Everyone of us, will remember going on at least one quest or more in their life, when they were driven to desperation but stuck manfully to the job because great things depended on the outcome of their quest but this quest is nothing like that. There was no life and death struggle to destroy an evil magician or find a magic potion. This was simply a quest to find the unobtainable in a land which had others things in plenty. To start the story off, I must first take you to the end, to show that this quest had a safe and sound ending with no loss of the fellowship members lives, limbs or purses. Shall we start the journey?
The story starts when I returned from Ahmedabad (national conference) to Chennai and as soon as i entered the house the first thing my mom asked me was “what happened to you? You are looking so fair and bright this time, ehhh? You usually look like something the dog dragged in when you return from a long trip” My mom as is her wont was speaking the truth, for I always returned from any trip bedraggled but this time she had spotted the glow on my face. I could have explained to her that it was because I was feeling like a kid who had just come off a week’s trip from Disneyland, but she wouldn’t understand, no one would unless I explained in detail for posterity’s sake.
When we first landed at Ahmedabad, me and my ever present side-kick, Dr.Bobby Kurien, the first thing we noticed was that the atmosphere permeated with bizziness…everywhere you go in Amdavad, you keep hearing this term frequently from all age groups and genders. I was so surprised to see that unlike Chennai where if you trip and fall you can run into an engineering college, in Amdavad every area had a Bizziness school. We even visited a few- the iconic Indian institute of management and the Ahmedabad Management Association’s Institute for Management Studies, situated right next to it. The arrangement of the classes seemed to be very open and student friendly, so I couldn’t resist sneaking into one of the classrooms and parking myself on a back bench I listened to the lecture and tried to get a feel of a “management education”. But my friend and co-conspirator bobby was impatient and soon pulled me off that class, he had bigger fish to fry then attend MBA classes, however good looking the girls in class were.
Yes, Bobby had a quest, something which he had wagered with friends in Chennai before boarding the flight and which he man of his word that he was, was desperate to fulfill before he got back to Chennai. And that was having a beer in Ahmadabad. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s always a pleasure for an hard working you like bobby to have a beer now and then, but what made this trip thrilling is that the state of Gujarat is a dry state and alcohol is banned in it. The very reason which made the chase of that beer so thrilling. I have this theory that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it and are willing to play a little fast and loose. And I have read and re-read Lord of the Rings, a classic if ever a book can be caleed one. So like Frodo and Sams quest to Mordor we started our quest to find for bobby a single beer, which he can drink in front of me, while I photograph him as evidence to show our friends back home.
Its only when you go in search of a banned substance that you really get to a city. You can pass by a city in normal daylight hours, admire its architecture, its people its institutions and even its cuisine. But try to do something illegal, then you can get to see the real underbelly of the place. We first pumped our hotel’s room boy with our broken Hindi (and his broken English/Nepali mix) as to where the item in question can be procured. Getting the right tip about the right area to proceed to- where else except near the hallowed halls of IIM, for students are students, right? And even management students need a little grease now and then, to set the business models and presentations flowing…
Anyway what we stumbled upon was a shop stocking liquor to sell to license holders. And then arose the question of whether Bobby had a license to purchase beer. The clerk at the store asked for a whole lot of documents including Bobby’s Ration Card and Date of Birth Certificate and surprise, refused to take a bribe to sell us one on the sly, as stock register was supposed to be very tight. We ended up deciding that Narendra Modi had indeed done a miracle if a liquor shop assistant refused to sell liquor. I advised Bobby that he could call up home and ask his dad to courier him the required documents the next day to our hotel so we could return to buy the permit and then the beer. I even offered to dial up his home for him (regardless of roaming charges and even pulled out my phone), but for some reason Bobby was reluctant to impose on his father the obligation of his bet.
We returned to our hotel to lick our wounds and plan our war strategy for the next day. And then by a stroke of luck, I remembered Toshit, Toshit Agrawal was a junior of mine in college in Chennai and we had spent a lot of times watching hindi movies after cutting classes. He had finished college and gone back to his native place Ahmedabad and we had gradually lost touch. In an emergency you have no option but to call on your friends for their debts to you. So I dialed Toshit, fortunately caught him free to talk and explained Bobby’s problems to him. He promised to meet us the next day and bring a solution to Bobby’s anguish.
The next day, after our usual boring conference sessions, we decided to go sight-seeing and made the rounds around the usual suspects, Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram, the Sun Temple, Akshardam Mandir etc. and then it being the last day of our trip, Bobby suddenly recalled something very important for his future and continued peaceful existence. That he had still not bought anything for his wife back home. After talking to a local expert, our tax-cab driver, we headed over across the river into old Ahmadabad – the purana-galis, were authentic artisans produced all those fabulous Ahmadabadi textiles of which Bobby had a fair list with him—Chania Cholis, Chikan embroidered saris, Bandej saris, Gota saris, Ghagra Cholis etc….all courtesy of his wife’s painstaking Google research. We ventured into a shop the size of a Maruti 800 and after glancing desultorily over masses of brightly colored clothes, Bobby pointed out a few which were packed and the bill paid for. The shop-keeper couldn’t believe his luck, I guess that was the fastest sale he had made all month and I am sure he must prayed to god to send more gullible Madrasis to his shop everyday (in addition to tipping the taxi-driver).
After finishing his purchases, an offering to appease the domestic deity, we hurried back to the main city, for the promised rendezvous to meet Bobby’s salvation in the form of Toshit Agrawal. Now remember that I had told you that Toshit and I was best buddies when he was studying in Chennai, so he had planned an elaborate do for me on our get-together in his hometown. The venue he had chosen was one of Ahmedabad’s top rated restaurant and with a basement discotheque which we headed into first thing, we had a gala time dancing the night away, before enjoying a roof-top dinner. Bobby was anxious all through the dinner, as his time was ticking away first and we were scheduled to leave the next day. And then Toshit produced his trump card- a temporary alcohol permit granted for interstate truckers passing though Gujarat state. That eased bobby’s mind considerably and he was mellow for the rest of the night.
The next morning we had were all packed and ready to leave for the airport but we had one last thing to do before our departure. We took a auto to IIM, specifically the liquor shop, where Bobby produced his temporary license and in the name of Balan Kurien, National Permit Truck Driver from Kerala, he got his hand on the golden brew. We hurried back to our hotel room, where bobby opened up the bottle and I recorded it in all glory for posterity’s sake. And then we left for the airport to catch the flight back home to Chennai.
And if you still remember that I promised to tell why I was glowing when I came back to Chennai, it was because of the girls in Ahmadabad- the Gujarati-/gujjilis who were so awesomely beautiful, everyone of them on the streets, looking like a super model and I was grinning with pleasure at the sight of soo much beauty, that my face had achieved an inner glow which lasted a week even after I returned. In fact on the flight back, I was making plans to return to Ahmedabad as soon as I landed in Chennai, to resign my job, empty my bank account and pack my stuff- to find a clinic in Ahmedabad to practice and settle down permanently there with a nice Guajarati girl.