Maybe It Is You?

I have the fortune to live in a city with a multitude of affordable (relatively) travel options. One of these is sharing taxicabs; Uber Pool and the Indian avatar of this, Ola Share. In addition to the latter being cheaper (and available in my home area which Uber Pool is not), it has these share passes, which fixes a flat rate for rides of a certain distance. All this guff essentially means I travel in unprecedented luxury, as compared to my earlier, train-bound commutes.

Now, sharing a cab with other passengers, not to mention the driver, can be quite the experience. For about 45 minutes every morning and every evening, my life intersects with some strange characters. Today was no exception.

[Side note: I try very hard not to outright judge people, but my mind does tend to give them elaborate stories and personalities. Call it a writer’s quirk.]

A middle-aged man entered the cab after I did this morning. He appeared to be the kind of person who is perennially upset about some issue or the other. You know the kind: unsatisfied, twitchy, and cantankerous. For the first 5 minutes, he didn’t do much, apart from fidget in his seat, fuss about with a water bottle, and generally make himself comfortable. But after that.. hooboy.

First, he started facepalming. And I don’t mean the gentle tapping of one’s forehead in an oops sort of way, but a full blown lament which invited the very real risk of brain damage. He had forgotten something, and his phone was being spectacularly useless at coming to his aid. He was searching for someone’s contact, and it just wasn’t there. Useless piece of junk.

Then, he calls his wife [as I learned later], to ask her to call this all important individual. Sadly, she cannot hear him, so he puts the call on speaker. Now the driver and I can hear her quite clearly, but he still claims she is practically inaudible. Right, a hearing-challenged person too.

He proceeds to tell her to call the individual, and instruct them. To which his wife irascibly replies, “You left the house without telling me!” Monsieur was irritated by this out-of-syllabus remark, “Don’t ask me questions, when I am telling you to do something.” She grunted, but the “Fuck you!” was implicit in her silence.

He went back to querulously telling her to call someone, and to give that person instructions about food for his mother [who presumably stays with them]. She is in a sour mood herself, so she says, “Tell me what to say to him.” “Say anything,” he yelps. “Fine, I will tell him to do what he wants. I take it you don’t want dinner this evening? Don’t complain later on then!” And so on, back and forth. I don’t want to rehash this highly boring conversation between the miserable couple.

However, his Parthian shot was quite something: “Behave well with your husband!” She didn’t quite catch it, as it was half muttered, so he just disconnected the call. And proceeded to call her names. All this took place in Marathi, and the curses were in Marathi too: “Nalayak bai!” and “Haramkhor!” and so on.

Edifying.

I usually find the rides quite comfortable and relaxing, but today I wanted to bolt. This horrible little man and his horrid little life were poisonous enough to infect my mood. Eugh.

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.