Sunday, March 27, 2011

The 'D' Day - August 15...

Like every movie, this one too starts with a shot of the sun rising in. We start off with lots of media personnel waiting outside a hospital, eagerly to hear that the chief minister is dead! Interestingly, a daily newspaper starts composing its front page at 6.15 in the morning!!! The name of this newspaper is very similar to the mouthpiece of the Communist party in Kerala. The party secretary arrives at the hospital to enquire about the current status of the Chief Minister - he arrives in a joyous mood. Moments after he arrives at the hospital, the doctors come out of the ICU and announces that the CM is safe! The party secretary returns with a gloomy face!

The doctors realise long after the CM goes back home that he was poisoned! The chief doctor (played by veteran actor Madhu) calls up the police to inform the matter. The shocked police officers brainstorm, and immediately decide to set up a special officer to investigate the issue. No guesses who the officer is - there comes a bullet round the corner. Perumal (Mammootty) rides a Bullet all the time, with a sun-glass all the time. Perumal storms into the brainstorming session - he over-rides all his superiors, including the DGP! No where in the movie do they reveal the rank of Perumal - in the earlier part of this movie (August 1), he was a CB-CID.

Oh! Did I forget to say this - I am talking of the latest Mammootty flick, August 15. Directed by Shaji Kailas, produced by M Mani (of Sunitha Productions). Story is by SN Swamy - er! We don't need a story here - its the same as August 1, with just a few edits here and there.
The investigation finally begins! Perumal continues to run around on his Bullet. The re-recording went haywire at many places, with the sound of a Pulsar being used instead of a Bullet! I never knew Bullet came with an electric start! Very much like his favorite ride, Perumal loves firing bullets here and there - he fires a bullet even to pin a paper on the wall! Perumal is too stylish - and the camera struggles to keep pace with Perumal! Far too many close-ups make watching a pain for the viewer.

The villains are exposed too early in the movie. The killer, played by Siddique, is not even a shade of the role played by Captain Raju. Captain Raju was stylish, while Siddique struggles hard to keep up with the original. Siddique presents himself with a unique gait, and a very peculiar way of pronouncing words. While Captain Raju played many "fancy dresses", Siddique plays only one. Sadly, Siddique doesn't modify his dialogue render according to the role he is playing.
The Tom and Jerry show starts soon after the first half, and Jerry always proves himself smarter than Tom. I guess you know who tom and jerry are (for the uninitiated - Tom is the hero). At one poin, the villain comes very close to the hero, but our hero sadly looks at the villain escaping - no attempts are made to capture or shoot down the villain! The game continues on till the climax, where the villain is shot dead by the hero - in a manner very similar to the original version! And a burial too is done, with the cross reading "unknown"!

There are far too many similarities between August 1 and August 15 - both run on more or less the same storyline and screenplay, except a few changes (the changes are far and few). The Chief Minister's role is played by Nedumudi Venu (playing VG), while the role of the party secretary is played by Sai Kumar. Lalu Alex plays a very humorous ADGP - who is more worried about his shirt crumbling than any other issue! There are many situations where viewers are irritated by the ADGP's mannerisms - but succeeds in tickling funny bones. Almost every sequence featuring Lalu Alex (playing Jose Zackaria) evokes comedy.

Perumal, on his part, too tries to deliver a few comic dialogues. Perumal frequently visits the Police Cyber Cell, which is manner by three executive style-dressed girls - much like a customer care centre of a mobile phone operator. C'mon! A bit of reality here would've helped - when did police department start providing modern dresses to their staff?

The screenplay has a lots of loop holes - but none seemed predictable! The story has been presented in a decent manner. Quite a lot of scenes appear similar to earlier Mammootty films like The Truth, August 1, CBI Dairykurippu, etc. The presentation is not gripping, but does keep the viewer glued to their seats. Mammotty presents his character with a very special gait - walking with his hands waving behind. He always walks in slow-motion, with his sun-glasses on. He even takes on the goons single handed, that too without even removing his sun-glasses!The climax is somewhat innovative - the villain comes up with a very unique idea to kill his target - but finally gets killed by our here (as usual).

Verdict: Average. The movie has nothing special to talk about. Its watchable. I'd give it at 7 on 10. (All the marks go to Mammootty for the excellent character he has played!).

Howlers paradise!

That was one helluva experience! A rare blend of conventional movie hall with a feel of a multiplex! A renovated movie hall, Asoka, re-opened recently at Kodungallur. This was once a 1000+ seater conventional movie hall, with a very huge balcony. The hall was then called Essen - and was owned by a very famous family in Kodungallur. Essen was later sold to another party, who renamed it as Asoka. The theatre was renovated when it got the name Asoka. The hall, according to anecdotes, came up some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The theatre is located right next to National Highway-17.

Asoka closed down close to a year ago, for renovation. The hall opened again on March 24, 2011. This time the hall was totally re-done and airconditioned. The seating capacity came down to about 610 now, just around half of what it used to be in the past years. The hall has been tastefully re-done. Asoka is now the ONLY Air-conditioned movie hall in Kodungallur. Kodungallur has three movie halls - Ashoka (AC), Sree Kaleeswari and Silpi. The last two halls are not airconditioned, but feature DTS audio system. Sree Kaleeswari is a very old hall - but is very uncomfortable, hot and congested. Silpi is a totally run down hall.

The reopening of Asoka heralds a new era for movie goers in Kodungallur. Before this, Kodungallur had one airconditioned hall - Mogul. Mogul is now dead and gone - the hall closed down some time in 2008, and has since been demolished completely. There are reports that a two-screened Multiplex would come up at the place. Asoka is the only place for people wishing for a decent movie experience in Kodungallur.

Me and my family had long been waiting for the hall to re-open. The opening came up as a big surprise - and inaugural movie was August 15 starring Mammootty. Sparing no time, I booked tickets for a Saturday Second Show (Night show, starting at 9pm). We started off from home around 8.40pm, and were in the hall by 8.50pm. Getting into the parking was a scary experience - two wheelers were parked on both sides of the entrance, and it was a tight rope-walk to get my car into the parking lot. Parking is certainly ill-planned. Left the car at the parking lot, and we walked into the hall.

The entrance was well-lit - and the roof was really well done. The entrance was impressive - the area was cool. We were welcomed by the guys at the entrance, and were escorted to our seats. At each point in the hall, there were uniformed chaps to help us reach our seat.The seats were old-fashioned with wooden hand rests. The recliners work very well, and cushioning was excellent. But I felt that the area around the head rests were a bit hard - nevertheless, the seating is excellent. The steps were well-lit. The entire hall is well-lit. The movie started off very late - a delay of about 15 minutes. Patrons did object to the delay with - Kooooooooosssss! Patrons were howling at the top of their pitch.

The movie started off in fashion - the curtains were lifted with loud background music. The projection quality was good - but I felt the music system needs a bit of re-caliberation. The airconditioning was a bit too heavy. The hall wasn't full - the entire last row was empty. A lot of youngsters occupied the last row - and they were howling out loud at the top of their pitch. Very loud commentary, often laced with vulgar comments, followed. The movie watching experience was marred by these loud comments and frequent howls. The movie hall is too good, and would certainly love to watch another movie there.

Some points that I missed: The ticketing system is computerised. I was the first customer to purchase a ticket two days in advance - the guy at the counter had a tough time negotiating through their system to issue my tickets. They charge a reservation fee of Rs. 5. The ticket rate is Rs. 65 (Gold Circle). There are 540 seats in Gold Class, and some 70 seats in another class (that one costs only Rs. 35). The big movie hall has only one snack counter - imagine 540 people fighting with hardly a few guys at the counter!!! They badly need to open another snack counter, or may be bring in À la carte service for patrons, like the multiplexes.

Apologies for the absolute lack of pictures - would try to get some pics some time soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Christian Brothers.... old wine in new bottle!

Setting records of sorts, the multi-starrer movie, Christian Brothers, was released at over 300 centres across India. The movie opened at over 150 screens in Kerala alone - following the current trend of taking home a big opening in the first week of release, and then forget the movie forever. Christian Brothers is no different.

Christi-an Brothers is a movie cut out to meet expectations of just the fan bases of the three main stars in the movie. Christian Brothers is among a series of multi-starrer movies that are getting ready to hit the silverscreens. This movie has Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Dileep and Sarathkumar as the lead "heros", and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Lakshmi Rai, Kavya Madhavan and Kaniha as the lead "heroines". The word "Heroine" is a mis-nomer here, since none of the ladies in the movie have any concrete role to play - other than play eye-candy. The script for the movie was penned by Udayakrishna and Siby K Thomas. Music by Deepak Dev and Visuals by Anil Nair. The movie by directed by Joshi... err! Joshiy.

This is the umpteenth movie that shows the "Dad of the hero" doubting the hero, and blindly believing the villain, only to realise at the end of the movie that he was wrong, and then apologize to the hero. The Villain then harms the "dad", and the hero rescues him. The very same thread happens here as well - Sai Kumar (playing Palomattathu Varghese Mappaila) has two sons - Christi and Jojy. Mappilai is an ex-serviceman, and a man of principles (Like every armyman in movies!). He gets disappointed after both his sons divert from his ambitions - he 'kicks' our here (Christi) out of his house, when the villain (Suresh  Krishna, playing Georgie) tells Mappilai that Christi is an underworld don in Mumbai! C'mon! Haven't we seen this happening in other movies as well??

The movie starts off in Munnar - unusually, the Baddies are introduced first - the villain brigade is led by Vijayaraghavan, ably supported by Jayan, Biju Menon and Subair. The villains do nothing but keep walking around a pool sipping liquor, and killing people at will (like every villain). Biju Menon plays a police office (Hariharan) in this movie. Although the title of the movie hints at a movie portraying a family feud - this movie is 'daringly' different. Christi (Mohanlal) is a renowed Police informer (however, the visuals actually gives a feel of him being a don, than being an informer), while Jojy (Dileep) is a joyous youngster, who studies theology and is in the process of becoming a priest.

Jojy goes to Rome to finish his theology studies, and return as a priest - but as fate has it, he falls in love with Kavya Madhavan (Meenakshi) and quits his studies. The love blossoms through a song - it would not be surprising if you felt the song resembles the song maine pyar kiya from CID Moosa. Dileep plays his characteristic antiques - not much different from his trademark "Oru Kvachu Free" dialogue, from the 90s (Dileep was an actor in Asianet's Comicola, the predecessor show to the current Cinemala). And, it turns out that Meenakshi is the daughter of the state (Kerala) home minister (played by Devan). As you guessed it right, Meenakshi is quickly "packed" back home, and Jojy is harmed. Meenakshi disappears from the airport - er! She is kidnapped from the airport.

Enter our Hero - Mohanlal. Christi is called to Kerala to help secure the release of Meenakshi. And, true to the name of a Malayalee, the Minister hatches a plan to trap Christi once Meenakshi is trapped - Come our second here: Suresh Gopi, who plays a police office (I forgot the name of his character - it was some vadakkan), as usual. Suresh Gopi looked too "disfigured" to play a police officer in this one - but he, certainly, has preserved his half-kilometre long dialogues and the "I'll die for the country" attitute. He is entrusted with sending Christi behind the bars - which he does. And, like in every movie, all the "goodies" get together, and kill all the baddies!

The movie will remind of many recent movies - Twenty-Twenty, Pokkiriraja, Sphadikam, etc etc. (the list would go on and on...) The overall story (oops! It doesn't have one - so I'd call it a Thread) is the same old mix masala like Twenty-Twenty. An array of stars battling each other, with no particular story. There are few dialogues which tickle funny bones. The director has tried to bring in some slapstick comedy, in the form of Suraj Venjaramood playing a very annoying character - the jokes, or what ever you call it, are stale and often irritating. Harisri Asokan plays a marriage broker yet again.

Salim Kumar has played a pretty decent role - just the right amount of dialogues and his mannerisms are well controlled. The four heroines have been wasted - except Kaniha, who has a few dialogues, the other three heroines are around only for the sake of being around. All that the two Lakshmis (Gopalaswamy and Rai) do are dance around in songs, and then vanish. There are three songs in the movie - one is outright annoying, while one is added only for the sake of skin show.

The movie runs for three solid hours - perhaps one song and a few scenes less would've made the movie a bit more engaging. The song Sayya Ve is added solely with the purpose of lengthening the movie, and to add some skin show to the otherwise bare movie. The song Moham Kondal is just about hummable - but the picturisation is somewhat irritating. The song Karthavey is outright irritating - and the choreography imitates the song Maine Pyar Kiya (From CID Moosa) in every step.

I felt badly disappointed at the end of the movie - seriously upset at the story, or lack of it, of the movie. The director has been successful in giving equal importance to all the stars (only the heros) in the movie, in what could be called a soup of ego. The movie questions in the logic of the viewer at many points, and be sure to switch off your brains before you start watching the movie. If you have a DVD of Twenty-Twenty, you are better off watching that at home. If you have lots of money to spare, or free tickets to the movie, be sure to leave your brains at home. Now, all the focus is on China Town, the next multi-starrer mash-up.

On a side note, I am glad Thilakan has not been wasted in this movie - he should be glad that he is not part of this poor show.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The two-decked fantasy...

People looked in awe as this gleaming tall structure crawled through the crowded highway stretch between Vyttila and Kalamassery (both in Kochi, Kerala). Crew of private buses that over took this structure smiled, and mocked at the driver. Some people hesistated to even board the bus, when we screeched into bus stops. The bus stopped when ever somebody waved his hand - but very little people did so! At just Rs. 5.50, I made a 50 minute journey of fantasy!

Still wondering what am I talking about? The Kerala Road Transport Corporation launched a brand new Ashok Leyland Titan Double Decker bus in Kochi city. The bus was a matter of prestige for the incumbent Transport Minister, and he ensured that he got one bus for his constituency. The corporation purchased two of these Rs. 36 lakh monsters, one each for Kochi and Trivandrum. The buses were built by Antony Garage, Mumbai. The bus for Kochi was flagged off during the inauguration of Phase-I of Vyttila Mobility Hub - and was a surprise for the people who assembled at the venue.

The bus remained in the garage for another week, while the authorities hunted for a route where they could run this monster. Finally, they zeroed in on 'Thoppumpady - Angamaly' route. The bus was based at Angamaly - for the simple reason that the bus cannot enter Ernakulam or Aluva depots. Ernakulam was ruled out due to the numerous criss-crossing wires and low lying trees, while Aluva was ruled out since the garage has a "fort" like entrance, which is just about adequate for normal buses. The funniest part here is that Angamaly depot now functions out of a small corner inside Aluva garage - the maintenance of the double decker has already gone into a tizzy - more on this later...

One fine hot Saturday afternoon, I was battling myself from the hot sun, sitting at a dusty bus stop along the "Ernakulam Bypass", at Vyttila. It was damn hot and dusty.. the seats in the bus stop were hot enough to use them as hot plates for cooking. The clock was ticking past 15:15. The double decker would have started from Thoppumpady now - I was just hoping that the bus was running on that day. In the meantime, a Volvo glided in to the stop - heading to the airport. Two passengers joined in here, almost all seats were taken! The old routes are now doing really well.

15:30... still hot and dusty. No sign of the double decker, any where in sight. I though, 10 more minutes... if it doesn't turn up, I am on my way back. Another Volvo glided in to the stop now... this one was also crowded. No standees though.

15:33... a tall bus enters the overbridge (Thycoodam Underpass), I can see at a distance. I jumped up in excitement.

15:35.. the bus rolls into the stop. I merrily jump into the bus. Another passenger joins me. I set foot on the staircase to go to the upper deck, when the conductor interrupts me. He said.. "take a ticket and go up".. no worries. I replied.. "One Kalamassery" and gave a Rs. 10 note. He printed a ticket, and asked for change. The fare was just Rs. 5.50. I gave him change, got the ticket and walked up. The front seat on the upper deck was empty... i literally grabbed on. But, Ouch! It was hot!

15:40... We are still standing at Vyttila signal.. just turned green, and the bus crawled forward. We stopped at the main bus stop for Vyttila - quite a lot of youngsters got in.. and all of them came to the upper deck. The bus stopped here for over 5 minutes.. while a lot of other buses overtook us. Passengers and crew in these buses were "looking up" to our bus.. some were looking with awe, while some others gave out a sarcastic smile.

15:47... we crawl out of Vyttila bus stop. I am using the word crawl every time, since the bus actually runs only at around 35kmph, and sitting on the top feels like the bus is crawling at single digit speeds. The sun was too harsh, and it was getting hot up there. The crawl continued.. we stopped at every single bus stop, and not more than a person or two got in at each place.

15:59... we reach Edappally bypass junction. The bus literally emptied out. The upper deck now had only around 3 passengers (including me) now. I moved seats and checked comfort levels at different places in the upper deck.

16:08.. we are approaching Kalamassery. I decide to head to the lower deck. I took a seat neat the conductor, and struck some conversation with him. The bus, according to him, is running near empty on almost all trips. The timings and route is poor it seems. The collection is very bad - hope some sense prevails on KSRTC soon, and the route is revised. The conductor revealed some interesting stuff about how the bus is parked and maintained - the bus is parked inside Angamaly shopping complex (it seems, it is the only place where this bus can be parked currently). Diesel is taken in cans from Aluva, and poured into the fuel tank!

16:13.. we roll past Kalamassery Premier junction, and screech to a complete halt. The bus is parked on the road side, and the engine is shut. There ends my 37 minute long 'dream run' in the Double Decker bus. It was after about three years that I got into a double decker.. this was indeed a ride I'd remember forever.

Coming to my experience of the ride.. To begin with, the seats are of horrible quality. They were very flimsy, and made a crackling noise every time a passenger moved - even the normal moves people do while seated. The cushioning was on the harder side, but was adequate for a City bus.The front seats on the upper deck are poorly ventilated - there front glass is fixed, and hence restricted air circulation. Noise levels are very low on the upper deck. The ride is a bit choppy at the front seat, but was very relaxed towards the rear. Down in the lower deck, the engine noise was on the higher side - it might settle once the bus turns older. The ride comfort is far better in the lower deck than on the upper deck.

The driver was very cautious, and never over-sped. He negotiated trees very calmly, and we did not rub against tree branches anywhere - but with the monsoons around, I am sure the bus will 'record' some scratches on its head. The route is uninspiring. The bypass route gets a lot of collection, but people hesitate getting into this bus since it goes only upto Kalamassery. KSRTC should consider running it upto Angamaly itself, or atleast to the Airport or Aluva bypass. The bus reached Kalamassery at 16:13, and the return departure was only at 17:00. It isn't a brilliant idea to let the bus remain parked for 47 minutes on the road side. They should reschedule the trips, and run more trips per day - the bus will not earn recall value unless passengers see it running on the road.

Newspapers reported that Kochi had double deckers from 1969 to 1975. Interestingly, my dad just said that he had traveled in them back in 1973~74, while he was employed in Kochi. He still remembers that the bus ran from Palarivattom to Wellingdon Island - wow! What a prime route that was! Sadly, the city roads are out-of-bounds for the new double decker! If only the KSEB accomplishes the task of converting overhead electric lines to underground ones, will the double decker ever run in the city. BEST (Mumbai) manages to run double deckers in Mumbai city (Thanks to the underground electric cables)... I wish the KSRTC too accomplishes that fact. Until then, city dwellers need to go out to the bypass road to enjoy a ride on the mammoth. Kids are certainly gonna love them. Many of them have never seen one in their lifetime - so dads and moms, take some time to get your kids on the double decker!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whats the fare, buddy?

Every time bus operators in Kerala demand a fare hike, the government usually goes about describing the unbelievably low bus fares. My experiences with bus travel in TN has been very limited in the past few years. I've only been in buses running in Coimbatore and Chennai. Last month end, I had an opportunity to visit to Madurai (posted earlier). I was looking forward for that trip.

During the course of my stay in Madurai, I was to travel from Periyar Bus Station (The "central" bus station in Madurai) to Madurai Kamaraj University (about 12 kms from the city, on the Theni Highway). I was expecting a bus fare of around Rs. 3-4, given the bus fares in Coimbatore. It was off to a lazy start on the first day - having not slept properly the previous night. I reached the bus station, and wandered around without a particular aim. I kept asking people about which bus would take me to my destination. Finally a driver directed me to the correct bus.

The bus had started moving by then - a quick question to one of the passengers in the bus, and I hopped in. The bus was badly crowded by then - I just about managed to get hold of some standing space. The conductor gave me a ticket - it was Rs. 6. I convinced myself - its a 45 minute ride, and I was paying only Rs. 6 - I would have been paying anywhere between Rs. 15 and Rs. 25 in Kerala for the same ride! The bus kept crawling - literally crawling all the way.

In the evening, I was charged Rs. 9 for the return journey! The same distance, same number of stops and the same traveling time, but was charged Rs. 3 more! The justification was that the bus was a "Semi-Low Floor" model. The next morning, I took the Rs.9 bus again. On the third day, I took an old looking bus, with horrible seats. I had a painful journey, and the fare this time was only Rs. 4!!! The bus took the same running time, stopping at the very same stops!

A couple of days later, I got in to a similar looking buses, and had Rs. 4 change with me - but this time, the ticket was Rs. 5!!! So, whats the real fare? How do they calculate the fare? On speaking to a friend in Madurai, I realised that there were hardly any buses in Madurai that charge only Rs. 2 as the minimum fare. The operator - TNSTC (Madurai) Limited - charges higher fares from passengers under the pretext of "upgraded" services. In reality, these buses stop at all places (or may be skipping only a couple of stops in the entire run), but charge different fares.

The state government has forced the transport corporations to charge low fares in order to please their vote banks. The corporations are now forced to increase fares under the pretext of such upgraded services. No wonder the corporations are purchasing on Semi-low floor buses for city operations and charge more than double the regular fares for these buses. Tamil Nadu has, perhaps, the best transport system. Buses operate almost 24x7, connecting almost all parts of the state. The fares are often cheap as well. But, the government needs to increase fares so that the corporations atleast make up their operational cost, and not resort to such tactics to increase revenue...

At the end, I'd just leave this question to you... Whats the real fare, buddy??

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hurdle race to Madurai!

Nine Thirty PM, on February Twenty Four Twenty Eleven. I was roaming outside the office of Kallada Travels, at Palarivattom, Ernakulam. I had booked on the Kallada Travels' Ernakulam-Madurai Volvo service. I had to be in Madurai before 9AM the next morning, and this bus was promising a 6 AM arrival there. There were just one more person at the office waiting for the bus. This bus is the last Kallada passing through the place, and hence the guys at the office were preparing to close down.

I took a couple of night shots of the road, and the church on the other side of the road. I was hoping for a "purple" coloured bus, and it so happened that the same bus turned up! The bus was KL-45-E-7929. My seat was #12. But there was a gentleman already occupying the seat - the bus was totally empty, and I decided to take Seat #8 instead. We had all of 7 passengers in the bus. The bus was noisy, and the ride was a bit patchy. The driver drove at a slow pace all the time - he was worried about poor effectiveness of the headlamps.

From the talk between the driver and the assistant, I got to know that this bus had an accident a few months ago, and the front was rebuilt after the accident. The accident happened when the driver fell asleep while on the job - it seems the driver was working continuously without a break for a couple of days. The narration send shivers down my spine - and just kept praying that the driver take us to Madurai in one piece. The driver maintained speeds in the range of 60~80 kmph all the time.

The bus stopped at the Aluva office (near the traffic signal).. just as the bus was about to start, a guy (in mid 40s) literally forced into the bus. He identified himself as a "Sub-Editor" for one of the big "M" newspapers (the one that is based in Kottayam), and also the Secretary of Youth Congress. The driver patiently explained that he is not permitted to carry passengers without a ticket/boarding pass, and that he should get off the bus. The guy threatened the driver with consequences, and threatened to call up the owner of the bus. The driver reiterated that he is not permitted to carry passengers without a ticket - by now the guy had already taken a seat. The bus too started off.

The assistant took over the role, and explained patiently to the guy that they were not permitted to carry passengers not mentioned in the manifest, and they could be at risk of losing their job if the extra passenger was detected. He also asked the guy to behave properly, and not threaten crew. This guy, who is surely a politician, now pulled out his phone and pretended to call up the owner of the bus. The crew retired to themselves, and were back to their pep-talk. This guy was now calling up people one after the other, and proudly informing them of his "adventure". I was trying to sleep somehow, but this guy was talking too loud for me to sleep.

The bus stopped at the Kallada office outside Sakthan Bus Station in Thrissur at around 2300. (I purposefully chose the Ernakulam boarding point, to avoid waiting at Thrissur at such odd hours). This "unruly" visitor was unloaded here. The bus also unloaded lots of parcels. We started off at 2315, and picked a few passengers from the office near the KSRTC bus station - we now had a grand total of 9 passengers (in a 41 seater bus)! I struggled hard, and managed to doze off. I woke up when the bus braked suddenly, and it switched off. The driver restarted the bus, but the gears wouldn't engage! He switched off the bus again, shifted to second gear and then cranked the bus. The bus inched forward using the power of the starter motor, and switch on.

He now realised that the clutch had failed! I was disturbed - was wondered on what was lying ahead! The bus was vibrating very badly, and the ride turned poor (the roads were inexistent around here). The bus ran for about 10 minutes on second gear, and the driver tried changing gears, but they they just don't engage! The ritual of turning off the bus, and restarting it with the second gear started again! Finally, we reached Alathur, and the driver stopped outside a petrol pump. The assistant went in, woke up the guys at the pump and got some clutch fluid. The driver replenished the clutch reservoir, and tried pumping the clutch. All this while the engine was left on, and passengers inside the bus were sleeping without being aware of the happenings!

I fell asleep sometime in between - I woke up around 0130, to find the bus still stationary at the very same place! I got off the bus now, and enquired what was going on. The driver broke the expected-but-unexpected news - the bus was dead! It cannot run anymore. He was now trying to flag down some bus, to help us get to our destination. But no buses in sight. The driver woke up passengers in the bus, and broke the news to them. A few of them got agitated, while some others were watching the drama without an idea of the happenings. A couple of us confronted the driver and asked him to get an alternative arrangement for us. He tried calling their office, but no response.

Finally, around 2:15, we had enough. A rickshaw came around, and the good soul stopped. He called up a few travel agents in Palakkad, but nobody were ready to send a vehicle to rescue us. Later, we decided to take this autorickshaw to Palakkad town and get a cab from there. Six of us got into the Autorickshaw (the remaining three were foreigners, and they chose to return to Ernakulam. The driver promised to get them a seat in one of the Kallada buses heading to Ernakulam). The rickshaw driver made a quick run to Palakkad, and dropped us there by 0250. Getting a cab was not easy - two people out of the six dropped off, and they decided to take a bus the next morning.

The remaining four were roaming around to find a cabbie who was ready to take up to Palakkad. One cabbie finally agreed - for Rs. 16 per kilometre. We had no choice, and decided to give in. The car was a Tata Indica Vista Terra (TDI). I took the front seat, and the three others took the rear seat. We started off exactly at 0300. The roads were were bad for the initial few kilometres - but turned good as we crossed Kozhinjambara. After the customary halt at the Checkpost (at Gopalapuram). We stopped for a break a while after the checkpost - I had a hot tea (It was just Rs. 2 for a tea!). I slept off sometime after we crossed Udumalaipettai - and woke up only a while before Oddanchatiram.

The driver started chatting soon after I woke up - perhaps it was attempt from him to avoid him falling asleep! I reciprocated his attempt, and we were soon chatting non-stop.We quickly reached Dindugal bypass, and stopped for refueling soon after we entered the highway. After refueling, the driver made a real quick run to Madurai. We were all dropped outside Periyar Bus Station. The city was all dirty, and roads were mucky. I had a tough time negotiating stagnant water to make my way to a hotel. I thus began my six-day long stay in Madurai on a frustrating note - the ugly environs and the "helpless" behaviour of the Kallada guys left me fuming. I retired to fate, and got ready in a jiffy and headed out for my day...