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How The Cauvery's Troubled Waters Turned Our Road Journey Into A Nightmare

09/09/2016 7:24 PM IST | Updated 10/09/2016 12:42 AM IST
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Agitation in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has been increasing since the recent Supreme Court order to the state to release of 15,000 cusecs of water from the River Cauvery each day to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Karnataka is facing an acute shortage of water in its reservoirs, and rivers as the state has only received subpar rainfall in the catchment areas leading to protests by farmers and pro-Kannada organisations refusing to share water with its neighbouring state. / AFP / MANJUNATH KIRAN (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

With a heavy heart, we bid the vacation goodbye as we headed back to Bangalore on Thursday, 8 September. The younger son had had a wonderful birthday, and we were all looking forward to reaching home. We started after 10am with not a clue that we would not be getting home by the night. It is said that man proposes, but God disposes. In this case, it was hordes of angry men who disposed of our carefully devised plans. As we headed to Bangalore from Coonoor through the pleasant winding roads of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (in Tamil Nadu) and then crossed over to Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary (in Karnataka), all was well.

The kids were frightened and so were we. Never had I seen rioters burning property on the streets, so up, close and personal.

We even saw a herd of elephants, some spotted deer and a langur who climbed on top of our car. With scanty traffic and a beautiful landscape, it was a pleasant journey.

In the afternoon we halted at Mysore for lunch. Bangalore was just about 150km away. In the morning, a friend had mentioned on Twitter that there may be a bandh on the coming Friday when we were all looking forward to attending a friend's book launch. As I had not been following news stories, I was baffled, as just last Friday we'd had a bandh.

Bandhs till now were just a nuisance, a day we spent indoors to avoid trouble. They affected me only from afar. We were unaware that we were about to get caught in the melee of protestor trouble very soon. Just a few kilometres on the Mysore-Bangalore highway, we found certain routes shut down. Perplexed, we took detours to get back on to the highway, unaware that the entire region had erupted in huge protests.

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have had a long history of strife over Cauvery water sharing and the recent Supreme Court directive had apparently started the current round. We were transiting through Mandya district which was at the centre of agitations by farmers. As we tried to take KRS road to the highway, we saw the narrow road blocked with some tree barks that were set on fire by a small mob. We immediately turned the car and took to Google maps to find another detour. We were still not aware of the gravity of the situation. On to that detour, we took a circuitous route into a village and again got on to the KRS road when we came across another roadblock with similar scenes of burning tyres and tree barks. That was when we felt some panic. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, home was still far away. We thought of heading back to Mysore.

But with roadblocks both ahead and behind, we did not know how to go anywhere from KRS road. While the husband reached out to a few friends in Bangalore to get a better understanding of the situation, I called my friend, Shailaja in Bangalore to ask her what the situation was and also to tell her about the soup we were in. She calmly listened and suggested that we try to go to Mysore, as (luckily for us) her in-laws stayed close by.

While the cops were sympathetic, they said that it being a strike, they could not do much. Imagine the police saying that! It was nerve wracking.

She didn't hesitate a moment to offer us a place to stay with them. And in that sticky situation, we saw no other choice. I gratefully accepted her offer. The kids were frightened and so were we. Never had I seen rioters burning property on the streets so up, close and personal. We even approached a police van and asked them to help us. While they were sympathetic, they said that it being a strike, they could not do much. Imagine the police saying that! It was nerve wracking.

Our ordeal was far from over yet. The protestors did not allow us to go to my friend's relatives' place either which was just a distance of about 5km; another roadblock stopped us. The mob was swelling, and we backed off. Trying to go through kachcha roads and hamlets (god bless Google Maps), we finally reached their home in about 1.5 hours, avoiding and skirting other mobs and roadblocks.

Shaking from the experience and grateful that we were unhurt, we collapsed into the house of her in-laws who welcomed us with warmth and hospitality even though they had never met us before in their lives. They made us comfortable and shared a lovely home-cooked meal with us. We spent a very anxious night following up news articles on the internet to keep track of the situation.

We took a call to start early on Friday morning, hoping to beat any rioters. Luckily, this time around we were right. We started around 5.30am and only heaved a sigh of relief after we had passed Mandya district which was the troubled spot the day before. Enroute, we came across lots of burnt remnants from Thursday's troubles. We touched home on Friday morning at 8.30am without taking a single break on the way.

Right now, my predominant feeling is that of gratitude -- that we reach home safe, to my friend Shailaja and her in-laws who helped us without a second thought...

Distressed and exhausted as we were, we were home. A news item which would have merited a rant tweet or FB status came to hit us personally. Right now, my predominant feeling is that of gratitude – that we reach home safe, to my friend Shailaja and her in-laws who helped us without a second thought when my mind was growing blank with fear and panic. So much to be grateful for in life. The universe does come through for you when the situation seems bleak.

We will remember this experience for a lifetime. I tremble to see in the news that trouble has started again in that region and so many innocent travellers like us will be caught again without any fault of theirs.

This post was originally published on Rachna Says.

Memento Mori by Pablo Bartholomew

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