Friday, August 3, 2012

Murphy's Law

Every time we are on a long road trip, I have this perpetual fear of the car breaking down, stranding us somewhere before we reach our destination. It doesn't matter that we have a brand new car or that the brand and the model are reliable and have great performance reviews. It is especially hard to quell the fear of not making it to the airport on time. I have to fight the urge to be there hours ahead than is reasonably required. I conjure up every possible thing that could go wrong before we reach the airport and then worry about something happening that I hadn’t thought of or expected. I know it is irrational and I think it stems from incidents that occurred during my childhood while traveling in India in my dad's car. It didn’t happen every single time and there never was a time when we didn’t make it to our destination. But it has happened enough times to leave its mark :-)

Ok here is the flashback....Our journey always starts the same way and at mostly the same time - before sunrise. My dad is great at keeping everything on schedule for our road trips. We wake up in the wee hours of the morning, get ready, pack the car and leave when it is still dark outside. The intention is to beat the busy morning traffic and reach our destination on or before time. Dad is a great driver. He minds the traffic rules and still makes good time.

As soon as we leave the neighbourhood, dad (or sometimes mom) turns the religious music on - for an auspicious start and a smooth journey. I, on the other hand, would have loved to hear some upbeat, popular movie songs to get me out of the grogginess and enjoy the ride. But I have to listen through at least one entire side of the cassette tape (remember those?)  of these uninspiring (or so it seemed) songs. We (my sister and I) were reprimanded even if we merely suggest that we skip the incantations and move onto the fun stuff.

I love watching the stars sparkling in the light of dawn and then fading away as the sun inches up. The morning rays through the car window already feel strong and bright. And I can feel the heat of the day starting to rise with it. One of my favorite times of the day to be on the road has just ended. We are now listening to enjoyable music and I am happily taking in the scenery outside from within the comfort of the car. Despite the seemingly tranquil atmosphere in the car, I cannot help but feel the worry lurking right below the surface. A feeling that something is going to go wrong.  

Every kilometer without incident, we are that much more closer to our destination. Sometimes we would pack our breakfast from home and have a picnic at the roadside. We eat our breakfast in, out or around the car. Dad always picks a quiet spot, under the shade of a huge banyan tree or a tamarind tree. It feels good to see the highway stretching far ahead lined on either side by these grand old trees. There is a sense of peace and quiet except for some occasional vehicle whizzing by. On occasion, we would stop at a restaurant for breakfast instead and though it cuts down on our journey time, I look forward to the experience of enjoying some greasy food even if it aggravates my terrible motion sickness.

After all of us are satiated and energised, we start back again. And then it happens! Just when I am lulled by the food, music and the steady sound of the tires gliding on the road. When I am least expecting it. In a nice highway boulevard usually where there are no vendors peddling their wares and no shops but just an occasional motorist passing by. We hear a strange noise from the car or dad feels something strange about the car and he stops to check it out. It's either a flat tyre, an alternator problem, a fan belt rupture, an engine problem or something that I have no clue about. All our excitement of being on the road comes crashing down. Dad has to somehow find a way to either fix the car and get us back on the road or find an alternative to get us to our destination if the car can't be repaired fast enough. He either walks to the nearest town or stops someone passing by in a two-wheeler so he could hitch a ride and find a mechanic close by. During these times, I have never ever seen dad lose his patience or let out his frustration on us. He met our impatience with reassuring words - that gene must have become dormant in me. With me impatience begets impatience :-)

We wait till the car is fixed, usually inside the car itself while the hunt for the part is on.  Sometimes it would be over in a short while, like a flat tyre that my dad would take care of by himself, but other times we would have to wait longer. I wonder now how we passed our time. I don’t remember much about it. We didn’t bring any books along, didn’t have any music or gaming devices. Maybe we just talked, observed and talked some more.

Once the car is fixed, we would all quietly get back in and continue on our journey. Hoping that our car would take us through the rest of the journey without incident. We wouldn't have the music on in case we get distracted and miss any telltale noise of a breakdown, if it happens again. We are finally closer to our destination, either a hotel to stay for the night or thankfully, our final stop. It is with such relief that I realize that we will make it to the destination, after all.

Now, when we visit our parents and when my dad takes us on a trip, it is an uneventful journey - no car trouble, no delays. But I can’t seem to shake the anxiety of being stuck, somewhere remote.. far from any help....unable to make it to our destination.....

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