Must Be Famous

There is a new moniker I’ve earned from my frequent Facebook about the crazy people I meet on a practically daily basis. I’ve shared once before about a Romeo and Juliet cab ride, so this is an episode 2 to the ongoing hilarity that is shared cab land.

Yesterday, I had the misfortune to be stuck in a cab with a driver who knew very little about the city’s roads. He was following the navigation on the dashboard, and therefore came to a standstill near a pickup. The following conversation ensued:

Driver calls the passenger: “Sir, where are you? I am at the pickup point.”

Customer evidently asks for a landmark; not an unreasonable request.

Driver, ignoring a huge bank, a large shopping complex, a few branded restaurants, and much more, says: “Sahara airconditioner repair. I am on the opposite side.”

In sheer amazement, I turn to look for this repair shop, only to see a tiny tin shack with a flimsy board, without a door, on the opposite side. This is what he chose as a landmark?

Surprisingly, the customer was not familiar with this tiny, blink-and-miss tin shack. Shocking, I know.

Then the customer says something, which I can’t hear, to which the driver says:

“No sir, I don’t know the plot number.”

The two clearly deserve each other.

Epilogue: The driver tsk-tsk’ed at a passerby, who came up to his door. He then handed the phone to the passerby, who took it bemusedly, and said: “Who is on the other line?”

The driver then said that it was a passenger who was lost. That’s right folks, the PASSENGER was lost, not the driver.

Moron magnet, someone called me. Of course.

Drinking Habits

I sometimes wonder where I get my idiotic sense of humour from, but then I remember some of the things my mother says to me (and some of the things my father has done) and I am no longer surprised. Case in point:

I was chatting with mom about a container of soup I have ordered for lunch, but can’t finish. She suggests I bring it home, to which I demurred, because the container is of the flimsy plastic variety, and there are good chances that it will spill. To which my brilliant mother says:

“Why will it spill? Are you drunk?”

Right. 3 reasons why this is crazy:

  1. I am a teetotaller; a fact she knows very well, being one herself.
  2. It is the middle of the afternoon.
  3. I am at WORK. In an OFFICE. With OTHER people.

Yep.

When Bollywood and Cab Companies Collide

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.

Payment Terms

I thought I knew all my parents’ stories, because to be fair, I have heard them many times over. It is a source of constant joy, as I think of them coming terms with the world as rather adorable. Neither of them spared themselves or their pride in the retelling, so the piquancy of each tale has lasted.

So when I heard a new story about my dad a few days ago, I was really thrilled.

When he was working in Goa as a hotel general manager, he had a trusted lieutenant in the form of his HR manager, AM. AM, in turn, had immeasurable regard for my father and, since his passing, has kept in touch with my mother regularly. My father had only praise for this younger person, and always said he would go far.

A few days ago, AM messaged my mom to express how much he missed my father and his stewardship. He stressed on how much he learned, just by being with my father, and he narrated a tale to that effect.

One evening, a security guard was yelled at and slightly roughed up by some of the hotel guests or surrounding taxi drivers. He was understandably upset, and marched off to the HR manager to lodge a complaint. My father called him into his office, offered him a seat and a glass of water, and asked him what had transpired.

The security guard went into a harangue against all and sundry. Once he had quietened down a little, my father asked him what his name was. He replied: Namdev. Next: what is your salary, Namdev?

AM, in his retelling, said that he was in shock when he heard this question. What was the GM up to?

The guard went very quiet. My father asked again: what is your salary Namdev?

15000, he replied.

And what does a guard usually get paid?

5000, he replied.

That’s right. This is a difficult business [the hotel had a casino attached, although my father had nothing to do with that part of the business], and there are going to be upsets. We will take action as necessary, however the fact is that we pay extra because being a guard here is difficult.

“You get 5000 to be a guard. And 10000 to take shit.”

I was so flabbergasted on hearing this story. My father was a practical man, but he had a very kind heart. But above all, he had charm and humour oozing out of every pore. I was stunned when AM said that the guard nodded and left without further discussion.

Apparently, I haven’t heard everything.

Chocolate, Please?

I shouldn’t be surprised by now, when something out of the ordinary happens to me. But then again, a renewed sense of wonder is not a bad thing at all.

A few months ago, mum and I were at our neighbourhood tailor. We had some clothes that needed adjusting: a seam needed taking in, some buttonholes needed to be made, and so on. I happened to be chewing on a bit of candy, Pulse, at the time. I love Pulse candy, especially the raw mango one with the spicy powder centre. [Here is the craptastic page on the company site with a better description.]

In our family, there is a tradition: one never eats alone. So, as per tradition, I offered the tailor and the two other people in his kiosk a piece of candy each. To my mild surprise, they accepted. [Generally, orthodox Muslims do not accept food or drink from Hindus. I guess they weren’t that orthodox. Also, rarely does someone from the service stratum accept food from me. I am not being classist. Just an observation. Never stopped me from offering at any rate.]

Anyway, this evening mum and I had some more work at the tailor’s. We handed over the top, and he asked us to pass by again in 15 minutes to collect it. Sure thing, and we sauntered off.

On our return, I ask him for the top. He then silently hands the bag to me. As my mum is checking it out, I ask him how much I owed him. After paying him, I was putting my wallet into my bag. And he says:

Tailor: “Madam, you don’t carry chocolate around with you any more? That day you had some with you. It was really very nice!”

I was so surprised at this, because even though I have been friendly with the dude, he has rarely responded in kind. I wouldn’t say he was surly, just uncommunicative.

So this salvo was entirely out of the left field. I blinked in surprise, and laughed a little. My mum was also very amused, and she suggested I get the sweets from a neighbouring kiosk. I trotted off and bought a few for him.

I came back, and poured 10 candies into his hands, and he laughed saying he didn’t want so many. I took one, and told him to keep the rest. It was a pleasant, light-hearted moment, and it made me feel really good.

As we walked away, my mum started chuckling. When I asked her why, she said that he was surprised that the sweets were available here in India. He had thought they were ‘imported’.

Another nut, who despite seeing me practically every few weeks, thinks I am from abroad. And I speak to him in HINDI!

English Mem Desi Babu

Waiting at Dadar station with mum, minding my own business, when:

Random guy next to me: “Is this your first visit to India?”
Me (replying because I am a slave to my love of absurdity): “Um no. I live here.”
Rando: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Mumbai.”
Rando: “Nonono. From from?!”
Me (desperately trying not to laugh): “Well I’m half Malayali and half Maharashtrian, so I guess India?”
Rando: “Oh! You are Indian only! Then why is everyone staring at you while passing?”
Me: “People who stare have very little work.”

Well, that was fun. And I was a little overdue for weirdness anyway.

[Title is a reference to a Bollywood movie from the 90s. Although, in that movie the couple end up together. In my case, I ended up with a hearty chuckle.]

Attempted Homicide

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love horror movies even though they scare me A LOT. I thus have a few criteria that need to be observed:

  1. No watching at night. [I used to do this, because ambience, and gave myself nightmares AND night terrors.]
  2. No watching when I’m alone at home. [Every sound is terrifying. Everything creaks. There are ghosts and beasties everywhere. FACT.]
  3. No getting disturbed while watching. [Why don’t you just kill me with a knife? Less painful.]

It is a very simple set of rules, which my mother well knows. After a great deal of procrastination, I fired up The Conjuring on Netflix one afternoon. My aunt was over, so she and mom were chatting in the living room. In eye sight.

I plugged my ears, because I live in Mumbai and the traffic drowns out everything. Nothing is scary when some idiot honks all the way down the street. Those are times you kind of wish you could set a ghostie on the idiot any way.

I was well into the second half of the movie, and the reveals were coming in thick and fast. My heart was beating hard, and I closed my eyes at many instances. That’s the moment my mother chose to tap on my shoulder.

It is a wonder I am alive to tell the tale.