Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tax(i)ing times

Taxis have changed the way one thinks in the capital of the country. If one happens to live in some of the areas in the National Capital Region (we don’t use words like suburbs, you see, for fear of offending regional identities), then taxis affect one in a big way. Acutely affected individuals give up driving & prefer to travel on the floor of the vehicle where they cannot see out of the windows and, maybe, get a glimpse of these monsters.

One of the reasons all of those in the Haryana region of the NCR love the Metro is that they can cock a snook at the taxis. But if the Metro isn’t going their way, often they have no choice but to call the taxi guy. Only a few hardy creatures would dare wait for the bus service, which many equate with the Loch Ness monster & the Yeti, but I assure you it exists. I have missed getting run over by a Roadways bus once and, while you groan over my blog, you do realize that I’ve lived to tell the tale.

For those of us who work in places where the Metro may not deign to go in another 20 years, we have the “Office taxi” which we gratefully board every morning, mainly because we would rather be in it than next to it or in front of it, and eventually under it. News channels often just report accidents as “3 people were seriously injured when the car they were travelling in was hit by a speeding.” They have got to quickly get to the next “breaking news” which their rivals reported yesterday, and besides we all know what a “speeding” is. (With the exception of a sub-species known as “cab drivers” who have been brainwashed into believing that every other driver on the road is just plain jealous of them, by their colleague whom they all look up to and who has mowed down 17 vehicles in less than a year and still has a licence!- What a man!)

When not wreaking terror on the road, the office taxi driver is a largely untapped resource. I would recommend he be called to board meetings where employee performance is evaluated. An odd one listens to Bhajans while he zips in and out of the traffic causing dents & heart attacks, but by and large the cab driver is listening to his passengers. Who hates who and for what reason, who manages to stay in his boss’ good books, but is a totally useless worker and who is leaving for what salary, the driver knows it all. From 9:00am to 5:00pm, while his stupid passengers are struggling with office politics, he is sitting with his colleagues working out all the equations. So, in my humble opinion, if one doesn’t want to offer him a job in HR, one could at least lean out of the window and ask “Oye, Anil! Mr Gupta ka promotion hona chahiye ya nahin?”

You can be sure to get the right answer, even if Mr Gupta lands up in hospital on his way back home in the office taxi and is perforce non-productive for the next 2 months.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Revenge: sweet & garnished

The two best ways to get the better of one's opponent: Pursue the illogical path or refuse to fight. All the serious guys and diplomats can go back to work right away, this blog may not be for you.

(Which serious guy was looking at my blog anyway, whom am I kidding, eh?)

Woman gets into Delhi bus. Conductor leers "Where are you going to, Madam?" Woman ignores the tone, gives the money and tells him the destination. Conductor gives her a ticket and continues to leer, "Here you go, Madam." She takes the ticket. Then she says in a very dignified tone (guess what): "Thank you". Later her friends ask her what sort of mad woman she is, who ever says "thank you" to a Delhi bus conductor. The answer is, well, no one. Which made it all the more priceless: his expression when he nearly fell off his perch, glared at her suspiciously and muttered "Is that so?"

In our office we had an office boy who only deferred to the boss. The rest of us were treated with impatience bordering on contempt while the young fellow struggled to find his feet and fortune in the big city. The idea was to tell him what to do & then to turn completely deaf. But once the senior most architect snapped and gave him a mild rebuke. To his horror the lad stood in the middle of the office & yelled his head off. All work was suspended, all eyes were riveted on the fight scene. Would the general shoot the soldier or would he run for cover? The eyeball match did not last too long and the senior said gently, before turning back to his work, "Who would have thought some one who read the Bhagwad Gita all day long would be so full of anger?" A miracle occurred that day and our office boy now treated one more person like a human being (while the Bhagwad Gita got more dog-eared and rest of us still waited for our Krishna moment).

Ok, so those were the Gandhians. We can't all be like them. Some of us like our revenge, we gloat while our enemies splutter indignantly or beg for mercy and no logic stands in our way.

I stepped out of my Gole Market office one day and found the buses had been diverted because of a religious procession. I was at the mercy of an autorikshaw driver who refused to start his meter & was asking for a flat rate thrice what I would need to pay him in less desperate circumstances. But then I had no choice and we set off towards Gole Dak Khana & thence towards India Gate. Less than a kilometer down the road we discovered another diversion ahead and I quickly calculated there was no short route towards my destination & I would have to leave this auto & walk a bit to catch another mode of transport. But wait, what about my revenge?

Soon we were almost at the diversion. By then the driver had mentally sifted through all the options, discovered that getting me to my destination in the decided fare would not be worth it, and tried to re-open negotiation. "The road this side is blocked," he ventured. But he was destined to froth & fume, to watch (by then with relief) as his prey slipped away from his fingers. (In those days that was the appropriate description for the ones who sat in the rear seat of a Delhi autorikshaw: prey).

I leaned back in my seat and studied my finger nails. "And what" I asked him sweetly "am I supposed to do about that?"

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Con sense

My maid was sick and her husband brought home a "Babaji" who gave her some dark pellets to cure her. Of her reluctance to give him all her earnings was what her husband was hoping, and of her skepticism was what Babaji was hoping. The latter got his answer right away when she peered suspiciously at the pellets and declared that there was no way she was going to eat goat droppings. But hats off to the rogue, he was caught, but did he blush? did he hide? Never. He immediately proceeded to explain how a goat roams around the whole forest and eats 300 types of medicinal herbs and thus its droppings are actually worth far more than the 100 rupees he was charging.

My guess is this is where we are going to beat the Chinese next. In the pharmaceutical industry. Those poor devils face international censure when they kill tigers, make balms and what not. Then they package it all in snazzy looking bottles & sneakily sell it where they can. Our Babajis just take a short walk behind a goat and sell this wide spectrum drug wrapped in a bit of newspaper (its good for everything, if you go by the notice outside the doctor's tent, it only doesn't cure the whatchamacallit one gets from eating animal waste. You've got to take your bleak chances on that).

If one is not too keen on keeping an eye on the behind of a goat, there are numerous other opportunities. A whole lot of 5 rupee rings set with colourful glass could get a profit of 2000% if sold by a knowledgeable looking guy with a glib tongue. All he needs to do is read your hand and give you the appropriate colour that will guarantee you eternal happiness or your money back (after eternity, naturally). He will, for good measure, make you feel guilty for spending twice that money on a movie, or a piece of butter chicken. This is your Eternal Happiness at stake, dimwit!

My mother is very secular in her disposition to all religious salesmen who regularly turn up at her doorstep (and on everyone else's, just in case you thought they particularly hated her- although they should, she never gives them much more than a curt brush off). The saffron clad one tried to ask her plenty of questions so that he could invent her future appropriately and get something for all the time he was wasting, but got no more than a hostile stare. The cheerful couple who came to give "Good news" were bluntly told, "Yes, I know. Jesus is coming." The poor guys couldn't even sell a Bible to one who knew it all.

No one, however, makes the mistake of going a second time to her mother's place. The ones who turn up on a Saturday to take away your misfortunes for a few coins especially give her a wide berth after she offered to take their Shani maharaj and the misfortunes upon herself. "After all," she explained, "I am an old woman and you've got your whole life ahead of you. Come now, give that to me...." For a particularly pesky "Holy man" who wouldn't take no, or go away while she ignored him and worked in her backyard, she pulled out a shallow stool and said, "You may as well sit down if you wont go away." A year later he breezed in, cursed when he saw her, and breezed out. No more than 15 seconds in all. She's training them well!

Con men come in all shapes of course. On my way to my office one day I was fooled into parting with some cash when I thought I was helping to get a pregnant woman to hospital. A colleague told me that this was a common enough trick those days. A few days later, pillion riding on a motorbike, I saw this group of people pulling the same wool over people's eyes at a traffic light. It was a good opportunity to apply balm on my wounds (no, not the Tiger one, not still thinking of that are you?). I put on my most sympathetic expression and beckoned to the pregnant one. She slowly ambled towards me passing by 4-5 cars full of soft-hearted people who would have easily parted with much more than I was going to. When she reached me the light was about to change.

"Tell me," I asked her solemnly, "Do you have your baby every day at this very crossing?"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Here we go

The Metro is the newest form of public transport in India, still out of reach of most Indians, not because of cost, but because of its scarcity, Metro lines being restricted to very few cities & very few routes. Like everything new that is introduced to our country, we have embraced its use, never forgetting that most of us would not bat an eyelid if we had to sit in a bullock cart to get to our homes from the Metro station, if that was the only mode of transport available. As it is we have to take the "shared auto" and that's not a huge difference.

Before I go further on this post, let me clarify that "overloading" was never a bad word in the world of Indian transport. We're so many of us, and when we gotta go, we gotta go and no lack of transport is going to stop us!

In fact about 30 years ago the Delhi Transport Corporation which ran the only mass public transport in the city came up with the brilliant idea that an ordinary DTC bus could be converted into a Luxury DTC bus by merely increasing the fares to 3 times. This would result in less people getting onto the bus, so the lucky souls who did could have the "luxury of breathing without discomfort". Either the passengers were conned into getting on by the unassuming exterior- which was a carbon copy of the non- luxury fellow, or they just couldn't get into the bus which went ahead and decided they would forgo half a kilo of onions the next week (an odd fellow would have won the lottery recently, but was not brave enough to get into a taxi or an auto rikshaw, the drivers of which were considered more dreadful than the dacoits of the Chambal). Once a cynical guy who belonged to the former species refused to pay the exaggerated fare and argued that the bus had no curtains, no air-conditioning & no fancy seats, so why was it called a Luxury bus?  The conductor solemnly replied, in a tone that brooked no further argument, that this was a luxury bus, "Because the ticket was a Rupee."

All the way back about half a century ago or more, "bus number 11" or our two legs were considered good enough to get anywhere. Back in our village a senior IAS officer would think nothing of walking to & from his office 25 km away in Delhi. Younger men, who offered to keep him company would be gently told, "Son, you wont be able to keep up with me". When one needed to transport luggage, one collared one's neighbour who would pile it onto his bicycle & spend half a day walking with one to the railway or bus station.

Then along came my generation, pseudo villagers who grew up in the city and would, much to the disgust of the robust villager, fall down & threaten to die after 8.23 km. Alternative transport had to be arranged for us weaklings and so we traveled in horse carts, bullock carts and on bicycle carriers up to the bus stand, only to get into an over crowded bus. Till the advent of the Car.

Let me clarify, the Car existed everywhere in the world. It had been seen and it's existence was not doubted in the village, but it took a brave man with a stick, such as my father, to bring his car to his village. He had to stop every 500m once he had entered the village, to chase away children (waving the aforementioned stick) who were hell bent on committing suicide by slipping under the wheels. Not that that is what they has set out to do, they were merely chasing the car in an attempt to touch it, a chance that they got only once in a few months. This was never a difficult task, considering the lack of roads usually reduced the speed of the car to walking speeds sometimes and the suicidal kids could be even as little as 3 years old.

A lot has changed since then, but across the country one can see a vast range of means of transport, some very old but still very much in use. To all the foreigners who have been told by funny Indian expatriates & amusing net friends that we go to school by "Elephant", I'd say, Believe it.

A friend once picked up an American lady from the Airport on her very first trip to India. "Would you believe it," he later groaned, "in the very first 15 minutes of her arrival to the capital of India, we saw a Camel and an Elephant on the road!" See? She witnessed this with her own eyes, who are we to tell her any different?  But if she was adventurous enough, we could take her on even more exciting rides. After all, what sense of achievement does a person who goes down the Niagara Falls in a barrel feel as compared to a Mumbai local train commuter who manages to extricate himself at the station he planned to, eh?