Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What's your story?

I am not well. Nothing unusual – I feel like my body’s stuck under a road roller that is refusing to move. And strange men for some unknown reason are loading and unloading tons and tons of stuff off and on my back. I have been standing and sitting and walking with this pain for the whole day in office and finally at 5:30 in the evening, I decide to visit the doc.

But the post is not about me lamenting on my illness. The post is about interesting people you inevitably meet only when you are unwell.

My cab driver knows me. Quite unsurprising since it is one of these guys who drop me home most of the nights from work. We probably shared an interesting conversation or he’s probably still amused at my godawful kannada. Anyway, he smiles as I enter and waits for the usual sign of recognition. I am too tired to even fake it and let it pass.

It’s 5:45 pm and every vehicle ever manufactured in south India is on the Bangalore roads between my office and the hospital. I spend half an hour crossing the first two kilometers (what beautifully scenic, barren decade old decadent buildings everywhere you see!). Just as we were about to move, the vehicles stopped once again. But this time it’s not out of any divine trick conjured by the unknown, but purely out of well-intended human endeavor.

The driver saw it before I did – A decidedly well decked lady walked out of her Swift and started making frantic calls on her phone while screaming occasional outbursts at the truck driver whose vehicle just about (just about, just about) touched her car. What I also missed was that the registration of the car was done in Andhra Pradesh. But the driver didn’t and so didn’t “mana thambudus” from the Telugu desam party. A bunch materialized out of nowhere and started arguing with the truck driver pulling him out of the truck.

By then my driver was all excited and wanted to share his joy with fellow brethren. So, he gave me this whole spiel in kannada. Just because I was unwell (and definitely not because my kannada was bad), I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying (disclaimer reiteration – because I was unwell!). He then switched to his English, which I should admit was definitely better than my Kannada. “Sir AP Board sir”, “This Karnataka Sir”, “All come sir. AP Board all come. Karnataka Board. No one come”. “Lady driver sir. That only.” And for each of these outbursts, I emphatically agreed by nodding my head and “Hmmm”-ing as well as I could.

Apparently that didn’t help much. “I see”, he said and made his way to the accident with emphatic zing. I don’t know what he said but I soon realized that everyone was talking a lot more loudly than before. Five minutes later, he came back with a new resolve and started the car. Was I proud of my driver! The Hugo Chavez of road disputes! Just then I saw the lady starting her car and driving away (A date that couldn’t wait!). But the dispute still continued. The truck was rooted to its spot and the thambudus kept the frontier alive – it didn’t matter that the original cause of the problem was now stuck in the next traffic jam.

“No problem sir”, “Only cap of mirror”, “No damage”, “They make too much awaaz, awaaz”. I nodded to say I concur. But thanks to the inherent ambiguity of the Indian head nod, he resorted to similies and metaphors that engineers like me would understand. “Like Geometry box sir”, “Like bottle cap”. Finally when I had had enough, I resorted to all sentences that I could frame with bi-syllabic words. “I know! I know!”, “Correct! Correct!. And when this didn’t work - “Ladies drive very bad!”, “Traffic, Traffic ella jage!”. After a while, I lost out on the verbal game and decided to snooze on the front seat.

But he went on, telling me the same thing over and over again. He tried keeping it alive until we reached the hospital. In bursts. Saying the same story again and again. I think (in my own warped-in-the-air-conditioner sensibility) because it mattered to him – this conversation. It helped differentiate today from yesterday when he drove through these same roads, with another uninterested stranger in the backseat. He probably wanted to associate a human experience to an unexpected event in his day so that he has something to talk about.

Just like those who I see everyday sitting outside gonghuras restaurant waiting for customers, and who I saw today fighting for the girl who didn’t bother to wait. They would go tell their friends how they put a truck driver to task, but I am guessing will ignore how she drove away without saying a word.

All of us lead our lives in a hope to find a story to tell. And this is mine. What is yours?