Call me a little slow, but I did not anticipate that Madikeri would be a centre for holiday-makers between Christmas and New Year. It's a Christian holiday, yeah? Although I should have remembered that New Year's is Big Party Time. Luckily when I paid for two more nights this morning, I found out that my hotel is booked solid from the 24th through to the 31st, as are most others in town. As luck would have it, my conversation with the Chitra's manager was overheard by a young man called Mukta.
He beckons me over to a corner speaking in a lispy whisper. At first I think he wants to sell me a tour because he is talking about walking in the jungle, touring spice plantations and washing elephants, but when we are out of ear shot of the front desk, he starts talking about friends who have rooms to let.
'My friend, he has room in jungle. Very nice. Verrrry quiet. Only 450 with food. I also have a room in my house. Here in town.'
'And they would be free for 24-31? I'd like to see them first?'
'Yes, yes. Come, come, come. I tell you.' Mukta pats my arm as he keeps looking over my shoulder towards the reception desk. 'We go up to your room and I tell you everything.'
Mukta tells me more about the rooms and I agree to go with him in a tuk tuk to see his house just up the street a way. 'I would need a desk,' I say gesturing to my strange set up.
His hand flies to his mouth. 'Oh, the double bed!' he giggles.
'I just need to change my shoes.' Mukta looks down at my feet and sees my bright red nail polish. 'Oohoo!' his hand again fluttering up to his mouth. 'Very nice. No need. This is nice.'
Then I'm looking for my sunglasses and can't find them. I'm now worried they've gone the way of the invaluable travel plug that I stupidly left in Mysore. Mukta is waiting in the door. 'Come, come, come,' his hands flapping near the door handle. I'm digging under clothes, tipping things up. Can't find them. 'These?' Mukta goes to my desk, pointing to my normal glasses.
'No, no, sunglasses. Black ones.'
Mukta starts racing around the room with me. He sees all my toiletries neatly lined up on the dresser. 'Oohoo. Very nice! You an actress?' he looks at me curiously.
'Nooo!' I laugh.
'A model? You look like ah...you look like-'
'Noo!' I laugh again and shake my head, still upending all my things.
To my relief, I finally locate them camouflaged under the black cord of my hair dryer and we're ready to go. He takes the key from me and makes a show of locking the door. 'See? You try.' Then he shows me a switch near the door which he flick up and nods seriously at me with pursed lips.
'Oh, is that the electricity?' He nods. I make a note to remember to switch it back on when I return instead of chasing up reception for loss of power.
He insists on us leaving the hotel via different routes, so I take the lift, leaving him to go via the stairs and we meet up near the tuk tuk stand. In two minutes we pull up in a quiet street in front of a house with a garden. It is spacious, cool, dark and quiet, but there’s no desk. He pulls aside curtains in doorways gesturing inside. 'See, it's very nice. Do you like it?'
In the kitchen he shows me some shelves lined with bright pink and orange containers covered in flowers and cartoon pictures, the kind you'd expect to see on a stationery shelf appealing to children. He unscrews the lid of the nearest and shows me rice flakes and another with some Bombay mix in it. 'They're very beautiful, Mukta.' I can't help but smile at his childish delight.
Then he takes me outside for a spice tour of his garden. 'I bring back baby plants from the jungle and I plant here. See, I water every day.' He crushes up leaves and holds them under my nose so I can agree they are what he says they are. He tells me about his aunt whose house it was and how he now looks after it. I ask him about the cabinet full of trophies in the main room.
'Oh, my aunt's daughters. Five,' he holds up his hand, 'they play tennis,' he mimes hitting a ball over his head, 'and they do sports,' he hops back and forth to demonstrate. 'They are sooo creative. Many prizes.' His hands flutter and he shakes his head and rolls his eyes. He then mentions that he has two people staying on the 30th.
'Ah, well I will need somewhere else to stay then, as everything is booked till the 1st. I'd really prefer not to be moving around too much.'
Mukta thinks about this. 'I have another friend. Come, come, come.' More hand fluttering and arm patting and he starts looking around to lock up. 'Where did I put the key?' Mukta starts racing around with his hands flying in all directions.
'I think it's with my sunglasses.'
Mukta pauses his fussing to purse his lips and give me a look. He laughs and wobbles his head at me. 'You're very funny.' But he says this meaning a bit of ha-ha-peculiar not ha-ha-funny.
I laugh at the irony. 'Well I think you're pretty funny too.' We both start racing around the rooms of the house looking for the keys. Finally I spy them with the padlock out the back in the kitchen. As we are leaving he tells me more about himself.
'People don't understand who I am,' he says quietly.
'I think I understand. I have many friends like you at home. They're all very nice boys.' Mukta looks at me for a moment and smiles. 'Meet my friends. Come, come, come.'
It turns out they are almost next door in a Community Hall that doubles as a wedding venue. Upstairs are rooms for let. Rehan shows me some of the rooms. They seem adequate and there is some communal space with a large table where I could write. It's still only a short walk to the restaurants and the Cyber Zone. The beds look slightly better than the Chitra's, although there is (apparently) only two hours of hot water in the morning (yarr, watch this space). Importantly it promises to be much quieter, which might deal with the dark circles that have taken up residence under my eyes.
'No booking, no booking,' Mukta assures me. 'You can stay.' They take me up to the rooftop for an airy view of the town and the surrounding waves of blue hills. We chat a bit more and I agree to come on the 23rd.
As we walk back to the tuk tuk stand I indicate that I would be interested in a day out to wash the elephants. 'Yes, yes. We can talk about that when you are ready. Maybe a jungle walk, some spices, pepper, coffee plantation...I will find you.'
Reassured by Mukta's fixer skills that I will not be out on the street in the busy period, I head back to my room for my morning's writing.