I would have slink off slyly. The place is infested with Mallus; there are more Mallus there than there are types of cheese in France. Once you enter the hallowed gates of CMC, that is almost the only thing you can hear. You walk around and you hear familiar strains of the language. At first, you think to yourself, "Aha, us Mallus are everywhere". Then you hear it by the canteen, from underneath a few trees and some excited whispering from shady nooks and corners and you think, "Well, that is really a lot of Mallus. Good for them". After a couple of hours, you realise that the place is virtually a district of Kerala that happened to be in Punjab due to a quirk of fate.

It is slightly on the disconcerting side when you have lived your whole life in a certain place, then wound up in a class constituted majorly by the people of the above mentioned state and then go to Punjab to find that the same old folks have set up base camp there too. One tends to wonder as to the whereabouts of variety and whether spice has been totally eliminated from life.

Elsewhere in Ludhiana, I sullied with my presence a department store and something caught between a mall and a department store as the female contingent of the family went about shopping, willing stuff to drop off the shelves into their baskets.

One thing that really caught my attention in Ludhiana was the almost total absence of buses in the city. You could not find a local bus if you went about with a magnifying glass on all fours. The bulk of the local transport is on what is known as 'share autos', where auto rickshaws are like small buses; they ply a route and you can get on if if you are on the same route and there is space to sit, all for five or ten bucks. There are buses of course, but they all ply to other cities like Chandigarh or Amritsar. If you want to go from the railway station to someone's place a couple of kilometers away, you would not find a bus to save your life.

Then of course, there are cycle rickshaws, where old, dilapidated and probably malnourished old men pedal like there is not tomorrow, bearing you on equally dilapidated seats in the back. On humanitarian grounds, I refused to board those contraptions, though once again the female contingent showed no remorse in doing so. Doubtless, they will throw the economic side of the issue at me, arguing how we are depriving the old men of a livelihood and their family of bread by refusing to solicit them.

Ludhiana is probably vast and rolls on for kilometers and kilometers but I preferred to stay cooped up in my cold cell and think of the Thar desert. Except when I got lost, coming back from Chandigarh. But that is another story for another day.

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