India, Part 4
I knew we were on the right road. For miles, the shoulder of the road shadowed by the Himalayas had been lined with holy men, sadhus, thin shadows moving slowly alongside the mountain road in the direction of Mother Ganga, the holy Ganges River.
Their long white beards and saffron gowns flew in all directions as they plodded along on skinny brown legs and a sturdy walking cane. Around their necks, strings of colorful beads matched streaks of the white, red, and orange paint on their faces. As we passed, they turned dark all-knowing eyes toward us as if to say,
“ It is possible to climb life’s mountain by any means, but when the top is reached, all converge at the one true reality.” We stopped for lunch and our driver disappeared in a tangle of roadside shops. Linda and I enjoyed an Indian meal of paneer and chapati (vegetable stew and bread), the driver reappeared, and we continued the journey.
As we pulled alongside the car, it suddenly swerved and crashed into us. Our driver began shouting at the car which stopped to let its passengers pile out.
We slid to a stop in a cloud of dust and frenzy.
I got out and discovered a long scratch and a bent bumper on our right side. The other driver, joined by his passengers, stumbled into the road shaking their fists and “insulting” us with obviously profane hand signals.
Our driver jabbed the other driver in the chest and began shouting. Seeking safe harbor in the car, I rolled up the windows, locked the doors, and watched the drama unfold as the other driver stumbled into the rocks beside the road.
Linda and I feared the worse, but, much to my surprise, our driver took his case to the other car’s passengers who quickly took up a collection and handed it to their driver who, in a strange turn of events, threw the money to the ground and launched a vicious verbal attack on our driver.
I warned Linda, “ Watch out! he might attack us! Duck down!!!”
But... before the attack could begin, a tall dark stranger in a suit walked up and assumed the role of judge. He set the two sides apart and listened patiently to both drivers’ accounts of the accident. While the judge was pondering a verdict, the passengers slipped back in their vehicle, and it began to slowly move away.
Our driver jumped in our car, caught up with the other car, pulled ahead of it, stopped crosswise in the road cutting off all traffic, and jumped out shouting aggressively. He pointed vigorously at a scratch on his arm and charged toward the other car. The “judge” restrained him and calmly delivered his verdict: “ The driver is guilty and must pay.” Money was passed to the judge who, in turn, handed it to our driver who acted insulted, crumpled the money into his pocket, and huffed back to our car where Linda and I were safely watching.
Linda tugged my arm and whispered, “Warner, do something. I’m not going to ride with him. He’s mad, and he’ll run us off-the-mountain. We’ll die! Do something or I’m getting out”... and reached for the door handle.
Feeling pressure from Linda and fearful of our driver’s actions, I put my arm around our driver’s shoulder knowing he couldn’t understand English, but I said, “Take it easy now. Let’s calm down before we go any further.” The driver, a big grin on his face, pulled the money from his pocket. (300 rupees: $10) More than he was making for our five-day trip. He adjusted the collar of his shirt and smiled as if to say, “Don’t worry, my friend, the whole thing was an act.” And, we drove off toward Mother Ganga, source of all purity.
Next Week: Rest & Relaxation