One of the basic tenets of life is that a person’s time in the bathroom is entirely their own – private, sacrosanct, unquestioned, unbreachable. When you’re within the confines of a bathroom, any bathroom, you’re entitled to some peace and quiet so that you can get on with... well, whatever it is that you’re doing. Phone calls are a total no-no, for example; whoever is at the other end of the honker can wait till you’re sufficiently enthused to consider calling them back. People knocking on the door and asking you to hurry up can be put into the same no-no bracket; you can’t hurry these things, you know. If they do, it’s perfectly acceptable to shower them with vile abuse and suggest that they go and take a running jump – look it up, it’s in all the etiquette books.
What do you do, however, if the interrupters of your ablutions aren’t human? In my particular case, I had just seated myself contentedly on the WC in the attached bathroom of my tent, when the door-flap opened and the semi-orange head of an American Spitz, grinning like a goof, poked through. I sat there, unable to quite wrap my mind around the concept of a pedigree dog playing voyeur; meanwhile, it entered the loo and sat not three feet from me, wagging its tail furiously. All entreaties and threats on my part for it (its name was Ginger, by the way) to kindly remove itself were met with more tail wagging and a gradual listing to the horizontal position, exposing its belly for me to rub. Seconds after this, the door-flap rustled again to reveal the entry of a large Irish Setter (called Brown), who decided to sit down next to its colleague and stare at me soulfully, similarly unmindful of my requests. I was beginning to lose all hope when they both suddenly wheeled and bolted out of the tent, racing to answer their owner Vijay’s call. I heaved a sigh of relief and got on with it, but those dogs (and a third partner-in-crime, a dopey Bassett hound called Shadow) were to be an integral part of the landscape at The Rappa, the eco-camp I was staying at.
Tucked away in an off-the-map village next to the Hemavathi reservoir near Hassan, The Rappa (meaning ‘the island’ in Kannada) is one of those places that you get to know about mainly through word-of-mouth – in my case, from a good friend. Two years ago, Vijay, an ex-design engineer from Bangalore, decided to chuck it all up and build himself a place well away from the rat race. It evolved into an offbeat retreat, a place where people could come to de-stress, unwind and generally chill out. ‘See, I didn’t really know what I was setting out to do at first’ Vijay said, over an excellent home-style lunch of rasam, rice, papad and veggies. ‘I just knew that I was tired of living in the city and grinding it out in a 9-to-5 situation.’ ‘I hear you, brother’ I replied, simultaneously conscious of the fact that I do anything but grind it out in a 9-to-5 situation. ‘I get a lot of corporates bringing employees over for team-building exercises, bikers, friends who want to get away for a while – it’s all very informal. There’s one girl who comes here, sits up in the machaan all day for days on end and just reads.’ Up in the said machaan, on an exploratory round of the property, I could see why – surrounded by trees, with sunlight and fresh air streaming in, a soothing view out over the reservoir and a comfortable bed, I wouldn’t have wanted to budge either. From up there, I could also see the full extent of the camp and its surroundings. Paddy fields, now bare after the harvest, shimmered in a heat haze; fishermen in coracles cast their nets, almost in slow motion, out in the water; towards the edge of the property, the three dogs gambolled around the tents, chasing butterflies and scaring goats; Vijay, on his Suzuki Zeus, left a dust trail as he tore into the distance, no doubt on some errand. I suddenly became aware that I was the only person in the immediate vicinity of the camp; it was a strangely uplifting feeling, all that isolation. I decided to use it and walk around a bit.