The Tata Sumo that stands outside my house even today, is the root catalyst of all the adventure I have had in my life, starting 1997. She is more loyal than a dog, sturdy like a tank and unstoppable like water, the first year that we got her we made many trips offroading, driving to forts and hill tops, around Pune and then to the beach.
I loved her the moment my dad got her home, she was humongous, sounded so loud and rough, and most of all, those seats all the way in the back!! I could build my own house in there! Those were the beginnings of wanting a caravan. We pretty much have used our Sumo like a home on wheels all her life..
It was the end of summer, the monsoon was just beginning to come in. My dad was soon to join his ship and disappear for 9 months, or for the academic year. My school had just begun. The weekend before he left we decided to drive to the coast, a little south of Alibaug and Kashid. One last trip before he was gone. One of my Dad's friend and her family joined us. It was such a huge car, there was always room for more. Jayu Aatya and her husband n daughter Shrutakirti. (I adored this name, and wanted the same name, for weeks after this trip I would tell people my name is Shrutakirti, coz i liked it better than Ashwini or Krushnaa, my given names.)
We drove to a sleepy town on the west coast called Baankot. The beach was spotless. lined with coconut trees. other parts of the beach were rocky. the town was a few kilometers away. The waters were blue with big white waves, and the sand, a golden brown just like the sun. The sea breeze was making the picture perfect.
We must have driven about 4 to 5 hours from Pune, maybe less. I loved rides in the sumo, I always sat right at the back, my dad would lay a sheet of wood over the two seats at the back with a mattress over it, under that: food rations, first aid, tool kit,the picnic table, the ball, a rod, a search light, and a hammock stored under "my princess bed". We still hadn't got a dog, so all my stuffed animals came along, I specially liked this monkey with a long tail. And as we drove watching the landscapes I would transport into my world. I used this time to imagine the most vivid fantasy worlds.
Once at Baankot, we found that beautiful spot, we got our Neelkamal picnic table out, we cooked our own food, we put up the hammock, we girls made castles, decorated them with shells, played in the sea, played ball and the frisbee, took pictures. The parents talked about politics while drinking their beers, my father hated the Indian system, the corruption, afternoons spent talking about farming problems, bureaucrats, taxes how it was so much better out side India. It was the political season too. We had passed many trucks of men going on those noisy rallies, honking all the way.
The whole day we spent doing the regular stuff, we were the only ones on the beach throughout the day, with barely few cars passing that road. The Sumo was parked on grass just off the sandy beach. It had been a low tide day, the water had receded considerably by 4pm, the sand looked solid, slightly baked, our feet weren't sinking in the sand.
On my suggestion, and after some considerable thought my dad decided that we would take the Sumo out on the beach. I was super excited, my mother was not too thrilled, but I wanted him to ride atleast one tyre in the water, like in movies. We all hopped inside the Sumo for a quick spin on the beach. I was about to learn that it's not even slightly as romantic.
Far from the water limit, my Dad was driving on wet hard sand maybe 15-20 feet from the wet wet sandand the waves beyond that. I was sitting shot gun, hanging out side the window, Shrutakirti next to me, mom n aatya holding on to us from the seats behind, I was smiling, waving, hooting, we were zooming down the empty beach, the sun to our west with the waves far away on the left, the monsoon clouds were approaching the beach from the sea, the scene was out of a fairy-tail, and then I saw a jellyfish!! Just a few feet away, on the wet wet sand, I screamed in joy!! And my dad stopped the Sumo.
And a whole new adventure began from this moment.
I jumped out of the Sumo, careless, excited n free-willed, this was going to be the best day of my life!! Jellyfish!! I mean come on, who had ever actually seen a Jelly fish right!! I had never seen one in an aquarium either! My mom had stepped out of the Sumo too, warning me not to touch it!! I had been bit by dogs, even rabbied ones, a snake and even a monkey by then, I din't need Jellyfish sting on that list.
My dad still sat on the drivers seat, his expression of sudden panic. The heavy truck-like Sumo had begun to sink in the sand as soon as my dad had stopped. And this was irreversible. He revved the engine, and the back tyres vrooooomed in the sand making a bigger pit. The tyres at the back had begun to sink, once more, my dad revved the engine, I was still staring at the white almost transparent Jellyfish, I was going to touch it when my mother looked away. But she did not.
My dad got out of the car hesitantly. Uncle was still at our picnic spot cooking, we girls and mommies were near the Jellyfish watching Dad with the Sumo. My mother and Aatya were suggesting suggestions, my Dad was mighty pissed. He knew the harder he tried the deeper the tyres would sink. "Why did you have scream like that!?" , " Oh dad, it is a Jellyfish, did you see it, have you seen one on your ship?" I still had no idea that we had screwed up big time. Uncle came running from probably more than a kilometer away, he had began cooking dinner, but the vehicle needed to be rescued first. This was around 5pm, by 5:30 pm the tide changed, the water had began rising.
The next 2 hours, as the sun came closer to the horizon, the Sumo had sank well till the centre of her tyres, the exhaust pipe was bent and a piece of pipe attached to it so the water wouldn't enter. My dad's anger knew no bounds, she was barely 2-3 months old. He asked my mother to keep the papers of the car and insurance into her purse from the glove compartment. He was sure we were gonna have to let her go. My mother went and stood near the highway, she had been saying that we should ask help from the locals, the village was probably just a few kilometers away, we could get help.
It had gotten dark, the sky that bright indigo, the sun already drowned into the sea, the clouds had gathered, and lightning had began. The jellyfish long back gone into the waters, Shruti and I sat next to the Sumo, half in water, my mom was near the road, and the three other elders were trying to keep the Sumo from sinking. We had unloaded the whole thing, Dad had even removed the seats to lighten the weight. He was determined to not let her sink. The waves were coming right into us by now.We were asked not move from where we sat, the back number plate of the Sumo almost buried in the sand by now. My dad was an engineer, he had every solution to keep her working, but none to pull her out. She was too big.
My mom had managed to stop two election rally trucks, drunk villagers poured out, almost 50 or 60 men, being carried from one election centre to their village. She explained them the situation, a few minutes later I heard sounds of a big group of drunk excited villagers coming through the dark with torches, ropes, and the wooden planks from the truck.
Two long sturdy planks were shoved under the wheels, 50 villagers literally lifted the sumo 1foot and 10 inches, a off the ground, the plank was adjusted and my Dad Vroooooomed the engine and the Sumo finally shot out of that position it had sinked in about 6 hrs ago!!!!
Maybe that's why in the future we only took her to the mountains...
The stars were out, the men were cheering, the moon had taken it's place in the center of the sky, I was crying. I don't know if it was the visual of that massive beast of our Sumo plunge out, her engine roaring loud, or the noise of the hooting and cheering helpful villagers; I was overwhelmed.
On the drive back home I coiled on my Mom's lap in the front seat, the Jellyfish freshly imprinted on my mind, added to my world of fantasies.
*pictures from recent trips
p.s. now i have real dogs