Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In defense of big cars and familiarization lunches

Just the other week, I was asked to follow the People’s Democratic Party president to the south. You see, I am always broke and the trip meant earning some extra bucks in the form of TA/DA. I jumped at the offer.

It started off rather well. My bosses and colleagues gave me a briefing on how the familiarization story should be covered, and a discussion on all the other potential stories I could possibly pick up on the way - followed. Although I pretended to seem interested, I wasn’t.

The briefing wasn’t needed at all, I felt. Even without the office having to remind me, I would pick up as many stories as I could lay my hands on. That was my job, and they were paying me well for it. Honestly, I would feel extremely guilty claiming the money, if I had nothing to show for it. I have some work ethics too, even if no one believes me.

So, with a little advance, I was on the road again in a conked out Maruti car. And as skeptical as I was, I had taken the driver’s word for it.

“You can drive it all around the world and it will still not let you down,” he had said in a patronizing tone.

I look back now and realize how stupid I was to have believed him.

Anyway, Phuentsholing was to be my first stopover. And, I had never ever imagined that the weather of all things would make me realize how idiotic I was. All the clothes I had shoved into my bag were meant for the winter. And Phuentsholing, even now, was like stepping into an oven. I have probably lived in Thimphu a bit too long.

I was compelled to pick up a few T-shirts, I must admit – very reluctantly. I am not miserly, not at all, but I was traveling on a limited budget and every penny saved was important. I needed to have some money in hand, just incase the car broke down. Mind you - just incase!

The following day, I met with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) members I knew and was introduced to the ones I had never seen before. Trust me, they make you feel important and intimidated at the precise same time. Especially, when there are a lot of them together. Nevertheless, I had gathered all the information I needed to write my story.

But, there was another catch; the people in the head office always believe that Phuentsholing is a hub for stories. So, I had to look for another that had nothing to do with politics, even if it meant missing out on drinks with my buddies. If I may say so, I grew up in this oven and some of my best pals live here.

Stories filed in, drinks absorbed, experiences exchanged, I called it a night. I was to join the convoy of cars that would be escorted to Gomtu and Samtse for another meeting the next day. I was beginning to feel important. Little was I to know then that the feeling wouldn’t last very long.

As I started the engine of the car, I put on my shades feeling like a part of the team that was traveling on a mission. I was to join the PDP near the gas station.

First, a van from another media arrived with ‘Kuensel’ written boldly on both sides. Pleasantries exchanged, I surveyed my office car for some sign of the paper’s name. All I could find was a torn paper stuck on the windshield at the back that read ‘Bhutan Times’. Discomforting as it was, the fleet of cars arrived - all shining, all expensive and all big.

Shades out, I joined in behind the Kuensel van, right at the end. I am amazed at how fast these cars can run even on lousy roads. I drove as fast as I could without bothering about potholes even when the car was about to fall apart - bit by bit. The seat moved furiously, my head kept touching the roof but I made it alright. Fighting a furious battle all along, I was hungry.

“You should never eat anything offered by political parties because then it makes you feel obliged to them,” was what one German had said, during the workshop conducted for journalists on political stories coverage.

I couldn’t care less. The food that was on offer was excellent and moreover, I needed all the energy to drive to Samtse.

Driving again, I realized that the car had begun to make a weird sound. The wheel, I felt would come off any minute. Just then, there was a halt. I peeked out only to realize that a river needed to be crossed.

Flooring the accelerator, in what seemed forever; the car hit against rocks, skid and screeched. Soon, there was water flowing in from a hole in the driver’s seat, and the brakes wouldn’t work. I pulled over and decided to take it easy. I had to travel for a lot more days in it and I couldn’t afford to let it break down. The convoy could do without me.

Sipsu and Tendu covered and with the next day off, I decided to visit the workshop early the next morning dreading for the worst. Just then, my office called saying the DPT party president is arriving there.

They offered dinner, and this was my opportunity not to feel obliged to just one party, so I relished the food. Now, as I had eaten both their grub, I was free of guilt. The whole thing seemed balanced.

“Sir, this can’t be fixed in an hour,” said the mechanicin the workshop in Chamurchi, across the border.

“You have to. I am with the ministers,” I said. “I am with the press.”

“You are with the press, and, this is a press car?” he burst into laughter.


confused said...

TEEHEEHEE!! tsk.. doesnt say how the story ends.

Post a Comment