Five months into my engineering course, I knew most of my classmates well but Sudhin, Raghu, Saurabh, Naveen, Anand were the ones with whom I used to hang around mostly. We had vacations in February & March and Raghu was going home and invited me to join him. Mom and Dad were OK and I got permission to go …we booked our tickets.
The departure was late evening. Dad was supposed to drop us and incidentally Dad and Papu Uncle (Dr. Uday Shankar) had planned a dinner outing. Venue: parking lot at Vidhana Soudha main entrance. Dinner was good and we got dropped off at the railway station.
Our journey was interesting; we met a friendly family on the way back home at Calcutta. We used to stand on the doorway and smoke. Next morning or afternoon, at one of the stops, I met Sampath Uncle who was with the Navy and was visiting the Naval Base at Vishakapatnam on work. I was worried if he had seen me smoking. I lost my pair of new sneakers at Rajmundry station …one of the many urchins who come cleaning the bogie floor had wacked it. From then on I was moving around in rubber chappals. The train reached Visakhapatnam sometime evening, Raghu’s father was there to pick us …it was 30 minutes drive to Raghu’s place at Sriharipuram. His parents must’ve been shocked to see me, hair long which touched my shoulders.
The next day Raghu took me to his best friend’s home, Biju. I got to meet a whole bunch of friends …Srini, Cuckoo, Brian, Jugtar Singh, Sai, Lala, Benny and some more I cannot recall. Biju’s place was a hangout where these guys met almost every day and played cards till lunch time and would meet again at evening. We would go out for a smoke, ITC King or Wills Filter. I remember I got a tiny piece of wood in the tobacco in one of the cigarettes. Raghu had carried few books and notes but we rarely got into the mood for studies, even if we did it was just to show his parents. I was in a holiday mood. Raghu’s mom, an expert cook, would serve us with varieties of Andhra cuisine …sea food, chicken, mutton, eggs – what ever she cooked I relished. The chatnis and pickles captivated me. The Sagi family had a great sense of hospitality. Raghu’s full name is Raghu Varma Sagi.
One of the days Raghu’s dad took us to the shipyard, my first visit ever to a shipyard. I got to vessels of various sizes and condition. I could also see many workers loitering around or sleeping off. Next we stopped at a Naval port full of Indian Navy submarines of different sizes. Submarine with numbers S56 and S57 caught my eye and still cannot forget them. Raghu’s father managed to get permission for us to get into one of the subs. The inside was warm and smelt of machine oil. I remember seeing pipes and gauges all over. We crossed over from one compartment to another …the air-tight hatch was solid-looking. I think INS Chakra was docked there during our visit.
Of our many sight-seeing trips, one of the days we went to a place near the port with 3 hillocks separated by creeks; a temple, church and a mosque on each one of them. We visited the church and Raghu was telling me about his visit to this place with Biju. Vizag is a natural harbor surrounded by hills which give natural protection. Because of heavy sea traffic sea bed is dredged regularly to maintain the water depth. Sometimes dredgers work very close to beaches and because of this playing in sea is not very safe.
The 3 beaches I visited; Gangavaram, Rishikonda and the beach on Marine Drive. Rishikonda is away from the city about 10 -12 km I think. We were a dozen of us …first we got into the water and then had booze, sensible behavior. The beach waters looks innocent but are very dangerous with strong currents. While we were in water we formed a chain holding hands and went in. At one point the water was up to my nose and the shorter ones were under-water …the fact is we got pulled in. While stepping back and forth, we could feel pits in the sea bed, some 2 feet deep. We almost panicked but we pulled out soon and decided not to step into water again. Few years later, at the same place spot, four guys two of whom I had met, got dragged into the sea and did not return alive.
Gangavaram beach is a compact little beach which was away from hustle bustle (not any more I guess). That day Raghu’s dad first took us to Vizag Steel Plant. I guess it was the biggest steel manufacturing setup in South India at that time. I was amazed to see the massive sheds housing various departments. The machine shop itself had machinery worth several millions of Rupees . The plant was still under construction. We exited the plant premises through the different gate and we were on the road which leads to Gangavaram beach. A major part of the famous tragedy movie “Ek Duje Ke Liye” was shot here. Talking about the movie, Dolphin Hotel at the end of Marine Drive was the heroine’s house in the movie.
The last two days of my holiday were spent sigh-seeing the near-by Araku Valley and Borra Caves. Borra Caves are natural caves with a mythological story behind it …it’s said that Ram, Sita and Laxman were here during their Vanavas. From the caves we walked through woods, crossed a stream and climbed rocks with water cascading down. It was a wonderful experience. We reached a small place where we had typical Andhra meal with boiled duck eggs. Biju saw some one smoking ganja and bought some. From there we were supposed to take a bus but the bus was pretty late. We chose not to wait and went to the small railway station where mostly goods trains stopped. I remember walking along a parked train with God knows how many bogies …we must have walked one and half kilometers. At the rear end of the train was the guard’s bogie, with his permission we got on …we were getting a lift till Araku Valley. The ride was fun …I lit a cigarette on the open moving train. At Araku we checked into one of the guest houses for the night. I hardly slept through the night, it was freezing …we did not have proper beds or blankets. Next morning we went around Araku and left the place ate afternoon, reached Vizag late night. My train was in the morning and I had wake up early, get ready, said bye to Raghu’s parents and rushed to the station. I said bye to Raghu …he wanted to spend few more days at home before he came back to Bangalore.
In the train, I just did not have the energy to sit straight, I was sleepy like never before. I somehow managed to stay awake till breakfast and asked the co-passengers if they would mind me lying down. On the contrary, some of them wanted to do exactly that. Great! I felt great as soon as I was horizontal. A lady in the compartment offered me a blanket to be used as a pillow. Thanks to her I was more comfortable and just slept off. I do not remember if I had lunch. By evening I was feeling good …back to normal. The next morning I was back at Bangalore. I told my parents about the food at Raghu’s place …just unforgettable!