Monday, August 14, 2006

Slice of Life

The time is a little after 10 pm on a weekday. I am standing behind Lilvathi Hospital near Bandra Reclamation. The sky is hidden behind a cover of thick, dark clouds. Blackest black. No stars shine through. Not one little pinprick of interstellar cheer. I look to my right and see the red lights of the car fade, thin and then dissappear as the car turns around the corner and zips past the Barista outlet. My friend was going back home after an exhausting day at work and he had graciously agreed to drop me behind the hospital. I stepped out of the car near the HDFC ATM. We bid farewell and he pulled away his shoulders slumped and eyes drooping. He works too much, I thought. But then he has an Accent.

I withdrew some money and grimly waited for the machine to spit out the piece of waxy paper with my account balance printed on it. I read, frowned, crumpled, binned and stepped out. Next move: Catch an auto to Santa Cruz. My grandparents were expecting me for dinner. I looked at my watch. It was getting very late and I would definitely end up waking them up from bed. The society locked their gate up at night instead of hiring a watchman and my grandfather would have to stumble his way down to unlock the wrought iron gates. Sigh.

There was an auto parked outside the ATM. The driver slumped in his seat, his head resting on the back rest. A thin little man with a permanent sneer on his face rolled up in crumpled khakhi. The uniform was several sizes too large for him, the shirt bunched up in large folds around him. His feet stuck out of the auto pointing up at the sombre sky.

"Hmm..." The noise came from somewhere deep within him. From his belly perhaps. It rolled and rumbled up his throat. He tilted his head a mere one-thousandth of a degree to the left. He looked at me through the corner of one single eye. I perked up.
"Kalina jhaaoge?"
"Hmm...?" Same deep rumble. But his left eyebrow moved up a picometer.  He sought clarification.
"Kalina. C.S.T Road..." He had to be interested, I pondered. It was a healthy thirty or forty buck trip. Down the road, around Lilavathi and back up the flyover to the highway. Surely not too close.
"C.S.T. Road? Hmm... Kahaan?"
I readjusted the strap of my laptop on my shoulder uncomfortably.
I see. One of those intellectual auto drivers. The type who seemed to be stuck driving autos while they really wanted to be poets or artists and the like. The ones who were choosy about their trips. I had met the type before. Outside my old office building in BKC. Nothing short of a Mira Road or Bhayander would make them even budge from their slump.
(Henceforth the conversation will be transcribed in English. In public interest only.)
"C.S.T. Road jee. Near the signal when you come down the road from Hyatt."
"Hyatt? The one near the airport?"
"No. The one near Kalina. The big one. Off the highway."
"There are two Hyatts?"
"Yes. I want to go to the one near Kalina."
"Any landmark near there?"
I thought. Of course. I have been an idiot.
"Elder brother my destination is bang opposite the gate to the University."
He sat up a fraction of an inch.
"University? That is in South..."
"No brother. The one in Kalina. Near Hyatt. On C.S.T. Road. I know the way."
He looked into the distance.
"I have been there many times. Never seen this University gate. This hotel is big?"
By now I was sure I would have to guide him every twist and turn of the way to my grandparents' place.


The minutes ticked away. They would be most displeased! I looked up and down the road. Not a person in site. Not one auto. There was a taxi. But not with that bank account. Unaffordable.
"Brother. I know the way from here. Perfectly."
"Oh. Ok. How do you go normally?"
"From here back to the highway over the flyover. Then turn off at Hyatt and down to the signal. It is just near the signal."
"You can go through BKC also no?"
"Yes that is also equally far away. Not much difference."
"So let us go then?"
(Back to Hindi)
"Nahi saab. Passenger hai. Main waiting kar raha hoon..." He pointed at the meter. It was down.

I seethed. I could have head-butted him in the chest just then. But then being the resilient mumbaikar that I am, the one with the indomitable spirit and the limitless ability to bounce back from adversity I stepped back, smiled to myself  and walked away.

I got another auto after twenty minutes. I was still smiling when I reached Kalina.


scarecrow said...

Zidane would have been proud of u, alas, u missed the chance..

അരവിന്ദ് :: aravind said...

Somehow its obvious in this post that you made up this story.
The conversation between you and the autowallah..hmmm...looks artificial.

Nice post, neverthless.

Nazim.k said...

Gud post. Well, I reside a stone's throw from Kalina University, and not knowing Hyatt, the auto-ric guy seemeed from Mars (considering he commutes in the same area). Wud love to see you do a Zidane. :)

Anonymous said...

Hilarious :)

sanchapanzo said...

But then being the resilient mumbaikar that I am, the one with the indomitable spirit and the limitless ability to bounce back from adversity I stepped back, smiled to myself and walked away.

nice one..

guess, since everyone overuses these words/phrases(resilient or indomitable spirit or bounce back from adversity), somehow i started hating those words :-(

sopeti said...

yAs usual, Good one :)

dharmu said...

good read wiht kahani mein twist!


Differently Challenged said...

not what we have come to expect from you. Have u been saving the funny ones for you book?

silverine said...

Dexterously crafted the entire 'mumbaikar spirit' into the narration so well...kudos...exceptional writing.

cocaynne said...

Sidin-edine Zidane
Good writing(as usual).

Anonymous said...

This is business as usual !
but ,autohwallah at his best !!!!!!!


Sunita said...

I know, thatz so irritating. Generally happens to me when I call the bank for some stuff ..... they will ask you so many questions just excluding details about which extinct being did you inherit and validate your identity and then go "Madam you need to visit your branch to...." (So then why the hell were you asking me those umpteen questions you fool &^%^&%^&)

Riggy said...

Patience, thy name is Sidin!

Scarecrow & Cocaynne, you took the words out of my mouth @ Zizou.

Why kiss and make up when you can diss and rake up?

Bharat Jhurani said...

tht is the spirit of Mumbai.. some ppl hav no time 4 thers, while some jest their way all thru...

Sameera said...

i love ur style boss!
such a simple incident...
i read it with the impatience of reading or rathre watching a ghost story

awesome stuff

Anonymous said...

I wana b!tch slap all mumbaikars for using the term "resilient" to justify all that is wrong with Mumbai..the term resilient is oft used as an excuse and nobody tries to improve the sh!thole that mumbai has become..unfortunately the same goes for this blogger..!!

Spock said...

well written! i was surprised no blogger has hooked onto the head butt puns yet.

Mind Curry said...

lol..that was too good..i am still smiling too..exceptional writing!

arun said...

i'm a relatively new sidin fan.
had signed up for ur posts by mail.
and boy am i dissapointed to find that the post reaches my inbox after an eternity after t'was actually posted and a hajaar comments r already inplace??

can u do somethin' so that it reaches the same day at the very least???

vipin said...

not a word against the autowallahs bhaisaab they are nice ppl...

u clearly havent left ur laptop in an auto and so havent known the joy of being given it back by the chap... AND GUESS WHAT, ON RETURNING HE NOT ONLY POCKETED 200 BUCKS BUT ALSO CHEWED MY BRAIN AND LEARNT HALF OF MS OFFICE ON MY LAPPIE

Anonymous said...

:) beautiful!

- Kamal

VAC said...

Looks like u ve made up this one. Nevertheless worth the read. But this piece is rungs below the standard u have set for urself...

Btw looking forward to the book.. All the best for its launch...

Rajeev said...

Purrfectly made up story..

Sudha said...

... being the resilient mumbaikar that I am, the one with the indomitable spirit and the limitless ability to bounce back from adversity I stepped back ...
Absolutely priceless!!!

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