We had the first bout of rain last night. Once upon a time, I’m told the monsoon used to come to Mumbai on June 10 with the regularity of a cuckoo clock. It’s become less punctual over the years and this lack of punctuality has given rise to what is rumoured to be a $2.5 billion betting market (but since I read this in the Times of India, I’d say it’s probably a couple of million dollars; still huge). I don’t know who made real money yesterday with the rains coming a week before schedule but I reached home feeling like I’d won the lottery. And all because of sex.

(I pondered about whether to use the s-word in this blog, fearing an onslaught of spam powered by Viagra. Then I looked at the admin page of this blog which tells me that most people seem to inexplicably reach my blog by putting phrases like “wet sari” and “mallu aunty” in Google so why be coy?)

So, it was a dark and stormy night. The roads were wet. The sky was red with clouds. I walked out of work at the wee-ish hour of the night with a male colleague. There’s a gaggle of taxis that stand outside our office who have become familiars since most of us have no life and stay at work for obscenely long hours. When we stagger out, they drop us home. It’s generally a silent ride (though there have been occasions when the taxi driver has chatted with me. This is how I know two ex-colleagues were dating and used to have furious fights in the back of the taxis; and that all the drivers think my boss, with his pitiful grasp over Hindi, is an Arab from Dubai who is using a fake Hindu name rather than being a Bandra boy with his feet deeply rooted in the cracked pavements of this city).

Yesterday, until I dropped my colleague, it was quiet enough. Once I had dropped him, I was about to put on my ipod but never got beyond sticking in one earphone because a) I realised his right hand has stumps for fingers which basically means he drives with one hand, and b) the following conversation ensued:

Cabbie: Are you from Delhi?

Me: Er, yes. (I’m not really but I was born there and at that point, I was more interested in “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” than conversation with Cabbie.)

Cabbie: So where does your man live? (In Hindi, there is a phrase “aapka aadmi” which literally translates to “your man” and means your significant male other.)

Me: Umm, with me. A little bit further down the road.

Cabbie: Then why did he get off?

(Insert sputtering noises as I realise the Cabbie thought colleague was boyfriend.)

Me: No, no. He’s not my boyfriend. He’s like my brother. We work together.

Cabbie: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. So do you live here as well or are you visiting your man?

Me: I’m married. We live here.

Cabbie: That’s nice! How long have you been married?

Me: Almost three years.

Cabbie: Do you have children?

Me: No.

Cabbie: There’s no rush, is there? We tend to rush things, you know, because it just, well. It just ends up happening.

Me: Do you have children?

Cabbie: I have a son. I’d like a daughter but not right now. (Pause) Can I ask you something, if you don’t mind? It’s rather delicate.

Me: Er, sure.

Cabbie: So I’m going to be going to my village soon. I have family there, you know. My wife is there. So I was wondering what medication there is to not, you know, have a child.

Me: Oh. Well, yes, of course there is.

Cabbie: It won’t do anything bad to her?

Me: No, no. There’s Mala-D. It’s easily available and not too expensive. It’s very good. (Mala-D is the contraceptive that the government has been advertising for years now and it’s supposed to be distributed at medical centres all over the country. Not generally used by those of us in the higher-earning bracket)

Cabbie: What do you use?

Me: Er, the same. (That urban marriage is the best contraceptive is something that I didn’t quite want to get into.)

Cabbie: You use it, right? It’s not a matter of cost.

Me: It’s totally safe.

Cabbie: And it works?

Me: Yes.

Cabbie: It’s just that I’m going to the village and, well, there’s going to be some josh. (Josh is a Hindi word that means vigorous gusto, spirited enthusiasm… you get the idea.)

Me: Er, yes.

Cabbie: But I don’t want there to be news a couple of months down the line. You know, because for the next few years, I just want things how they are. Raise my son and then hopefully, we’ll have a daughter. So I want to be sure.

Me: Well, the best way to make sure is for you to use a condom.

Cabbie: I know. But it just doesn’t work as well with a condom. (What he said in Hindi was, “Par condom-se thik jamta nahin hain” which literally translates to “It doesn’t stick properly with a condom.” Genius phrase, “jamta nahin hain”). You know what I’m saying.

Me: Actually I don’t since I’m not the one who’s ever worn a condom.

Cabbie: That’s true. But it just doesn’t feel as good and I’ve tried the expensive ones also. Doesn’t it feel different for you? My wife says it does.

We reached my home at this point. The neon lights atop the gates to my apartment building shone on his face and suddenly he was very bashful. I aimed at normalcy and asked how much the fare was. He said I could give him whatever I wanted; it was the least he could do for having bored me with all this embarrassing talk. I didn’t know how to tell him how touched I was that he had picked me as confidante (was it because I’d said I was from Delhi?). Every other person I meet talks about the divide between rich and poor India, about how the poor are illiterate, unthinking and riddled with superstition and conservatism. Most of these people sip Bellinis at posh bars and their knowledge of “the real India” is what the media reports to them. They haven’t been outside the cities; they only notice the people who make for good anecdotes or who belong to the same familiar, rarified strata of posh India. But they’ve decided that this country is going to the dogs because the bulk of the country is supposedly in the dark ages.

My cab driver is proof that this country isn’t riddled with idiots at whom those with foreign accents and education can sneer. That despite all that is wrong in this country, there are some things that are right or at least getting there. Plus, he gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. Despite my cigarettes, tattoo, rage at the Indian politics, sense of despairing alienation every time I turn on the TV and my fragile grasp over the country’s national language, he made me feel like I belong.

17 thoughts on “Talk to her

  1. that was quite a sweet episode 🙂

    and having your monsoon blurries as an illustration doesn’t hurt either 🙂

  2. Pingback: Sex education for cab drivers | DesiPundit

  3. Nice post and actually a very absurd incident.
    I mean how many people would answer this guys’ questions which are certainly quite embarrassing if they’re coming from a cabbie of all people.To make matters trickier,he asked a lady instead of a guy.Although I admire your sensibility towards the issue and the way you answered his questions.I hope more men like him follow suit and think of keeping population in check before getting the extra “josh”.

  4. Hmmm.. quite odd to say the least…Though would appreciate you being quite oen about talking on it and that too with an unknown person. Appreciate this on your part!!

    And ya just wish that more and mroe people in that segment start thinking about things like that instead of just giving into josh

  5. Lekhni, you and me both. 😀

    I have, of course, since not seen him around since. Maybe he’s gone to his village. On a serious note, what worries me is whether Mala-D is actually easily available in the rural areas, or anywhere for that matter (it IS a government product, after all). I made him a suggestion on the basis of what I remember of public service broadcasting from ages back. Perhaps I should have given him the name of a contraceptive he can get in the city, rather than make decisions about what he should buy for him and assuming what he can or wants to afford. *sigh….

  6. What a wonderful post!

    I especially like the way you use dialogue. Do you write screenplays by any chance?

    And that wonderful sentence: “…urban marriage is the best contraceptive is something that I didn’t quite want to get into..”

    Really enjoyed reading your post!

  7. some of them actually listen. I once had an auto driver listening to really loud music through the ear phones of a MP3 player. When I politely informed him that he is going to be deaf real soon, he looked very grim and admitted another customer had told the same thing. And had a long discussion on how much would be optimal listening time and volume.

  8. I really like your website, it’s profoundly edifying as far as political commentary goes. I think we share the same political inclinations, and I loooved your rant against Anand Girdhardas. A patronizing, petty man, I’m sure. Even though the catty investigative journalism was less heartwarming (the notion that his poison pen actually stems from an inability to break into the country club circle). Dude, it was catty. And I’m pointing that out cause I like your style (sometimes).

    And, I wonder whether we’re dividing the smaller percent into an even smaller percent while criticizing the ‘elite’, a pointless endeavor if there ever was one. Who are these Bellini sipping country clubbers (and what the heck is Bellini?), that speak with posh accents and deride the unwashed masses? I think it’s a pointless label. And a straw man to boot. Indian journalism seems replete with this sort of churlishly divisive portrayals to nimbly skirt the real issue – us.

    There’s much that is repulsive in us – the more liberal, self aware, ironic Vampire Weekend listening, Jim Jarmusch referencing quasi hipsterish, supposed middle class (I’m told there are no real hipsters in India) who by default retain many of the same flaws and insecurities, thus assuredly and complacently reinforcing the status quo.

    I really hope you don’t feel persecuted. And I feel terrible because Internet anonymity bums me out. i wish we could talk about all of these things in person, and I’m pretty sure we’d both be on the same page, and nothing would really change an iota, in the great scheme of things. I’m going to stop stalking you now.

    • Ok, first let me try to answer the two questions in the order they appear.

      The Bellini country clubbers are usually found in the Willingdon Club and the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, aside from other posh south Mumbai locations. To my experience, they belong to the 25 years to 80 years age group.

      The Bellini is a cocktail. Prosecco and peach purée, if I’m not mistaken, although the version that you get here is mostly a fizzy white with orange juice.

      Now for the responses:

      Thank you, I think. I’m not sure that the “edifying” isn’t being served with sarcasm but what the heck, it’s the festive weekend. Let’s just spread goodwill and all that.

      Honestly, I can’t remember what I wrote about Anand G and I’ll be damned if I rifle through the pages to find it. Everything on this blog has been written on the spur of the moment because the whole point of this blog was that I wouldn’t have to edit. Most would benefit from a re-read but I’m also quite certain that if I re-read, I’d probably be struck with the good sense to not post most of my rants. Anyway, the point is that they’re all written on the fly and little of what I write actually stays on in my memory, which is pretty badly wired to begin with.

      No, they’re not straw men. They may at times be like the hollow men but they’re not scarecrows.

      Persecuted? Because I listen to VW and have been known to knock back a Bellini or two? Or because you’ve commented? Because the first I enjoy and the latter is much appreciated. So no, I don’t feel persecuted. As for being on the same page, every time you visit this blog, we are literally on the same page.

  9. Haha, be assured, I wasn’t being ironic. That was pretty self explanatory and sincere, I thought. But yeah the two dimensional written word often gets misconstrued. It’s hard to italicize, highlight, etc to emulate conversational tonality. I do like your political commentary. Very snarky and pithy sign off btw, very nice.

    I was hoping you wouldn’t take it as a personal attack, and it really wasn’t, in spirit. I guess it was more of an invective directed towards the average anglicized urban Indian (hardly a homogenous group, I know) who are like borderline bourgie, but not all the way upper echelon. I’m sure I fall somewhere in that spectrum myself.

    I think demonizing the chattering upper classes is a project that can only be described as a colossal straw man erection (please don’t be snarky, I beg you). What does one hope to achieve by doing this? Underscore that the nobility is effette? That one day we shall storm the metaphorical Bastille and dunk their silly little heads in vats of Bellini?

    Again, I repeat, the problem lies with us, a solipsistic crew who are vaguely morally repressed in our little embedded social rituals, among other things. What proportion of liberal, educated, anglcized middle class folks marry or get involved with folks from the SC/ST community? How many still thumb their noses at blue collar professions? I just think it’s a little disingenuous to charge the upper classes for maligning or not fraternizing with lower income groups, and being all self congratulatory while doing more or less the exact same things ourselves, or perpetuating institutional cycles promoting the said status quo. Allow me come out of the meta-closet and make clear my sense of disenfranchisement with anglicized urban Indians regardless of orientation or class affiliation.

    There needs to be a reconfiguration of values among the educated middle class, so that we are more gentle and compassionate as a people. Instead of casting our lot with some variation of a social Darwinian teleology. I do hope we can be on the same page with that.

    But, yeah. No good will come out of this, but I’m clicking submit anyway.

      • haha, no, you big weirdo. 😀 I said I liked the snarky signoff about being on the ‘same page’. Very nice literal humor. I mean you were walking a fine line between ‘lame’ and ‘cliche’. But you didn’t drop the ball.

        And waitaminit you can see my email info? why can’t I see yours? this is so unfair! I’ve been peppering your posts with comments all over the place, btw. There’s a stinker on a Manish Vij(?) post.

        I forget which post you said it in, but why do you generally not trust men? And I’m constantly amazed that you’re amazed that bollywood is absurd.

  10. Thank you. I have to admit, I put in that reply only because I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to call someone Mr. Crapweasel. It’s rare.

    Ahem. Try Ctrl + F-ing the phrase “Email Anon” then next time you’re here.

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