Leaving for Ladakh – part 2


Yeh kiske bus ki baat hai?

Three kinds of buses ply Delhi.

The Whiteline buses are the costliest, and also the fastest if you want to get anywhere in Delhi. The premium charged goes towards having lesser stops along the way and shorter routes.

The Delhi State Transport buses stop more frequently along the way, but achieve reasonable bursts of speed between them.

Every classification has the reader guessing about the last entity to be mentioned. If the first in the list is touted as the fastest, the second as the next best option, it is natural to assume that the third would be the slowest of the three.

But that is not the only problem.

The private buses plying Delhi are an apt means of conveyance if you want to conduct a mobile population census. Though plying Delhi, their time zones seem to match the mythical world where time stands still. The conductors are trained to focus on the entire population walking on the road to inform each of them of the bus’ destination. The slightest twitch of a pedestrian’s head towards the source of the aural assault is enough to put the brakes on the bus, and get the conductor trying to coax the pedestrian to board the bus.

For the amount of time people spend in this bus to get to their destination, the buses can prove to be anthropological study labs instead of means of transport that they falsely claim to be.

It took me three hours on two of these buses to get to Azadpur from Noida.

But I need to digress before I proceed further. Doubts may assail the reader’s mind – why Azadpur? Why Delhi at all? Get to Ladakh, that’s what I am waiting for!

But first, why Ladakh at all?

As part of SPJIMR’s DOCC program, all students are expected to undergo a two month stint at an NGO in summers to help them realize the needs of this sector. Many NGOs are listed with SPJIMR for volunteers, and students are given a choice on where their stint is to be. LEDEG, an organization at Leh is also listed with SPJIMR, and I picked this as my first choice. Five others from my college also chose this, and the projects we were given were determining the financial viability of micro-hydel projects (yeah, like the one in Swades!), coming up with a district energy plan and to set up their HR and people processes.

While negotiating our stay at Ladakh, the question that kept popping up was whether there were any electrical engineers amongst us, which got me wondering if they wanted us to fix/repair the micro-hydel plants! They later clarified that all they wanted was for us to understand electrical energy terms for the district survey. It’s been almost seven years since I finished my one and only electrical engineering course in the first trimester of engineering (Computer Science does not have much to do with electrical engineering, at least, not the details) but I was sufficiently aware to make sense of energy terms.

As part of the trip, Lalit, my roommate who is an Electronics Engineer from REC Jamshedpur, and I were to stop at Delhi for a week and spend time with an International Energy Consultant to get an idea on how to proceed. We were also to meet up the ICICI bank in charge of rural projects and determine their needs for funding such projects.

The ICICI office was at Azadpur, and Lalit and I were to meet the official before 1:00 PM that day.

Digression over, back to the main story.
I finally got to the Azadpur at 1:30 PM, thanks to the free Delhi road darshan organized by the buses. I had called up Lalit ahead and told him of my probable delay, so he met up with the official alone.

He briefed me on their requirements when we met.

ICICI had not invested in micro-hydel projects earlier, but had a minimum investment clause of around a crore of rupees, over multiple projects if necessary. They required us to calculate the regular NPV and IRR values, and also determine if there were any self help groups whom they could interface with to collect their dues. An investment in Ladakh would mean difficulties in collection, so ICICI proposed an ‘escrow’ account for the committee/SHG where the cash inflows would be deposited. ICICI would have direct access to this account, and would withdraw the slated amount every month, leaving the rest for maintenance/upkeep of the project.

That done, we then focused on the larger problem at hand – accommodation in Delhi.

The International Energy Consultant, Mr. Parimal, had offered to help us finding accommodation, and we had to meet him in the evening. We decided to go on to Connought Place and plan after getting there.

Yellow line, Blue line, Red line – Delhi’s lifeline!

To get to Rajiv Chowk, we took the Delhi Metro from Vishwa Vidhyalaya.

The metro is the quickest way of getting around in Delhi. What would easily take us an hour and a half on road took just 20 minutes as the train whizzed towards Rajiv Chowk.

At Rajiv Chowk, we had a quick lunch (food is so much cheaper than in Mumbai) and after spending some time looking around, took the Metro to Tagore Garden, the closest stop to get to Paschim Vihar, where Mr. Parimal resided.
Lalit may fancy his chances of being an alpha male. But that day, I am sure he wouldn’t mind being even an omega male.

The train was crowded when we got in. Not as bad as the Mumbai locals, but fairly packed so that people did not have too much of space to move within the bogie. Lalit and I were both standing near the door as it was difficult moving further ahead when the dame came and stood in front of Lalit.

Around five and a half feet tall, squat and dressed in a salwar suit with her pallu over her head, she looked at Lalit and just said “Aapka mobile.”

Both Lalit and I thought he had dropped it on the floor, and he instinctively touched his pocket to check if it was there.

“Aapka mobile chahiye, papa ko call karma hai.”

She had a rather shifty air about her. I saw her fingers were stubby when she extended it for the mobile. Her nails looked like she gave them a teething unconsciously. She had scars under both her eyes, as if she had scratched sunburns and inflamed them.

Lalit looked confused about what to answer, so I quickly replied, “Roaming pe hai”

“Oh,” she remarked, making her way across us.

While she passed by, I saw her clutch Lalit’s arm to steady herself against the train’s motion. I was not sure if it was just for that purpose.

A couple of stations later, she again came our way. An elderly gentleman had just entered the train and was on a call on his mobile. She passed us on her way, and this time she let her arm glide across Lalit’s back. I held back a smirk while Lalit moved back further down the train.

Accosting the gentleman with the mobile, the dame repeated what she told us.

The gentleman seemed to be one of the hundreds of commuters you come across in trains. The skin on his face had just begun to droop at places and he tried to mask his white hair with mehendi, which left it shaded in a tint of orange. His eyes were just beginning to gray at the edges of his pupils. Perhaps that’s what lent to the look of being a person who would not refuse a request quickly.

He handed over his mobile, the Nokia phone that looks like Venn diagrams are built on its keypad.

The dame made sure everyone in the compartment heard her talk on the phone.

“Arre Kuldeep,” she shouted at the phone, “park me baitha hai kya? Koi nayi girlfriend to nahi hai tumhare saath? Aa rahi hoon ek ghante me.”

She then turned to the gentleman again.

“Uncle, ek aur call karna hai. Kar loon?”

Before he replied, she began dialing a number. After a few attempts, she turned to the gentleman, held the phone to his ear, and said, “Engaged hai. Ek aur call kar loon?”

All of us standing around were watching with amusement, expecting the gentleman to sound her off and take his phone back.

He merely murmured, “Kar lo”, looking unsettled.

She then proceeded to repeat her conversation with Kuldeep, this time with a Raj.

Dialing a number again, she again placed the phone to the gentleman’s ear and said, “Uncle, papa ka phone busy hai.”

A bystander sniggered loudly, but she went on.

“Papa ne number note kar liya hoga. Me dus minute ke liye phone rakh loon? Aapko call kar ke de doongi”

This time, the bystander nudged the gentleman. As if drawing courage from the action, he replied, “Nahi beti. Yahan se hi karlo”

By now, everyone was certain that she was trying to dupe the poor guy, and he was unable to say no. (Maybe he is the right target segment for some of the pop-psychology books like “Don’t say yes when you want to say no”)

The train was nearing Tagore Garden, and the dame started off on another conversation. This time, she was standing very close to the exit, and I was pretty certain that she’d pop out with the phone just before the doors closed. I tapped the gentleman on his shoulder and asked him to take the phone back. He looked at me helplessly, and then just started a plea, “Beti…phone….”

By now, the dame had realized that everyone in the compartment were up to her tricks.

She finished her conversation over the phone. “Uncle phone maang rahe hain. Lagta hai balance khatam ho raha hai. De doon?”

Putting on one of her sweetest smiles, she turned, handed over the phone and stepped out of the train. Just as Lalit and I got off, we saw her accost someone on the station – “Papa ko call karna hai. Aapka mobile milega?”

Both of us were still laughing as we stepped out on the road.

In 2006, I spent the months from March to May in Ladakh. Six of us from SPJIMR had chosen to do our summer project there, working on understanding and forecasting energy demand and supply for the region. It was an incredible experience. As part of the project, we travelled across Ladakh for primary surveys. The posts below were written during the visit.

I couldn’t, however, get Ladakh out of my mind. I visited Ladakh again in 2009 with friends to enjoy the now-discontinued Confluence music festival. The post on the second visit:

Read all my travel posts here.

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