Two Guys, A Girl, And Paradise – Part 0
There comes a time in every man’s life when he feels the need to do things more exciting than excel sheets, to see things more beautiful than that Bliss wallpaper and to cut himself off from the rest of the world and go live by the sea. That time is 11:38 a.m on the 12th of March, because that’s when my school-mate and pocket-sized dynamo George Binoy called me.
“Dude,” he said, jolting my brain from its customary mid-workday slumber, “You wanna take a trip to the Andamans next month? You, me and another friend of mine from college.”
The Andaman Islands are a small group of islands, also called an archipelago (from the Greek ‘archi’ – ‘islands’, and ‘pelago’ – ‘no one can place on the map’), somewhere in the Bay Of Bengal. No one knows for sure where they are. Mapmakers routinely toss a coin to see where it falls on the map and mark that spot as the Andamans. This is why, in some maps, you can find them somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.
For a long time, all I knew about the Andamans was that it housed a famous prison where Mohanlal and Prabhu spent a bit of quality time licking Britishers’ boots and getting beaten up. Not exactly the kind of image you’d see in a tourist guide. But in 2005, TIME Magazine ran a feature naming the ‘Best Beach in Asia that you can get to’. The beach thus named was Beach No. 7 (Radhanagar Beach), on Havelock Island, in the Andamans, the article complete with an accompanying picture showing sun-kissed white sands and turquoise waters. My mind made itself up, realising there was a good chance to spot topless sunbathers on that kind of beach.
“Yep, sure, done.” I told George, “Just let me know when.”
The next month passed in making enquiries about accommodation and things to do on Havelock, identifying a suitable beach resort to stay in, calling said resort to make room reservations, struggling to get through because of the shady telephone connections on the island, finally getting through only to find that the resort owner was away diving somewhere off the coast of South East Asia, trying again after a couple of weeks, struggling to get through for a while before finally making our reservations. George did all of this. I did nothing, except wire the money.
All through the month, whenever I told people that I was going to the Andamans, they only had bright and cheery opinions to offer: “Isn’t that where the tsunami struck?” they’d ask, “Sounds like loads of fun!” or “I’ve heard there are some aborigines on those islands who’ve perfected the recipe for pickled human liver, it’s supposed to be a delicacy in those parts. You have fun there, okay! Miss me!”
The primary reason for this kind of apprehensive behaviour is that there’s a popular misconception that the no one returns from the Andamans alive, which is not strictly true. Some do. But it’s so bad that my dad insisted that I sign up for some life insurance before I left, prompting me to wonder if I’d been adopted. And when I called the agent and told him, “I’m going to the Andamans, I’d like to sign up for a policy”, he laughed loudly for a few minutes before hanging up on me.
Two days before we were to depart, George called again,
“You all set, dude?” he asked.
“Yup,” I said, while, behind me, my parents were picking out a nice photograph of me to enlarge, frame and garland after I was gone. God bless them.
“Be sure to get plenty of Odomos and sunblock,” he said, “Else, the trip will be hell.” I made a mental note of this, went to the nearest Spencer’s Daily, and picked out the first thing with the word ‘sunblock’ on it. This turned out to be a tube of ‘Fair & Handsome’, which sounded like an awfully good deal at the time. (I get to keep my sparkling complexion, and become handsome also?? Arre Wah! For only 45 rupees??) In all this excitement, I completely forgot about the Odomos. So, yes, one could say I was under prepared for the holiday.
And thus it came to be, that on April 18th, just over a month after George first called me about the trip, both of us found ourselves on Jet Airways flight 9W13 from Chennai to Port Blair, with George’s friend Tanaya Kilara. Outside, it was nice and sunny, and inside, George was shouting at me,
“TWO THINGS!”, he was yelling, “I tell you to remember to bring TWO THINGS! And you forget one of them! No way am I letting you use mine. NO WAY.”
At which point, Tanaya spoke up, “Good you both remembered to get sunblock! Hope you’ve got one of those with an ‘SPF-30’ at least, the others are apparently useless.” I gulped. SPF? WTF?
“I got SPF-40,” George said. He would’ve got SPF-500, if it’d been available. “Vinod, what about you?”
I smiled sheepishly.
(To be continued)