First part: When Wayanad calls
The first Chandu in the post title is the man himself and the second is the tuk-tuk or the auto-rickshaw of his. Our hosts at The Treasure Trove (link) suggested a trip to Edakkal Caves followed by Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and may be Karapuzha Dam if we could squeeze it in, as things-to-do on our first day at Wayanad. Accordingly Chandu with his tuk-tuk was pressed into service. Did we mind going by a tuk-tuk, Reena wanted to know. Not at all. We were game for anything. Seeing parts of Wayanad in a tuk-tuk seemed a wonderful idea to us. That’s how a tuk-tuk tuk-tuk-ed to the front yard of their house a few minutes later with Chandu at its helm.
Now, Chandu is not your ordinary tuk-tuk driver. He looks a fit 30 at the most, but much to our surprise told us he was actually 40 and father to a 13 year old. Our host did tell us that Chandu would not merely drop, but would accompany us at all the places of interest. I had actually not paid much attention to that. But imagine my surprise when he not only accompanied us, but literally ran up steps and slopes (with the ease of a goat) while we, not surprisingly, huffed and puffed.
Chandu told us that he was in the habit of running every morning since the last 8 years or so. When he had begun running, the neighborhood had scoffed at him. Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Running, indeed, blah-blah-blah. Our society’s favourite pastime is pulling others down, especially those who dare do something for themselves. But did our hero falter? No. He paid scant attention to their chatter and instead stuck to his routine. I almost laughed out loud when he said, before the year was out a couple of others requested to join him in his morning run.
Chandu sports an ear-stud. What’s the story behind it, Chandu, I asked him, making polite conversation. He shrugged his shoulders and said, he just liked to wear one. Then he added, how he met with ridicule from those around. But did he quail? Not our Chandu! He ignored the whole bunch of detractors and went about his life and eventually, as always happens, they lost interest. Attaboy Chandu! Esteem for him rose in my eyes.
I have this special affection for people who don’t hesitate to do their own thing, who thumb their noses at what society dictates as if it is some final word that none should dare oppose. I like the spirit such people show, the initiative. The staid, boring, stick-in-the-muds who are worried about what-people-might-think bore me to tears. It is all I can do to stop myself from thwacking them one on their stupid heads. So is it any wonder that Chandu kindled my interest?
Chandu’s qualities to be admired do not end just yet. He has, like many out there, has a tough life making ends meet. But he does not shy away from a hard day’s work, is honest and reliable that the hosts implicitly trust him to accompany guests on treks. In spite of life’s lemons thrown at him, Chandu has a cheerful and I-will-not-give-up attitude to life. Once again, these are things I greatly admire in any human being. But Chandu’s most prominent quality is yet to be revealed. He is motivator-par-excellence and he goes about it without ever giving the game away.
Some months back, while going through the list of nearby places to visit at Waynad, I had read about Edakkal caves. They are two natural caves at a remote location at Edakkal… 1,200 metres above sea level on Ambukutty Mala, beside an ancient trade route connecting the high mountains of Mysore to the ports of the Malabar coast (Wiki). That’s all very well. I very much wanted to see it too. But it involved walking one kilometre road that went upwards all the way, and which in some areas was steep. Once that ends, you climb steps for another 200 metres.
Though I did want to see the caves, I shook my head sadly on reading the details, and decided it was not for me. Both my knees have given me notice that they are on their way downhill. Add to that a bad back and calcaneal spurs on both feet. So it definitely was not for me. But when the hosts suggested Edakkal caves, I remembered nothing of what I had read. Instead I nodded my head happily and went right ahead.
At the foot of the climb, when I saw the beginnings of the steep path, I felt trepidation. What? Chandu asked, it is hardly any distance! From this you must have gathered that I believe what people tell me to be truth and nothing but the truth. Sigh, that’s my undoing. Anyways, every time I felt the climb was too tough, Chandu would say, ‘We are almost there!’ Having walked uphill for one kilometre, I was definitely not going to go back. That would be foolish. But I was secretly quaking in my shoes thinking of the walk back. Yes, unlike you normal people with good knees, those of us with bad ones have more difficulty going downhill.
There was nothing to it but go forward. Such was Chandu’s infectious enthusiasm, that one felt one couldn’t disappoint the poor man. Oh yes, the cave was worth the climb and the view from up there was breathtaking. So what if I had to catch hold of my young friend Rekhitha’s hand because my knees were shaking so badly? (And the knees screamed at me for doing this to them later in in the evening, and also in the night)
So that’s Chandu. While climbing, he’d repeat his favourite words, “Tholkkunna prashname illa” (no question of quitting/giving up). Really, I believe that is the mantra that drives the man. Another one he repeats often is, ‘don’t think of the negatives, then it will cease to bother you.’
The best I carry back with me about him is how when we were walking up the slope at our first stop, which was to see the Phantom Rock, he asked me hesitantly, “Are you the writer-Madam?!” I smiled and nodded, suppressing the laughter that bubbled inside me for this was the first time someone was referring to me thus. Are you getting inspiration to write from seeing my naadu, he kept inquiring of me in between our wanderings. On the last day he actually took my autograph before leaving. I am so touched.
Here’s wishing good luck to Chandu. May your tribe increase!
Since this post is about Chandu, I will write about the places we saw and post pictures in the next.