No.. I haven’t got it wrong. In fact, there is nothing unusual about being caught on the wrong foot and I am sure this has happened to all of us at some time or other. But, being caught on the right foot? This happened to me and the worst part of it is that it happened because I got the pronunciation right or so I believed!!
I visit India with Manju and children twice a year for short stints of 10 days to two weeks and in each trip we divide our time between Madras and Bangalore. From Dubai we directly fly to Madras and spend a few days there because most of my friends and batch mates live in Madras and I somehow find time to contact and hobnob with them. Manju’s mother and some of her relatives also live in Madras and in each of our trip to India, a visit to Madras is a given for her. Forgive me for sticking to the moniker Madras because I cannot bring myself to acknowledge that my beautiful city is rechristened as Chennai, as that does not sound right!!
We also visit Bangalore for two reasons. One, many of Manju’s relatives live in Bangalore and Manju insists on calling on every one of them. Two, we have our luxury Villa at Palm Meadows, the most sought after address in Bangalore, and we have given our villa on corporate lease to a MNC operating in Bangalore. So, we make it a point to visit Palm Meadows and say 'Hello' to our tenant in each of our trip to Bangalore.
Besides these, we visit Guruvayur and Tirupati Temples for Darshan, however short our stay in India may be.
A visit to Guruvayur Temple is relatively straightforward and hassle-free. We fly from Madras to Kochi, take the taxi we have already booked over phone from Madras, waiting for us at Nedumbassery airport, reach Guruvayur late in the evening, check into Elite Hotel in Kizakke Nada and call my friend, a member of the Ambala Committee and organize an early morning Darshan.
The Temple visit takes exactly less than 30 minutes, we have a good Darshan, sometimes two, by rejoining the last segment of the queue and back to Elite for breakfast, pack-up and leave for Nedumbassery (Kochi) airport to board the afternoon flight to Madras.
However, a trip to Tirupati Temple is not such an easy and straightforward affair and needs a good deal of strategy in organizing. If you go through the normal procedure and book for Darshan through the Internet, you will get a slot anytime after 8 to 10 years waiting!! Otherwise you have to join the queue, wait close to 12 hours for a 2-second glimpse of the Lord.
So every time, I unashamedly do something which we Indians are very adept at doing i.e. pulling a few strings!! And believe me, that works. So, I don’t feel guilty about pulling a few strings, after making sure I pull the right ones!!
This time around my trip to Tirupati was in mid October when the Hill Temple gets busy and overcrowded with Pilgrims for Bhrammotsavam festival. We got the Darshan Tickets alright for Suprabadha Seva but we couldn’t get a cottage for our overnight stay at Tirumala hills before our early morning Darshan. My contact person said ”Sorry, I cannot organize a cottage for you in the eleventh hour. You know, it is Bhrammotsavam season and we are overbooked. All our cottages have been booked well in advance by Ministers, Government officials and VIPs”.
I toyed with the idea of a snappy retort, telling him that VIP also means Very Insignificant Person (as most of the politicians are) but wiser counsels prevailed and restrained myself and applied as much pressure as one could over a telephone call from Dubai, seeking favors. But no use. The best he could offer was a suite in one of the new facilities for pilgrims, that too by flouting a few rules, which most of the TTD employees are very adept at!!
I agreed as I had no choice and more importantly, he also offered Darshan Tickets for AAD (Archananda Seva) as an added bonus, presumably because he was feeling bad about not being able to organize a cottage. On my part, I was prepared to shack up in a suite which I presumed was a glorified twin-bedroom, although I was sure Manju and my daughters Shilpa and Madhu would turn their pretty noses up and sniff at this prospect but like I said, I did not have a choice and accepted it. AAD Seva involves at least one to one-and-a-half hours waiting in the queue but we were happy to get it, as the main purpose of our visit to Tirupati is having a good Darshan of the Lord and we are happy to have a repeat Darshan, immediately following our Suprabadha Seva Darshan.
So on the scheduled day, we booked a cab from Madras and embarked on our 3 hour journey to Tirupati. We reached Tirupati town around 6:30P.M and drove straight to Bheema’s for coffee. We rested a while in the hotel lobby and when our cab driver Ram Babu was good and ready we started the ascent. Ram Babu knew Tirumala like the back of his hand and took us straight to the TTD Office for collecting the keys to our suite.
I walked up to the man behind the counter and told him that I have a booking for a suite in my name and can I please have the keys. The man behind the counter was amused. “Sweet, you have booked a sweet?!!”
“Yes, that’s right. I have booked a sweet.” I insisted.
I could see the lady sitting in the adjoining counter was also amused and my man, encouraged by the admiration of his colleague decided to impress her with his keen sense of humor. He switched over to Hindi and asked “Kya sweet chhahiye aapko? Rasmalai, Gulab-jamun, Basundhi yaa Halwa?” (What sweet do you want? Is it, Rasmalai, Gulab-jamun, Basundhi or Halwa?)
The lady burst into a chuckle and our man decided to carry on the show to further heights in his mission to entertain his admiring colleague. “Dhekkiye, yahaang aapko sweet nahin milega kyun ki yeh sweetshop nahi hain. Agar aapko Suit chaahiye tho miljayega.” (Look here, you will not get any sweets here as this is not a sweet-shop. You may get a suit here if you are interested).
He told his admiring colleague something in Telugu and both of them burst out laughing. Although I had only a nodding acquaintance with Telugu language, I could make out that he was telling his lady colleague “What can I do if this guy does not know the difference between a sweet and a suit?!!” Soon the laughter became contagious and all the other staff members sitting in the adjoining tables joined in and a good time was had by all. I presume this was a good entertainment break for them in their otherwise drab and lackluster working-day.
I resigned myself to my present lot and told him “Yes Sir, I have booked a suit and can I please have the keys to my suit?” He passed on the keys to me and as I was leaving the booking office I could sense the sympathetic glance from everyone at the man who does not know the difference between a sweet and a suit!!
We deposited our luggage in our suit (!!), freshened-up and drove to Mayura restaurant for dinner.
After dinner I offered to Manju and children “Would you all care for a suit for desert?” and they all burst out laughing. This time around I certainly didn’t want to say 'sweet' and be caught on the right foot!!