Sunday, August 21, 2005:
05:15 – We reached Bhubaneswar on time. The station was bigger and definitely much cleaner than I expected. I had finally landed in an alien place. This wasn’t my country. For the first time in 22 years of existence, I set foot outside South India. No cinematic “That’s one small step…”, but the spell had been broken anyway.
Alas, those moments of ecstasy were soon to be broken short, because we found no one waiting for us. We were supposed to be picked up by someone, and that someone didn’t turn up. I even whipped out my identity card and walked in random directions, but to no avail.
05:25 – We then committed our first sin of the day. We woke up our contact in BBSR. Had someone done that to me, I would have said, “Have you any sense? Do you know what time it is? Remain there and get back to Chennai in the next available train.” But she was more caring than that. She sent us another cab.
05:55 – The desperate wait ended with the cabbie identifying us immediately. Anyone could have identified us – two flustered clueless southies!
Bhubaneswar reminded me of Kerala. It should have been a decade, but the drive from Trivandrum airport still lingers in my mind. Rows of trees, lush grass and the unspoilt surroundings… why is Orissa still a backward state? Surely the hordes that land in Kerala can flock BBSR. One thing that struck me was that the roads (besides being okay) were all long and straight.
We reached the company guest house. One of the things my company prides itself about is its predictability. Therefore the room was no different from the one I occupied during training. Same TV, kettles, telephone, bed… even the shower!
07:05 – We committed our second sin of the day: waking up Mr. Binamra Binay, the only person we knew in this beautiful city. “Guess who?” A sleepy voice replied, “Boss, Vijay. Tell me. When did you reach?” “Er… sorry, but did I wake you up?” Not wanting to disappoint me, he replied in the negative. He had promised us to take to Puri, the shrine of the Lord of the Universe. (In fact, a chance to visit Puri tipped the scales in favour of my travel to BBSR. If not, I might not have travelled at all.) He said he would join us by 9.
07:30 – After flipping channels for more than an hour, I finally got the one piece of news I badly wanted to know: United had beaten Villa 1 – 0, van Nistelrooy being the scorer.
08:05 – I’d taken a luxurious bath. It was still cloudy; it rains everywhere except in Chennai.
08:50 – We proceeded to the food court to use our breakfast coupons. On the way, a guy who identified himself as Ankit accosted us. He was representing the Bangalore team and had flown in (yes, flown, as in, by aeroplane) BBSR a good 30 hours before we did. Predictably he had been to every place that was on our list: Puri, Konark, some beaches etc. He sought our company to Nandankanan Zoo, which was just about 7 kilometres from where we were. We replied haughtily that we were Puri-bound; he warned us suggesting that we wouldn’t be back on time if we went to Puri.
09:25 – The piping hot aloo parathas dispelled our notion that the food won’t be good in this part of the world. (Yeah, we had assumed the worst for just about anything we could think of.)
09:50 – Binay arrived in his Maruti, and immediately confirmed Ankit’s warning. He took us around the company for a few minutes and then suggested that we go to … Nandankanan!
10:15 – It was a fine morning and Nandankanan – that grand communion of nature – should have been among the best places to visit. We spotted quite a few creatures, most notably the white tiger and some rhinos.
11:10 – We exited Nandankanan and headed for the Botanical Garden. We immediately realised why our friend called it Lovers’ Park. The place was quite good – we didn’t spot many flowers, but enjoyed the drive nevertheless.
11:50 – We were back at the company and reported at the venue of the Quiz finals (which was the actual reason why we were there) before time.
An array of Please wait’s made us take our seat outside the hall. Binay left promising to join us by 3. My friend and I indulged in some senseless discussion before the organisers decided that they had heard enough, and let us in. It was 12:45.
13:00 – The quiz started on time, with five teams and a quizmaster whose CV was awe-inspiring, even frightening!
13:20 – We were off to a decent start and at the end of Round 2, that fluke of an answer I gave – REVLON – pushed us to first place. “Way to go Chennai!” said Mr. QM.
13:45 – One more round passed; we drew a blank but were still joint top.
14:05 – We were now third, and the home team, which hadn’t opened its account in the first two rounds, had built up a comfortable lead. We knew lots of answers but unfortunately the teams which had them direct knew the answers too.
14:30 – We were now last; REVLON was still our last right answer. Three rounds and an hour since we dozed off. The same “Yuck, I would have answered that!”
14:40 – Another fluke answer, this time the Model T, quashed the rut, but we were still last.
14:50 – A few more answers brought us to fourth place.
15:05 – The penultimate round was over; we were fourth and were tied with another team. But 10 points was all that separated the last four teams. The BBSR team could have gone for an early lunch; their lead was 50.
15:25 – Our main aim in the last round was not to finish last. In fact, we did pretty okay – one more correct answer would have put us level with two other teams for second spot. They were just five points away. Thanfully there was one team which was five points below us. We had finished fourth!
(To be continued…)
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