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?
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?
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.