Sunday, April 8, 2007

grace kelly and I

Have I ever really talked about my morning ride to work? Such a special time of day... about 8am and the streets are just awakening. I step out onto the street in front of my building and wait for an auto to pull over. It's an interesting little dance... you can't even call it a conversation - that you have to determine that the driver will take you to your destination. Going to work I say "Malad - InOrbit mall' and then if he's willing (which he usually is in the morning) I will see an imperceptable twist of the head or roll of the eye indicating for me to get in... and that was my 'yes'. At night... the autos cluster around the entrance to our glass megastructure... waiting for all the call centre workers to pour out, and when I say 'Andheri West (Vest is more how I say it... in one quick string 'Andherivest') Lokhandwala Circle', usually quite a few are not interested in the shorter fare and shake their head once or grimace a little and look away. It took a little while to learn the language... but I have it now.

So... I climb in and grab my long scarf to make the necessary arrangements so that I arrive looking a little human. It's a fast ride and the good drivers really pick up some speed when they can.The autos are completely open to the wind on either side... so those of us with long hair can end up with quite an afro if we're not prepared. So, twisting my hair into a braid and hooking it under a bra strap, then tightly swathing my scarf around my head... I am able to hold down most of the flyaways and keep it under control. With sunglasses on I always feel like I'm doing a Grace Kelly impression though... and I can't help but feel incredibly 'white' ... sigh :( Oh for that olive skin that lies deep within my genes! ...perhaps I could have a reverse Michael Jackson incident ;)

On the days I wear a salwar kameez then I use the dupatta to wrap around my hair. They're really long though.. and it's almost like a turban has snaked its way off my head and tried to strangle me.... looks a little amusing I'm sure. Unwinding it at the end of the ride is like unwrapping a mummy!

The auto drivers are notorious for not having change. For a 30 rupee ride I can often get grief for only having a 50 rupee note. It's my fault for not knowing the language that I can't argue the point.... I can tell him to go left and right, and straight, and to stop.... and I can say some pretty nasty things about his mother and sister (not that I would!).... but I don't know how to tell him that he should bloody well have 20 rupees change at all times!! I think it must be one of the most valuable things in this city... the 10-rupee note! Don't leave home without it!!

The drive in the morning goes along some back streets that are tree-lined and have dogs awakening, people walking and amazingly... hardly any traffic. We pass businesses and shops that are closed ("Gym and Tonic" anyone?), chai stops, coconut stands and head onto the main Link Road where things are a little more busy... but still distinctly alive with the morning rhythms. One stretch of road is lined with autos getting washed. They glisten in the sun, and some lean to one side as their drivers make adjustments to the tiny engines underneath, the three wheels making it easy to tip over and get to the nuts and bolts of the machinery.

People are washing and shaving on the streets... every aspect of the morning ablutions is carried out in full view. Cars and people all getting cleaned. Water splashes everywhere.

We drive past the mutton and poultry stores.... small vans loaded with 'broilers' the fat and healthy white chickens destined for a short future I try not to think of, are ready to be unloaded. The mutton is of course, goat... and often I will see them milling about in front of the store. It's amazing that they are loose and don't escape. They are all nibbling away at stuff on the streets and appear calm, content and very healthy. Coming in all sorts of wonderful and varied colours, they are some of the loveliest goats I've seen.. and though their future is sad too.... I think they probably have a much nicer life than livestock destined for western tables. Sometimes they are curled up on the side of the street almost like a dog. I swear though... being a vegetarian is one thought away!!

As we see the mall appearing ahead, I tell the driver 'left laner' and he has to brake from the speed he was able to gain on that one little stretch of road. He turns before Hypercity and we drive past all the motorbikes parked along the roadside. 'Bus bus' I say and he pulls to a halt next to the security station at Mindspace and the 10-minute ride is over. Hopefully I have the right change... coins even .... and I thank him in hindi. I often get a shy smile as I say thankyou more than once and meet his eye, and for one more moment I have a little connection. These guys ride all day in the heat and monsoons.. for not a lot of money... and their world fascinates me. Gotta learn the language Jude.... so much you're missing out on!!

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