Friday, October 21, 2011

More conversations with cabbies

As we travel into town on an uncharacteristically quiet Sunday evening, the Bangalore roads are relatively traffic free, but the driver of the Meru cab decides to take me by the "easy route" where we will drive uninterrupted by traffic lights. He swings off the four lane highway into a quiet side street that seems to go on and on in the darkness, and I am beginning to wonder if I should have insisted on the bright lights of the main road. But just as my anxiety is beginning to take a dangerous turn, he points out to me a looming wall on my left. It is very high, and soon we come to a pair of massive gates that seem to hide something very important inside. "That's YSR's son's house," the driver notes. "Jagan. That's where he stays when he comes to Bangalore. He owns this whole stretch of land." I made suitably amazed-disbelieving-indignant sounding noises. Just enough to make him go on. "I once took a passenger in there, he was a guest of YSR's, when he was still alive." He went on to talk about how he ended up staying with the guest for his entire visit, driving him around town, being served his meals at the mansion in between. A veritable palace inside those high walls, it seems. You must meet some interesting people, I say, warming up to what promises to be a good way to keep my mind of the long, dark, unfamiliar road. But he was right, we haven't seen a single traffic signal. No traffic to signal.

I learn about the economics of running a Meru cab (Rs 1100 per day goes to the company for use of the cab and their GPS tracking services; he makes around Rs 300 to 500 a day after dues have been paid; no work, no profit, only dues) and the system of quality control (speed violations are recorded immediately, as are any complaints from clients). But there are unexpected bonuses. Mahesh recounts how he had done dedicated duty for a Dutch software professional who was in the city for two days and liked the fact that he spoke English (he was delighted to speak with me in Telugu). When she returned to Bangalore 3 years later she tracked him down (despite the fact that he had switched vehicles). He had forgotten her and wondered who this foreigner was who had asked for him, specifically. Of course, when he met her he remembered having driven her around. When she left, she took him to a Raymond's store and bought him a suit length. "I had never in my life gone into a store like that," he told me.

The next morning I was in another Meru cab, with Santosh, who had been caught in the melee the previous day when thousands of people thronged the streets to catch a glimpse of the Tamil actor Vijay, hailed as the next Ranjnikanth, who was in Bangalore to open a jewelry store near Commercial Street. "It was crazy, people were climbing over cars to see him--and he was here for barely five minutes. I thought my vehicle was going to be damaged," recalls Santosh.

You just never know where the next story awaits you. Sometimes on long dark stretches of road where the conversation lights up the lonely miles. Or on an early morning drive that would have been otherwise occupied by anxious wonderings about the workshop ahead.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Class struggle

Sometimes, when the students in my writing class toil over their assignment (though toil may be an extreme description of the level of engagement, sometimes!), I decide to take a mental walk with my own words. A couple of weeks ago, this is what resulted:

You walk in,
the world on your shoulders
and in the undependable ink
of the whiteboard marker,
you're ready to deliver it,
spell it out,
and analyze it,
so that they can pick up the pieces
and fit them into a jigsaw
of their own desires
and motivations
(parentally fed/denied/rebelled against).
There are alternative words
for ambition
that escape you,
as your gaze flits
from furrowed brow
to glazed eye
to drumming fingers
and snapping ball point pens.
Perhaps that's too strong a description
for this pressure--
a heavy, blanketing, blinkering
they wear to the classroom.
The world stays on my shoulder
but it feels different,
lighter, made less serious
by the skeptical minds
that have beheld it
for the better part
of two hours.

22 September 2011