Gandhi’s Ghost…

So, I was sorting through some old photographs and was reminded that about twelve years ago I was in India. I’ll come back to that.

My main objective in sorting was to bring some logic to the way the photos were organized and at the same time move them to my Dropbox account, where I have 1TB of space. If you’re not familiar with the IT world, that’s 1 Tremendous number of Bytes that I will probably never fill. At least, not this week. But one big benefit of Dropbox is that I can access the photos from anywhere, and have purchased an iPad app that makes the process much easier.

At the same time though, I realized Facebook allows its users to create photo galleries free of charge, and so not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I started uploading photos there too. Most of my Facebook “friends” are motorsport people, so I focused on loading old rally pictures, from the days before Facebook existed. I was amazed by the reaction…

I didn’t keep a running total, but I’m sure the photos generated more than 1000 “likes.” Many people shared whole albums for their friends, quite a few sent me friend requests, and many actually started an online conversation via Facebook Messenger. So, I chatted with people in Japan, India and other places, generally talking about rallying. For a day or two I must have been one of the most popular people on Facebook. No, probably not.

But what’s this about India?…

Well, one of the albums I created and uploaded was from the 2003 India Rally. I was there with a couple of my rally cars, mechanics and my son, who I’ll call “JR”. That’s because I do call him “JR”.

At the time, the rally organizers were trying to get their premier event into the Asia Pacific Championship, and to do that, they needed to run a rally to the same quality and format, and have it observed by the FIA. Except, at the time, there were apparently no four wheel drive rally cars in India that they could use as course-opening, or what we call “zero” cars, so they rented two from me … well, from my motorsport company.

India Rally 2003

The event was based in the city of Pune. That, by Indian standards, is considered to be a “small” city, of “only” 3 million people. It’s about an hour’s flight inland from Mumbai – where due to flight connections, we spent the first night. With a population of more than 12 million, at least half of whom seem to be wandering around the streets at any time of day or night, you’d never call Mumbai “small.” Any Indian city seems to be chaotic, which would make Mumbia über-chaotic!

As an aside, India is one of those countries you should never go to for the first time.

I don’t mean that literally of course, but the fact is, the first time you go, you simply can’t make sense of the place. It seems to overwhelm the senses. There’s no hiding the fact that many parts are dirty, smelly, even downright disgusting, and you get a feeling of “WTF am I doing here?” However; the brain seems to file all this away, and over time does make sense of the country, so the second time you go, you just think “Ah yes, this is India. No problem.”

India Rally 2003

Now, I should be honest – I love India. Especially for the food. If you like Indian food, I can assure you you’ve never really tasted it unless you’ve been to India. I wouldn’t want to live there, especially anywhere near a major city, but I would like to visit more. It’s such a large and diverse country, that one trip a month wouldn’t be enough.

I think I’ve mentioned before that a few years ago I started planning India trips. I bought myself a ticket to Kochi. I learned a lot about the place, and even booked a hotel. And then it hit me that I needed a visa!

I think it depends on where you live, but at the time I was in Malaysia, and there the visa application process is so complicated, I realized it was going to take more days than my planned four day trip – and I gave up. The tourism people spend billions on their “Amazing India” campaign while the immigration people seem to actively discourage tourism. Quite bizarre. If that policy changes, I’ll think again. So for now, it’s back to memories of Pune…

One evening, after one of my rally cars had finished its course-opening duties, crewed, I should add, by two experienced Aussie guys, it was left to JR and I to get it back to the hotel in Pune. The rally was a ways outside the city in a rather attractive area of hills and lakes, and almost clean air!

India Rally 2003

Now, if there’s one tourism tip anyone will give you, it’s “don’t drive in India.” I think there is only one traffic rule, and that is, keep one hand on the horn. Everyone does. Nothing else matters. Traffic lanes? Ignore them. Drive straight at oncoming traffic? No problem. Red traffic lights? They’re just a reminder to slow a little. Oh wait, there are two rules. Cows can go wherever they want, even on expressways, and you don’t dare hit one!

But, drive we had to. When we began the journey we were in a fairly remote location and so traffic was light, and the road a regular two-lane blacktop. We kept up a reasonably decent speed, until we reached a long left bend with a bus stopped part way round. JR has always been road savvy and he quickly looked around the left side of the bus and made some gesture to indicate it was okay to pass.

I trusted his judgement, but at the same time I hit the gas pedal to make sure we could pass as quickly as possible, in case something had been hidden in a blind spot.

And just as I did this, I realized there were two things I didn’t know. First; half way round the corner, there was one of those speed bump thingies. And the other was the fact that on the opposite side of the road, in a half-anticipated blind spot, there was a little old Indian man, wearing his white dhoti, hunched over a cane, and looking just like every photograph you’ve ever seen of Mahatma Gandhi. These two were not a good combination.

Probably you’ve never driven a modern rally car. Well, when you hit the loud pedal things happen really fast. In rally car that also has a turbo and anti-lag system, you get pressed into the seat, while the brain tries to play catch up. All of which means, we were accelerating really hard as we hit the speed bump.

This launched us into the air. And you don’t need a degree in any scientific discipline to know that a car in the air cannot be steered or stopped. Those things need the wheels to be in contact with the road. So there we were, flying directly at Gandhiji.

In that tiny split second, as so often happens when the brain goes “Oh crap!” I pictured us locked in a dungeon below some rural police station, rotting away while the judicial system – if there is one – decides whether or not we should face a firing squad. And while the High Commission people do what, according to the media they always do, “lend consular assistance.” Which in real English means “don’t bother us, it’s time for tiffin on the lawn.”

So, without any announcements about having to close our tray tables, or put our seats in an upright position, we landed. This all happened so fast that Gandhiji was now behind us, and we were travelling more or less in the right direction. I checked the rear-view mirror only to discover that by some miracle, the man was still alive, still walking, and still hunched over his cane. This didn’t seem possible, except…

wwiI read recently that some of Gandhi’s ashes are in an urn at the palace of the Aga Khan in Pune, so I figure this wasn’t really a live person wandering along the road, but Gandhi’s ghost taking an afternoon stroll. So we couldn’t have killed him. He was already dead!

Paul

...has been travelling the world for more than fifty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more. He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way. More info than you could possibly need is available by clicking the ABOUT tab in the top menu line.

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