The result is a fantastic explosion of hilarity and background music.
So, for my new consultancy project, I have decided to eschew the tribulations of Mumbai train system, and opt instead for a shared cab ride.
The cab company and I have a long fractious history together, because I routinely complained about their terrible service. Guess I have to eat humble pie now, because their share service has just about saved my goat.
But, occasionally the Gods reward me with a hilarious commute experience that takes the sting out of having to spend 1.5 hours cooped up in a car. (An airconditioned car, so really the sting is more of a gentle brush. I am not an ingrate.)
So. I call for a cab, and get into a smallish hatchback. The airconditioner is at full blast, the radio is playing loudly (not painfully loudly though), and another rider is in the front seat. I was a little surprised by this, because I was the second rider, and she would’ve had the whole backseat to herself before I came in. This conundrum was solved presently though.
The music, as I mentioned earlier, was playing quite loudly. The driver, props to him, turned around to ask me whether the music was too loud. I said no mainly because it was playing 90s Bollywood songs, and they are my guilty pleasure. He then asked whether the airconditioner was comfortably set, and when I replied in the affirmative, he nodded in satisfaction and proceeded to move along.
As we reached the end of the lane, I suggested he take a U-turn back to the highway. However his phone navigation was saying something else entirely. And he says: “Google toh yahan dikha raha hai. Google toh galat nahi bolega!” [Google is showing us a different route. Google wouldn’t be wrong!]
I tried once more, and shrugged. Fair enough, he was pleasant enough and he has a right to go in the direction he feels is best.
Of course, the “route” turns out to be a dead-end alley, with a bustling population of people milling about. I say “people” loosely to include cows, chickens, the odd goat, and a few pigeons for good measure. There were small houses, almost shanties, on either side and presumably the inhabitants’ vehicles parked outside those, adding another layer in this already congested lane.
The other rider was talking the whole time to the driver, because I had subsided after my initial goodnatured suggestion to pick a different route. She laughed, and said he would end up knocking something down. To which he replied, also goodnaturedly: “Chammaat kha lunga. At least traffic se bacch jayenge. For that, chammaat khaane ke liye tayaar hu!” [I’ll get smacked. At least we’ll be saved from the traffic. For that, I’m ready to get smacked.]
By this time, I realised two things: one, the girl was flirting with the cab driver, and once I got a better look at him I realised the second thing. He was young, rather goodlooking, well groomed, and clearly not of the menial labour pool of drivers. That also explained his evident soft skills, of asking whether I was comfortable, because I usually get grunts from cab drivers. And dude was funny. Intentionally so.
So we drove down the steadily narrowing alley, all three of us laughing at the absurdity of it all. Before long, we realised that the alley didn’t have another exit. So we looked for a place to turn the car around. And we found a clearing, but our hero thought it wasn’t wide enough. So we powered on. Of course that was a major mistake. If the alley was narrow before, it was suffocating at this point. We were now stopped because a little further, and someone’s porch would have been knocked down.
Worth considerably more than just the one chammaat methinks.
Anyway, a plethora of people poured out of their homes, in order to investigate our appearance. Our driver speedily gained several helpers, in order to reverse the car (in a considerably smaller space, mind you!) without materially damaging anything. This process took a good 20 minutes, by which time I was in pain from trying to suppress my laughter. Thankfully, no one was paying me any attention, as he concentrated on moving the car, and his cheerleader in the front seat, well, cheered him on.
Once out of the alley, we moved to the highway. We all noticeably relaxed, and the girl began to sing along to the songs on the radio. I have to hand it to Juliet, she sang like a bird. Her voice was clear and high, and damn could she belt out a few songs! Fortuitously, the songs were romantic ones.
She started chatting with him as well. That’s when I, the unwilling but highly amused third wheel, learned that he had an MBA, used to work in an office but decided to take a break, and this was his own car. Juliet was fairly impressed with this streak of entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the change in the register of her voice.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, but their conversation was listing on the side of her being mildly attracted to him, and him slowly freezing in response. To be fair to her, she wasn’t being vulgar, just flirty. But he wanted none of it.
How sad. I’d already thought of what to get them for a wedding present.