When Nargis and Indira Gandhi Rescued Me!

Way back in 1984, I had to visit Cyprus to negotiate some business deals. Cyprus was very competitive for import of products like detergent, edible oils, paper reams etc in bulk, repack them in consumer packs and export them to European and Middle Eastern countries. Most of the manufacturing units were located around Larnaca and Limassol, on its South Coast.

I had to stay there over a weekend.   I was alone.  All commercial offices were closed.  I had nothing to do.  On the Saturday, I hired a car from Hertz.   I went for a beautiful drive to the popular historical places over the south coastal stretch of about 150 km from Limassol to Pephos and back.

After my Saturday drive, I was relaxing in the Hotel lounge and was wondering what I’d do the next day.  Just then, I found a pamphlet in the hotel rack with details of a drive to Mountain Troodas.  The mountain base was at a distance of 45 km and thereafter a steep climb of 6,500 ft.  From the base, it was about a 10 km road to the top of the ice-capped mountain.  It was winter season and was snowing almost every day on the mountain.

Unfortunately the mountain was closed except to those who took it up by foot and had a skiing permit.

Immediately, I wanted to rent a car to drive to the top of mountain Troodas as far as I could.    The car tyres had to have snow chains.  The chains provide grip while driving on snow and keeps the car from skidding.   The car rental company informed me that driving on the mountain was not permitted during winter beyond 2-3km.  Only skiers with permits could climb during that season.  Hertz refused to rent a car to me.  I tried Avis and they refused too.

I wasn’t going to give up, of course.   I decided to drive as far as permitted even if I had to return from the first security gate.  For that distance, I presumed I didn’t need the tyre snow-chains.  I did not go to Hertz or Avis.  I went to a local car rental company and hired a car.  I did not ask for the snow-chains.

I kept the car at the hotel over the night and made an early start on Sunday.  It took me about 45 minutes to reach the base.  I started driving up.  After about 3km, I reached the security post and the gate was open!  There was no guard either.  Maybe, the security did not expect any vehicle to come at that hour in winter!

I had the option to wait there or return.  I had underestimated how cold it would be.  I was not appropriately equipped to face 0-5 deg temperature.  I had just one a formal coat, a jacket, thick socks, woolen gloves and formal leather shoes.  For me, a change from warm weather to snow was an excitement.

There appeared to be no restrictions to go up.  I decided to go further up.  The mountain was covered completely with snow .  There was a thin layer of fresh snow on the road.  It was just thin flakes initially to about a couple of inches or so as I went up.

Slowly and steadily I drove further about 3-4 kms when I heard a car sounding a horn behind me.  I could see it was a security jeep.  I could see in my rear view mirror that they were signaling me to take my vehicle slightly to the left so that they could overtake.  But the road was narrow and covered with snow.  I could not take the risk of giving them enough space to overtake me. Moreover, it was not safe to stop the vehicle on that skidding slope.  After about half a km, there was a spot created for overtaking, where the road was slightly wider and flat.  The security asked me to stop.  I took my car to the side and halted.

They interrogated me severely with several security-related questions.  There were three gentlemen in the jeep, one of them was wearing a military uniform.  They asked me to show the permit to drive up the mountain.  I told them that I was not aware of the need for a permit.

To the question if I hadn’t read the sign at the security gate, I said it was snowing and hence could not notice it.  They said I was silly to have come to that height in a small vehicle without any snow chain and on and on.

Troodas, Cyprus

The car heater was not effective. I told them that I would answer all their questions, but I was shivering and needed a warm place and a hot drink, before I collapse.    The chief security officer ordered me to leave my vehicle there and join him in his vehicle.  I was sure they would investigate further as we were moving further up.

He: Passport?

Me: In Hotel

He: Which country?

Me: India

His colleague busted loudly: “Aaah!  You, from Mother India Nargis and Indira Gandhi!  Joker Raj Kapoor!”  There was a broad smile on his face.  He grasped my hand and continued, “We are friends! We like India.  We love Indians”.

I let out a big sigh of relief, bigger than his smile!  What happened thereafter was very exciting.

After a drive of another half a kilometer, he took me to a small hall.   It was isolated.  There was no one there except a lady sweeping the floor.  It was a coffee shop for the skiers.  They would normally come after 11 am and it was not even 9 am.  My fingers were swollen to the size of my greater toe due to the cold.  There was a fireplace at the center of the restaurant which kept the room warm. Gradually, I stopped shivering.  The coffee house was not yet ready to serve hot beverages.

The Cypriot took me out to his jeep, poured a cup of hot coffee from his flask and said ‘warm up’.  He probably could see a broad smile on my face. As both of us finished our coffee, he asked, “Now what do you want to do?  Stay here for a while or go down right away”.

I said “Neither.  I want to go up. Up further”.  He said something in their local language to his colleague, probably telling him, “This is a mad guy”.  He said, “Even the vehicles with chains cannot go up.  Roads are covered with 3 to 4 feet of snow and in fact it is difficult to trace the road under the snow.   My colleague will take you back to your car” and he left me with him to attend to something else.

I thanked him and asked the person with me, “Are you from security too?”

He: “No, I am the engineer in charge. I maintain the cable line and the satellite tower at the top of the Troodas mountain”.

I asked him, “If there is a problem with the cables at a higher level right now, how would you go?”

He: I have a special 4-wheel drive vehicle.  A dumper truck with snowplows clears the road and my vehicle follows it.   It is a slow process and takes hours to clear even one kilometer.”

Me: “Then I will sit in your vehicle and go with you.  If you can please take me up!”

He gave a friendly stare at me. I reminded him, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”.  He started laughing and said. “Ok. The mountain peak is about 3 kilometers from here.  I think in this weather, I would be able to take you up about 1.5km.”  “Thank you” I said.

He made a couple of calls, called for the dumper to clear the snow.  It was like a bulldozer.  Within 30 minutes, the bulldozer started clearing the road and our vehicle followed.  After a couple of hours and climb of about one and a half km,

He: “Now we should go back”.

Me: “No, we should go further up”.

He: “How far?”

Me: “Right till the satellite tower”

He stared at me and said, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi.  Ok my friend we will go up, risky though”.  It was snowing and we continued.  After about two more hours I reached the top of Troodas mountain, the top of Cyprus.   There was a small one-room structure with some sophisticated machines and a tall tower at the peak. I walked, jumped and slided for about half an hour.

Cyprus Mountain

Dumper Clearing snow ahead of our car

When we started returning, the cleared road now had a thick layer of fresh snow.   The dumper ahead cleared the way and we returned to the spot where I left my little car.  It did not take long to return.  By then, it was already around 4pm.   We had a coffee at the coffee house and then he escorted me to the car.  I reversed the direction of the car to return.  “A lazy day converted to a complete thrill!”

When I was about to leave in my car bidding him good bye, my Cypriot friend said, “remember 3 things.

  • One, engage your car in 2nd gear and do not change the gear till you reach the base.

  • Two, do not apply brake when your car is on snow.

  • Three and most important, you will not go up again now.

Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”

It is over 30 years, I still follow these lessons while driving down on slopes.  I am sure this will help when I drive in Iceland next fortnight!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Thrill On The Pitch – World Cup Finals 2011

Grand event of World Cup Finals between India and Sri Lanka on 2nd April 2011 at Wankhade Stadium, Mumbai.

I was seated on a couch in the Garware Pavilion adjacent to the players’ dressing room. On this day, I could not have expected to be seated anywhere better in the universe.

I was one of the five winners of ‘World Cup Ka Hero’ for the Finals in 2011, a lucky draw, sponsored by Castrol out of the participants from all over India. We were entertained for 3 days prior to the match. A suite at a 5-star hotel and a car at my disposal with an armed body-guard!

The night before the final, we attended an entertainment program – a fantastic, huge event, which I understand was at a budget of Rs.20,00,00,000. The gathering included celebrities, past and present cricket players and personalities from all over the world. It was a grand 3-hour show.

On the day of the match, I was escorted to the stadium through the VIP entrance, an hour and  a half before the start of the match.   Two seats in the center of the pavilion were replaced by a cushioned couch – a throne of sorts – for me. Around my couch were three cheerleaders from East Europe, two on each side and one in front; a security guard behind me.   Adequate food and drinks were stocked at my disposal.

It was toss time. We were escorted to the ground, very close to the spot where the toss would be conducted. We were introduced to the crowd in the stadium on the public address system and were asked to cheer the crowd. It was an amazing life-time experience and the entire stadium responded with a deafening sound. An unimaginable atmosphere.

The crowd of course, wanted India to win the toss. Toss proved to be a confusing event.   Dhoni spun the coin and the Sri Lankan skipper called. We did not know who won the toss. In the loud noise, the umpire could not hear the call. There was a discussion and it was decided to toss the coin for the second time! This time Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to bat first.

India started well with first 3 overs from Zaheer proving to be maidens. Indians controlled well till the 40th over permitting Sri Lanka to score around 180 for 5. One ‘not out’ by umpire went for review and was given ‘out’ to the cheers of the crowd.   However in the last 5 overs, India gave away an average of 12 runs per over, obviously not to the liking of the crowd. India was left to chase a total of 274

At the lunch break we were taken out to the pitch through a tough multi-layered security system. We were asked to cheer the crowd again.   It was an electrifying atmosphere with Indian flags all around and variety of loud sounds.

It was a huge total to defend, the highest in any World Cup final. To India’s bad luck, Sehwag fell for lbw in the second ball for a duck. India was at 1 down for 0 runs. The crowd hissed.   “Shooooo” was the crowd when Gambhir was dropped right in the beginning of his innings.

The crowd was hoping 100th century from Sachin Tendulkar to come to the rescue. Alas! Tendulkar went out soon at a small score of 18. The crowd went completely silent! Suddenly the exciting match started looking boring. Kohli was slowly trying to pick the reins up but soon got out.

Meanwhile, Gambhir made good use of the life he got and continued to bat steadily. As it looked like he would score his century in the next ball by scoring to the ropes, he went for a lofty shot and that was his end.   We as an audience were confused – do we sympathise with him for missing his century or applaud him for his valuable 97?

It was all Dhoni and Yuvraj thereafter. India now needed 28 runs in 22 balls. It was the 49th over when Dhoni hit the unforgettable sixer to win the World Cup. Winning Sixer by Dhoni!

I could see tears of joy from many of the Indian players and fans alike. The rest of the team carried Gary Kirsten and Sachin around the stadium on their shoulders.  There was joy and celebration everywhere.   The fire crackers all around seemed louder and brighter than ever. The stadium continued to remain crowded till almost an hour after the end of the match. Security was extremely tight. After the presentation ceremony, the crowd invaded the pitch. Many Indian cricket lovers were kissing the ground. Some of them collected the dust from the pitch to carry it home.

I, World Cup Ka Hero, was presented mementos, all autographed by Sachin Tendulkar – a mini ball, mini silver-finish bat, a cap, two T-shirts and a coffee mug. The mug also had pictures of Sachin.

100_1314 100_1306 100_1300100_1349

None of us had had enough. So the electrifying atmosphere shifted to the roads after the match – people jumping, dancing with slogans cheering the Indian team, Dhoni and Sachin. Many Mumbaites came out with cars to get a glimpse of the Indian team at their hotel. The queue ran from the Gateway of India to Khar, a distance of about 18-20 km.

It was a night when I did not want to go back to my bed!   An experience I would never forget in my life!

Last week when India defeated Pakistan in their first 2015 world cup match, it took me back to the experience of the last World Cup final.  Let us all hope, the Indian Team comes true to our expectations this time too!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra



Unusual Activity Around Reveals Unusual Facts!

At the Bank of Ganges.  On the afternoon of 1st April 2014.

It was very hot to linger at the banks of the river.  Other than the sleeveless t-shirt and shorts I was wearing, I just had a towel and a handkerchief with me. I wet them in the river and covered my legs to cool them down.  The wet handkerchief on my head was a much needed relief.

It was still not good enough.  I had to move away from the bank to a place just above the steps of the ghat.  There was a large shade built for multi-purposes for protecting the visitors when the Sun is too harsh; when the rain is at its best, pleasant mood; when the wind is in Tandav Nritya mode (playing havoc like a dancing Shiva) and when ladies need privacy. Yet, you have a full view of the lively Ganges.

A simple looking gentleman came under the shade too.  I noticed him sitting on the floor with a bag.  He was busy in his own way and I was with my laptop.  After an hour or so I looked at him.  He had a small hand operated heater, blower, scissor and some reshaped empty mineral water bottles.  His belongings made me curious.

I sat next to him and had to ask him what he was busy with.  He picked up the reshaped bottle and said, “look, I have made Lord Ganesh out of empty mineral bottles.” He had indeed impressively done that by reshaping two mineral bottles.

Then he showed me a paper roll and started blowing it from one end to make a pleasant sound.  It was made out of waste paper lying around.  He had made a lantern by blowing out of another mineral water bottle.   He had a nice strong shopping bag made out of multiple layers of raddi newspapers.  He had a tennis ball with an elastic string tied in such a way that you could play tennis by yourself, sitting anywhere, indoor or outdoor.    They were all biodegradable.  No pins, no chemical paste were used for these items.

It was all amazing.  I was curious to know who he was.  He was 73-year old Mr. Iyer from Santacruz, Mumbai.  He was tennis coach to National Champions like Gaurav Natekar and Asif Ismail.  He trained 21 State level tennis players, attended 30 training centers and converted ball pickers to coaches.

Not just that.  Mr. Iyer was a wizard in use of waste.  He was holder of Limca Book of Record 2004 as “Recycle Wizard”.  He was winner of national and international awards for import substitution.  He set up world’s first “Best from Waste” museum in Mumbai.    He has an exhibition hall where some of his artistic items are exhibited in Santa Cruz, Mumbai.

I thanked myself for having taken the initiative to inter-act with Mr. Iyer.  Had I not done that, I would have missed out on learning some amazing facts about a person, who otherwise would have been for me, one of those men passed by.   An extraordinary simple personality – Mr. Iyer.

A Lesson learnt.  Never miss out on getting the details if one finds someone involved in a “different” unusual activity. There is always something we don’t know and can learn.

Written: Badri Baldawa

Edited: Meeta Kabra