(Published in Business Standard on June 28, 2014)
So I’m back from a twelve-day road trip in Himachal Pradesh, one of those pradeshes that I don’t go to often enough. (Punjab, though, goes there so much that you’re hard-pressed to meet any actual Himachalis.) Going to Himachal is a lot like childbirth, in the sense of a simile stretched to breaking point. I’m trying to say that while eight-hour drives on rutted mountain roads aren’t easy, the trip is always more than worth the pain. Not all parents can unreservedly say that about parenting.
Everyone knows that Himachal Pradesh is stuffed to the gills with natural beauty—glorious gushing rivers, magical cedar and oak forests dappled with sunlight, resin-scented air, the mightiest peaks on earth strung up against the sky, hillsides dizzy with wildflowers, night skies engorged with stars, beautiful birds, blah-di-blah-di-blah.
But let me tell you a new thing I discovered: going to Himachal is financially ruinous because of the parking in South Extension market.
First, I had to buy a new phone, because the old one’s battery was like a deaf old dog in the sun, occasionally twitching and sighing but mostly just comatose. I thought I should have a reliable phone in the hills in case of, you know, some hilly emergency. Since every smartphone I’ve ever had has been a hand-me-down, I was shaken to discover that a new one costs the same as a small space shuttle. One doesn’t just pay for it, one pays for it while making piteous involuntary noises in the back of one’s throat.
Then I had to buy new sneakers, because to put the old ones on was to lace together a bunch of holes and pus-like eruptions of foam. They bore very little resemblance to the proud, cushioned young pups I had bought seven years ago. I was disturbed to find that since then, the price has risen to roughly as much as a private jet. Okay, I exaggerate—more like a second-hand private jet.
Nevertheless, this being a sports shop, I thought it a good time to replace my old track pants, which have a gaping hole in the leg and are so threadbare in the ass that I instinctively wear long t-shirts over them. Free association caused me to buy some new t-shirts as well. When the checkout clerk had prised my debit card from my hands with a pair of pliers and rung up my bill, I went straight to a sandal shop next door. My old sandals have so much thread coming out of them that they make my feet look bearded. The bill caused a certain wetness on my cheek, but when you’ve already bought a space shuttle and a second-hand private jet, what’s a couple more crores?
If you’ve been to South Extension, you’ll know that once you’re there, you feel you should just buy everything in sight so that you never, ever, ever, ever, ever (to abridge an Arnabism) have to park there again.
Thus equipped, I went to Himachal Pradesh, where I proceeded to buy five turquoise rings and a couple of shawls, because once you’ve bought a space shuttle, a second-hand private jet, and thrown a couple more crores at a pair of sandals, you might as well buy a couple of birthday presents and your regular souvenir ring, but multiply it by five just because you’re now acclimatised to excess. It’s a good thing I didn’t stay longer, I might have bid for a hillside or two.
Go to Himachal Pradesh, dear Dilliwallah, it will be a salve upon your tattered third world urban soul. But do your shopping by metro.