We are on the Mumbai-Pune highway. There is a nip in the air when we leave our hotel, but as we leave the outskirts of the city and hit the highway, the sun is bright and blinding.
Traffic is not too heavy at this early hour. The droning of the car on the highway lulls us into a semi-sleep, where one is in a state of hazy awareness. Trucks whiz past carrying perishables, petrol, and all kinds of goods that people seem to require. The Radio jockey’s voice on the FM talks to us, modulating, sharing jokes and presenting the next song.
Once the sleep cycle is broken, I watch the lush greenery and the mountains. All trucks have a painted notice on their rear which say, ‘Horn OK Please’.
By the time I wonder what this means, we stop at a gas station in Lonavala, a hill station on the Western Ghats. The gas station also has an assortment of stalls, and vendors, selling street food. Lonavala is famous for its ‘chikkis‘ (peanut candies), and we buy a few to take back home with us.
As we walk around to stretch our legs, my eyes catch a stall selling ‘Dabelis‘. My mouth waters, as I eye them. My stomach is full from the heavy breakfast I have already wolfed down. However, my brain is ready to make more space to accommodate a ‘Dabeli‘. I mean, how could it not.
For those of you who don’t know, a Dabeli is a very popular snack food/street food from India. ‘Dabeli’ literally means pressed. A patty made of boiled potato to which a special ‘Dabeli’ masala is added is topped off with pomegranate seeds, roasted peanuts, chopped onions and coriander leaves. This patty is placed inside a toasted burger bun. The burger is topped with ‘sev’ (a noodle-like fried snack made from gram flour)
I sink my teeth into this perfectly made ‘Dabeli‘. My taste buds enjoy its sweet-sour taste, and the ‘crunchiness’ as I bite into the pomegranate seeds and sev. This is absolute joy. I eat the ‘Dabeli‘ and watch other travelers, who have also stopped by at this gas station, to buy water, to stretch their legs, to eat snacks. I wonder if I will ever see these people again, I wonder who ordained that we would all meet here, at this gas station, on this particular day.
As I watch, some of them get into their coaches and cars, to drive away to faraway places, probably to meet other people, or to end this journey. Maybe even to begin new ones.
I wash down the ‘Dabeli‘ with a perfect ‘masala chai’ and walk back slowly to the car…as the highway beckons.