Friday, May 22, 2009

Encounter in a Taxi Cab!

Last night I returned from my trip to Madras after an unexpectedly long stay away (I thought I'd be away at most a week). Usually, the trip from the airport is nothing more than a reminder of what demonic heat feels like but last night's trip was a different -- in a NICE way for once!

I had got my usual prepaid-taxi vouchers, had wandered up to the pick-up point, was assigned #12 -- fought off the six or seven weasels who were attempting to jump ahead of me in the queue -- and got into the cab.

Young driver. When he asked me for my name so that he could convey it to the policemen at the check-point (... for those of you who don't travel to Delhi by air, this is a service which is meant to prevent attacks on travellers who happen to sit in a vehicle driven by a murder/rapist -- in the event of a crime, the police will at least have some ideas where to start looking. Or anyway, that's the theory), and I said my surname, he mangled it so badly that I began to laugh. Anyway, one thing led to another and as we were chatting, he happened to ask me which was better, Delhi or Bombay. I said "Bombay" of course(ha! No brainer!).

This news caused him such sorrow that he was obliged to tell me a story which might named The Parable Of The Honourable Cabbie.

(this is a free translation, based on my extremely sketchy grasp of Hindi and his several excursions into English)

"Some months ago, I was at the domestic terminal," he said, "and there was a passenger there who was stranded. Seemed to me, he was some Foreign Airline Person, but an Indian. So I asked him where he wanted to go and he said, 'International Terminal'. And none of the other cabbies would take him, because of course we all want to go only to the city.

"But I said, 'Chalo -- I'll take you.' He asked me what it would cost him and I said, 'What are you prepared to give?' and he said, 'Ten'. So I said, 'Okay, I'll take you there for ten.'"

Those of you reading this who have any familiarity with Delhi will know that we are already approaching the Heavenly Realm of Cabbie Behavior with this response. Anyway. To continue ...

"So then I took him to the International Terminal, and we talked all the way and he seemed very happy with me. So when he got down, he gave me 10 ... TEN US DOLLARS that is!! And he also asked me for my telephone number. So when I told him I didn't have a phone, he gave me an additional FIFTY US DOLLARS and told me which phone to buy -- this is the phone -- and it costs Rs 12000!"

Here he waved the phone in the air -- I didn't examine it carefully in case I died of terminal phone-envy (yes, I have a small problem in this arena) -- but I had noticed him talking on a phone with a very fancy ringtone earlier in the ride. Of course almost all entities with opposable thumbs have cellphones these days, so it doesn't necessarily mean very much. But STILL. To continue ...

"And he gave me his number. And since then he has come back to Delhi a few times, and taken me out to dinner -- I had never before in my life been inside a five star hotel, but now I've eaten three times in the Maurya, the Taj and the Oberoi ..."

He seemed genuinely delighted and needless to say, I was as pleased to hear this story as he was, telling it to me. Of course, I could not help pointing out that the reason the Stranded Passenger was so exceptionally grateful was that he had after all BEEN STRANDED to begin with and that by showing sympathy, this cabbie had proven that he was not only entirely deserving of his good fortune, but perhaps an avatar of some yet-to-be-identified divinity. He told me that he knew that Delhi had a terrible reputation and therefore he was doing his own little bit to redress the balance!

I gave him the usual fifty rupee tip I always give prepaid cabbies and I also resisted the urge to take his number down. I'd prefer to think he'll be out there, a little Rogue Saint roaming the streets all on his own without me or anyone else tracking him down and flooding him with celebrity attention. May the Force be with him.

And now, onward to something very different: an Online Jukebox sent to me by (who else?) My Friend Anvar. These links will take you to a website called
UPCHUCKY, where each year is represented by twenty hit songs from that era. Kind of fun! Anvar sent me the whole list of links from the fifties to the nineties, but I'm only posting these few here and leaving the rest for you to research on your own:


Happy listening!


gt said...

ms. mp - of course as a member of the "other side", namely clean green and honourable, u rightly have the half full optimistic view of the bottle. however us denizens of the other, other side namely the half empty bottle view are glad to note that you did not take h'norable cabbie's number ..... as i suspect its his pitch to snare in young attractive international customers into his clientele. i say this only because i have actually been told a similar story by a friend in bombay (yes when it was still called that!) also note 50 dollars is quite a weird number to pull out since 10 dollar bills are quite a rarity these days - especially when you travel. $40 or $60 would have been more convincing and i doubt any indian is going to blurt out "ten" as a price and not say dollars if he meant it. also, not meaning to sound snobbish here - but can you really imagine the cabbie cat trying to sit in oberoi for dinner with his benefactor? i think the gent (which is where he probably belongs - "gents") was checking out your bearings and upon realising that you were a bombay babe, struggling with hindi, he tried pulling a fast one on you to see what kind of additional funds he could snare out since its a prepaid cab he has no other recourse. good thing you didn't try to get further contacts established. i could be wrong but better that than being sorry,,,,gt

Marginalien said...

Well now! Seeing as I have lived a fair long time in this glorious capital city and have "enjoyed" my full share of enCONters, I am actually relieved by your analysis ... Why? Coz I was inclined to add a comment about the little snickering demon sitting on my left shoulder throughout the recital -- but I suppressed the demon on account of not wanting to reveal that for some time now the bottle has pretty much been running on full-empty. Tx for your reality cheque!! (pun intended) The only sign that I have actually become someone different to my Bombay self is that I didn't feel guilty about harbouring uncharitable thoughts -- and I didn't tip him any more than I always do.

I won't claim I didn't believe him at the time -- I carry around dollar bills in odd denominations so that didn't surprise me -- but I just found it curious that he had a story ready to tell me about his philanthropic tendencies in response to my low opinion of Delhirium. It was a little too pat. But that only occurred to me later on. At the time, I thought, "What a cool guy! But of course he's a total freak of nature, so he only confirms what we all know about this sector of Mordor we call home -- i.e., that it is a nest of mendacious vipers second to none." Then my thoughts turned to the benefactor and once more the little demon on my shoulder leered and snickered. So I figured our young cabbie had maybe edited his story for innocent audiences.

Then I gave myself a mental slap myself on the wrist and got out at my stop.