My enduring impression of Delhi and its inhabitants is one steeped in ridiculous amounts of romance. I am well aware of its flaws, albeit through the aegis of the media and thankfully not first-hand, but it remains in my consciousness as a friendly place. I am not naive enough to attribute this feeling to anything more than the combination of 4 visits to the city total (2 of which were transitory), and the fact that according to the local population, I resemble one of them.
Most recently, I was in Delhi to attend a friend’s wedding. Said friend is an irritating sod of no common order, and was spending more time on WhatsApp avoiding his relatives than actually planning his wedding. Thanks to his less-than-stellar planning abilities (another post in itself) I was stuck outside the airport for an hour, waiting on a clearly confused taxi driver.
It was with mounting frustration that I called the taxi driver numerous times, telling him stridently each time to come to Terminal 2. First, he landed up at Terminal 3, then at 1, then went back to 3, assured me he was ‘just outside 2!’, again to 1, before finally wending his way to 2.
I had well nigh given up on the guy, and was booking an Uber out of there, before I spotted an extremely confused-looking bloke scanning the passengers on the strip. He scratched his temple, and hopped back into his car to retrieve his phone. And then I realised that this was Bunty, my driver.
When I stooped to speak to him through the window, he smiled at me, and bolted out of the car. I was feeling rather miffed, but my annoyance evaporated because he ran towards me holding the lobes of his ears in contrition, saying: “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Hard to stay annoyed with anyone that ingenuous.
I got into the car, laughing a little, but careful not to make eye contact. I am cognisant of Delhi’s problems, and I wanted to avoid entanglements of any sort. Because prudence. Also, I had been up since 4 am that morning, so I had a good excuse to nap in the car. [I didn’t for the record, because again prudence.] So I half-closed my eyes and watched the world go by, as I remained hyper-aware of my surroundings. As always.
The whole time, I was aware that Bunty was looking at me through the rear view mirror. The guy wasn’t creeping on me, that’s for sure, but I got the distinct impression that he wanted to strike up a conversation. And, God forgive me for being immodest, he was rather taken up with my appearance.
I managed to avoid a conversation for ages, but I was listening to the radio too, and I am incapable of controlling my reactions. [This extends to my treacherous facial expressions too.] Delhi radio is hilarious, and I was chuckling to a lot of the banter being aired. Throw in a couple of cheesy Bollywood songs, and I was all mellowed out. A fact that was not lost on Bunty.
We did end up talking a little, and I told him I am from Mumbai. He asked how many years I had lived there, which struck me as odd initially. Why would he assume I wasn’t from there altogether? A question that was rapidly answered, when I said I am a South Indian: half Malayali-half Marathi. His reaction was, and I’m paraphrasing a little here because it was in Hindi: “WHAT?! Please don’t mind me saying so, but you look like a total sardarni! From head to foot, you would fit in any group of sardarnis.”
I was not entirely surprised because a lot of people have said I look like a Punjabi; but this was the first time an actual sardar said so. He apologised profusely, which wasn’t necessary at all, because what was offensive about a remark like that? I assured him that I was indeed a true South Indian, even though I mentally deducted points for not speaking a lick of Malayalam. And this conversation continued on, with him telling me that he felt he could speak to me in Punjabi and I would understand. The guy was lonely or emotional or pining for something, and I didn’t want to find out what.
I was profoundly relieved when I finally reached the hotel, and I wished him well. And his two sons in Amritsar, and his family. And for his quest to move to Mumbai to find work to support said family. I also agreed that I would call him should I need the slightest thing. And yes, I had his number. And absolutely was sure that I didn’t need help carrying my suitcase to my room. And thank you very much Bunty. BYE.
The postscript to this was quite funny too. I had dressed for the sangeet in a sari, and I happened to walk past Bunty. I smiled at him, but he didn’t recognise me from earlier that day. Possibly I look less sardarni in such a quintessentially South Indian outfit.