There were three of us in the car, an oversized SUV that seemed to house all the worldly possessions of the driver. At the wheel was the topper of our class and I was designated co- pilot. On the backseat was the better half of the person who was known to occasionally better her in the race to the top. It was October, I was in august company and enjoying every moment of it.
We were returning home from Rohtak after attending the marriage of a friend’s son. All of us were on a vacation from the stress that inevitably engulfs quinquagenarians of the female kind. As we talked about our personal and professional problems we steered off course. The issues remained the same but our tone changed and instead of moping we found humour in our situation. And so we laughed, and then we laughed some more. We recounted funny anecdotes and the guffaws became louder and more carefree as we realised that there was plenty to laugh about.
The last sane memory I have is of a road sign saying that we were 10 km away from Panipat. From there we had to get on to NH 1 and head north towards Chandigarh. As we talked and laughed we lost track of time. My friend in the back seat glanced out and remarked that the roadside eateries were as big and impressive as the ones near Murthal on the way to Delhi. An observation that all of us agreed to before returning to a hilarious anecdote. A while later I saw Kanak Garden next to Sheesh Mahal and marvelled at the coincidence, lamenting how people shamelessly copied names and exteriors. Once again we concurred and continued with the more lively discussion at hand. A few minutes later I noticed a Haveli restaurant and we momentarily digressed to note that Haveli had lost its exclusivity and was opening outlets everywhere. It was only after I exclaimed, “Sukhdev Dhaba, with the usual jam packed car park and Hotel Amrik Sukhdev behind it, just like Murthal ” that our driver reacted, ” This is not ‘ like’ Murthal, this is Murthal!” Having realised our mistake, we made a quick U-turn and laughed all the way home.
And now, some background for those of you who are not familiar with the geography of the region. Grand Trunk Road or NH1 connects Chandigarh to Delhi and the newly constructed highway from Rohtak meets it at Panipat. The aforementioned places are famous eateries of Murthal that any self respecting North Indian would recognise. And now the disclaimer – We were on familiar terrain in broad daylight and not drunk, that is, if being drunk on happiness doesn’t count. The Medical college at Rohtak is our alma mater so we have been on the route hundreds of times. Still we had somehow taken the wrong exit on to NH 1 and drove towards Delhi for 40 km before realising our mistake. We were so ecstatically engrossed that we had overlooked famous land marks and ignored signs screaming in our faces.
Although this story makes us look rather dimwitted I am sharing it because we didn’t feel unintelligent, irresponsible or embarrassed. On the contrary, we joyfully told this incident to anyone who cared to listen, even our most severe critics, our spouses! This adventure of being blissfully unaware continues to intrigue me and the only explanation is the gay abandon with which we embarked on the journey. We were so sure that we were on the right path because metaphorically, we were. The ability to enjoy the scenery on a ‘wrong turn’ is the sign of true happiness. After realising our faux pas the mood in the car did not change one bit. We didn’t look for scapegoats or make excuses, the joie de vivre continued unabated. Why is this possible only with friends, why can’t we regress, destress and unwind with family?
A year later, memory of our ‘longish’ detour still makes me grin. For those few hours we had let go of the many balancing roles we play and were just ourselves. Three giggling golden girls trying to cope with our changing world with a good old jaw wag and some chuckles. And if in the process we had to drive an extra fifty miles, it was totally worth it. For it was the day we got lost and found ourselves.
( published in the Open Page of the Hindu as ‘ The road less traveled ‘ on 14/1/2018)