November 11, 2005

Clothesline Maniac

I've posted a version of this story here earlier, though I'm too lazy to dig out the pointer. I worked on it some, and it's in the current (November) issue of India Today Travel Plus.


Drifting south along the Costa Rica's Atlantic Coast, we end up at the Sixaola River, the border with Panama. Understand that this is not exactly Wagah, barbed wire, and goose-stepping Army rangers. Here, Zu and I pile into a tiny canoe, and a leathery old man chewing gum silently paddles us across the swift water. Across the border, done. Despite his silence, there is definite excitement: first, as the boat tips one way, nearly tossing us out; then, as the boat tips the other way, nearly tossing us out. We squeal, but the old man chews on stoically, never says a word. Never looks like he is going to be tossed out.

So as I step onto Panamanian soil, I feel like Columbus and Vasco before me must have: triumphant but weak at the knees, slightly nauseous and very anxious to check out the shop in front of me.

A shop, yes. For the benefit of Costa Ricans in this desolate southern corner of the country willing to brave the trip across the Sixaola to buy cheaper in Panama, there is a mini-supermarket right here. There are fans and TVs and a sale today on underwear -- oh yeah, I needed to find out about the underwear. All in this spot surrounded by forest, hills and the river, with no other settlement, or even a building, anywhere in sight either in Panama or Costa Rica. And in fact, "no roads continue to the rest of Panama from here", says my trusty blue Costa Rica guide.

Bizarre? Not a patch on the owner: a Spanish-speaking Palestinian from Jordan, PLO button on his breast. Making money to send home to the cause. "There are guys like me doing this all over the world," he tells us.

But of course, you're asking: forget the PLO, dude, why were you so interested in underwear? Well, hold the sniggers a moment. That goes back to Puerto Jimenez, some days earlier.

We get to Puerto Jimenez, a small village on the Osa peninsula on the Pacific coast, after a long, shimmying ride in the back of a tiny pickup. One bone-jarring puncture on the way, no jack, all of us lift the thing up so the driver can change the tyre. That red contraption is the once-a-day, and only, transport from the two-hut hamlet of Carate, on the other side of the peninsula. And we had reached Carate itself via a day-long hike along the beach under a blazing sun.

So by the time we hit Jimenez, we are grimy, sunburnt and exhausted. But cheerful as well. Because we had passed through Jimenez some days earlier still and its tiny-town friendliness had simply captivated us. This is the kind of place where a woman on the street noticed us searching for a place to stay and sang out, come stay with me! Basic but clean room in her home, three dollars a night. The kind of place where a tame parrot hung out in a streetcorner guava tree and whistled at the passing girls -- but only the girls, Zu was tickled -- but hid in the leaves if you tried to locate him.

Nice nice nice, to be back!

So today, we locate the woman, the same room's ours again. We bathe and wash some underwear. Suitably freshened after the journey, Zu and I set off for the Carolina restaurant, undoubtedly our favourite Jimenez spot. Angela, the pretty young waitress there, recognizes us right away and conjures up tall, cool glasses of the stuff we so liked before: jugo de tamarindo (tamarind juice).

A long, leisurely dinner in this place that seems like home again, and we are ready to sleep. We don't want to make it too late a night. Not just because we are tired, but because at dawn tomorrow, a dinky little four-seater plane will arrive to fly us over the Golfo Dulce ("Sweet Gulf", that's right) so we can return to San Jose and head onwards to the Atlantic side of the country.

It's just starting to turn light when my alarm goes off. We stumble out to the clothesline to collect our underwear. It's all dry, sure. But all these years later as I write this, when I think about it, I still shiver at the memory of what we see there, that cool Jimenez morning.

All of Zu's underwear -- every last fluttering bra and panty -- is slashed.

It is a tiny plane, a shaky one. But as we climb away from Jimenez, the plane has nothing to do with the shaking inside us.

Never figured out that sinister puzzle. Nor quite got over it. But that's why, I swear, I made my way to the underwear section in the jungle supermarket in Panama.


Anonymous said...

What's up with bras and underwears Dilip? Inferiority complex with what's in yours?

Anonymous said...

Now this is TERRORISM..

Assam: Man jailed for 54 years without trial; SC sends notice to govt

November 11, 2005 21:09 IST

Moved by the story of a 77-year-old man languishing in a jail in Assam for 54 years without facing trial, the Supreme Court on Friday sought a report from the state government on the issue.

Machal Lalung, hailing from belonged to Mikir Chuburi village in Morigaon district of Assam, was arrested at the age of 23 years in 1951 under Section 326 of the IPC for voluntarily causing grievous injuries.

However, he spent his life as an undertrial languishing in Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Mental Hospital, Tezpur before being released this year.

Ironically, his case never came up for hearing in the last five decades even once.

Treating a letter received by Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal in this regard as a petition, the apex court issued notices to the Assam government through its Chief Secretary and Registrar General of Guwahati High Court directing them to look into the matter and place on record the factual position with regard to the confinement of Lalung for all these years.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, Justice C K Thakker and Justice P P Naolekar directed them to reply within two weeks after receiving the order.

"The aforesaid matter requires thorough examination," it observed.

The letter written to the Chief Justice of India by advocate F I Chaudhary, a resident of Assam, said he came to know about Lalung from a news report and was willing to assist the court or anybody who will come forward to take up his case.

"As a young lawyer, I believe, in complicated issues like this, the judiciary can only award this man a compensatory peace and give back his forgotten smile before he dies," the advocate wrote to the CJI, adding that Lalung's case involved finer aspect of human rights.

Dilip D'Souza said...

TTG: wait a minute, aren't you ALWAYS in an affable mood?

And it was good to talk to you too. As for showing up undercover, I've taken it a step further. I show up in my underwear. Don't you remember me from your last blog meet? OR were you too busy chatting up other undercover operatives?