For all my new friends who have recently started following this blog.....please start at the very is a good place to start to get the full impact of this fascinating tale.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Equus Addiction

Snarly, Aarti, Minali, Grumpy, Me and Balloo

The circle of riding fanatics were me - Sandip, Minali - Uday, Kilkol - Charlie, Beenu - Rajeev and Aarti who was the only one whose husband unfortunately did not share our passion. The men rode in the early morning while we ladies had to report at  three o'clock in the afternoon. I huffed and puffed for about two weeks until I got my riding legs back and from then on all the passion and love I had for the animal and the sport came flooding back and actually took over my complete existence. Luckily my husband shared my excitement and the crowd we befriended felt the same so we ended up talking, sleeping and dreaming of horses for the next eleven months.
Ladies had their share of falls and most got fed up and left, but us diehards continued and nothing was so terrible that we would think of even missing a day. The 'saabs' who instructed us were quite rude and uncouth and women who moaned and groaned too much were told unsympathetically by them to stay home and 'belo rotis'. These gruff men became the focus of much discussion and were given appropriately nasty nicknames to match their surly demeanours.There were no mobiles in those days so mother would telephone me at a predetermined time once a week. Even these calls were taken at the extension number at the stable office where Minali, Beenu, Arti and me would sit around with flasks of hot tea to be enjoyed after the ride.
Over time the animals grew familiar and beloved  and we would vie for our favourites though we were sternly reprimanded that we should be able to control all types of steed. Once a week we were taking out of the confinement of the ring to go out on a hack into the beautiful countryside. These excursions were sometimes through the neighbouring tea gardens or up an unfamiliar hill but were always breathlessly thrilling since the horses seemed to feel the freedom and were always raring to go. During the couple of term breaks in the college year we opted to stay back and ride while most everybody else left to explore the rest of south India. During these periods we had the most fun as we could choose the  best horses and get away with things that would normally not be allowed.
I must admit though that I don't think I have ever made so many trips to the hospital as there was always some one or the other from the equestrian crowd who had suffered a broken bone or some other injury. Minali and Kilkol both had nasty falls along the way while Sandip too ended up in trouble but that was towards the end of the course and is another story.

Confusion in the riding arena


Monday, 10 February 2014

Settling Down

Aarti with Moody and Easy     Minali with Rogue,Abheer and Avyay
Sandip was immediately plunged into the complex routine of the course while it took me about ten days to unpack and get my bearings in the beautiful surroundings of Wellington. I realised in just a couple of hours that my maid Mable was super efficient and helpful, so promptly dubbed her 'Able Mable'. Some of the ladies I casually met had decided not to open up all their belongings since it was just an eleven month stay but I wanted to be comfortable so quickly organised house and home.
Sandip introduced me to some of his course mates with their wives and the Kolhatkars were the couple who seemed the most interesting. Both Minali and I were keen to join the riding club, she for the first time and me desperately wanting to get back to something I had passionately loved but had not had the opportunity to indulge in for years.
We walked down to the stables to see what we were letting ourselves in for and were immediately surrounded by friendly faces with a like minded interest. We were instructed to get our riding gear together so helmet, breeches and boots were ordered in the currency used for all manner of items - rum!
In those days this was the most common form of payment and one could buy rations, clothes and most everything else for a predetermined number of bottles. There was even an old man who would come around with gorgeous bunches of wild flowers which had to be paid for in pegs. He would unabashedly hold out a container in which one had to measure out the 'daru' in return for the beautiful blooms!!

Me. Aarti and Minali
 Minali and I quickly became inseparable and shared a relationship that was and still is extremely special! We would often sneak out in the car for long drives up to Ooty for a cup of coffee or a jaunt into the quaint little township of Coonor. The group A-ha had come out with their album The Definitive Singles Collection and the strains of 'Take on me' and 'Cry Wolf' can still vividly transport me back to those magical outings in the winding hill roads. Mani Ratnam's 'Roja' had just released and we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The hauntingly beautiful music of the film echoed from every hillside and till today I think of the songs in Tamil and never could appreciate the later Bollywood version.
Staff college was the one place where individuals formed groups according to their interests and not because they were forced into sharing space together like in a normal squadron. The friendships formed and the bonds made in this one year will stay with me forever, because everything we did was special and fun and I think the intensity of each experience was felt more keenly because we knew we were time bound.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Off to Wellington

From: Jamnagar, Gujarat To: Ooty, Tamil Nadu

Family Sud geared up for the nearly two thousand kilometre drive from Jamnagar to Wellington in Tamilnadu, where the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) is situated.  It was a daunting prospect but we had planned to do it in easy stages so were quite looking forward to the adventure.
We left Jamnagar on an early May morning and headed to Baroda where we intended to spend the night. Just an hour after departure we discovered that the air conditioning in the car was not working so grumpily sweltered our way into the city. Sandip had to spend quite a while getting the problem fixed while Munch and I idled in a fancy hotel room which we could ill afford, since nothing else was available.
The next leg of the journey was an uneventful one and we reached the Air Force Station in Pune with enough time to look up a few old friends.


Our next halt was Goa, where we had planned to spend a couple of days. I invested in some shorts and casual vests which were more suitable for lolling around on the beach. Normally one could not sport such informal wear in a 'fauji' environment, but I was confident that I was far from the prying eyes of the usual formal crowd. We settled down on the beach with bottles of icy beer and before I realised it there were a stream of fellow officers and their families stopping by to say hello. I found myself discreetly trying to cover my bare body parts from their curious and appraising glances! It turned out that we were all going  to the same destination and  like us, they had decided to take a break before settling down for the eleven month staff college stint.
Leaving beaches and 'feni' behind we reached Mysore where we just about had the energy to do a cursory walk around the famous Mysore Palace, before falling into bed in readiness for the last leg of the journey.
After the hot and sultry drive we felt the first breath of cool air as we drove into the foothills of Gundlupet where we stopped for our first genuine south Indian breakfast of piping hot 'idlis' and 'dosa'. We had been forewarned to carry warm clothes, since the weather suddenly changed, so we pulled out our sweaters which had been stuffed under the car seat and prepared for the chill of the hills.
 We finally arrived at  DSSC and were instructed to head for the Officer's Mess. There we were given some basic rations of bread, eggs,tea, sugar and milk and instructed to go to the flat allotted to us which was 29/1 Gurkha Hills. We were met by a frizzly haired maid who introduced herself as Mabel and so began the best year of my life.