or ‘One Way to Rid Yourself of Boredom in Madras while on Vacation’. [ Imported from my extinct Fandangle blog]
As a returning native after 3 long years, I found interesting conversation hard to come by. The sisters ganged up as usual & left me alone as they went on their secret shopping trips, while my nephew & niece pretty much ignored me. What friends I had left in town were either working or again, just ignoring me. My parents, as much as I love them, soon took to lecturing me on the glory of fruits&vegetables and what constituted a decent hairstyle. I didn’t enjoy it back in the 80s and I was not going to endure it now. And thus my search for company led me outside of the house and to my designated chauffeurs for the month – the auto drivers of Madras.
There was this one guy whose services I requested of to get to the Gemini flyover. And promptly enough, he threw the number ’50’ in my face. And employing initial standard deductions of Rs.5, I responded with ’45’. “Enna Saaaaar” (Now come on Sir!) , he groaned and immediately went on to devalue the Indian rupee. “Anju roopaale enna saar irukku?”(What’s in 5 rupees, sir?”). Oh well in that case, I said, I shall give you 40Rs. Pause…and more pause, as his face underwent the transition from confused to appalled. And while I wore my “Gotcha Automan” look, I think he had the “How about I knock you down and leave a nice three-wheeler imprint on your unfunny fat-ass?” look. And sensing his intentions, I quickly flashed my best insincere smile and told him that Rs.50 it was. Ha Ha Ha *phew*.
Then there was Mr.P(udhupet) Diddy himself with the best in auto-stereo surround technology tucked into every little corner of the vehicle. A horrible song was playing & upon my request he changed stations until we hit Then Madurai Vaigai Nadhi which promptly triggered off the obligatory dialogue about how they don’t make songs like this anymore. Somewhere between Pachaiyappas College & Mehta Nagar bus stop, the conversation turned into an update on what station played best in his auto. Radio Mirchi was of course his favorite with crystal clear sound, even though he had some reception issues with Suryan FM. I was of course fascinated and dealt out a few unsolicited fundas about antennae which I can assure you, were baseless. After another song had played out, the DJ came back on requesting his audience to call & share a few jokes. It was that kind of show. So, a few impulsive listeners called & shared, which the auto-driver & I immediately pooh-poohed and let out unimpressed ayyos. I was glad we even shared the same taste in humor. So I told him what I thought was a perfect situational joke. I asked him, “Do you know why your tailor makes you oversized khakhi coats?”. Of course, he didn’t know why, cos’ I had just made it up. And I told him, Yaaena, neenge meter-kku maele eppavum edhavudhu edhirpaapeenge (Cos’ you always expect something more than the meter). He didn’t get it and I soon launched into an explanation which I soon gave up when I realized it was a stupid joke anyway. Luckily, more Ilaiyaraja saved the day & we slipped back into nostalgia again.
The easiest ones to talk to are the drivers with gigantic stickers of their favorite movie star plastered on the windshield. As an afterthought, they might be the most dangerous ones too, cos’ watching the road through Rajinikant’s parted legs does not constitute the best field of vision and maybe I should actually have been praying. Which reminds me…not many autos in Madras with Rajinikant stickers anymore.Vijay & Ajit Kumar seem to be the new sticker favorites. “Why was that?”, I wondered aloud. Luckily, I happened to be in an auto at the time, with Ajit Kumar’s mirror image flashing a thumbs-up sign at me. So the kind auto driver decided to enlighten me. “Rajini has gone crazy, saar” was his one-line explanation. This bothered me, especially as a Rajini fan, and I thought, “Just because he disappears into the Himalayas 300 days of the year and makes philosophical jabs in his speeches that would have an anguished Socrates pluck out his beard doesn’t mean he is crazy. Come on!”. I asked him what the basis of his allegation was and his explanation pretty much mirrored my own thoughts, except that he thought they were not normal. But somehow hearing it from him, it seemed to ring truer and I had to quickly update my theory. Damn, the guy was right. As cool as Rajinikant is, flicking that cigarette into his mouth & bashing up tonsured goondas, the man was a kook. And thanks to Mr.Auto Driver for making me realize that. Boo Thalaiva, Boo!
But lessons in character study were not the only things learnt on my many trips in the yellow mobile of enlightenment. I also learnt about ‘Optimal positioning of PVC pipes inside an Autorickshaw’ from a seasoned transporter of afore-mentioned objects. Also, one of the traffic cops just by the Central Railway Station insisted on token deposits of Rs.25. And of course, the coolest lesson of them all – it’s perfectly alright to drive in the opposite direction on a one-way road IF you only have to do it for less than 0.5 kilometers. Case in point. A one way road perpendicular to Sterling Road that would take you to the Gemini flyover in half the time. Sounds impossible I know, but armed with a loud pom-pom-er and choice expletives, it can be done. Talk about a frickin’ shortcut. Could get you killed, but screw that. It’s genius.
Of course, there are also the quiet types, the ones who just don’t give a damn. They even quote a reasonable rate, almost as if in an attempt to avoid hearing your voice anymore as you haggle. The silence that follows inside the auto soon becomes uncomfortable and a session of self introspection ensues. Am I not good enough to start a conversation for this guy? Is it the hairstyle? Were my parents right after all? I did smile at him, didn’t I? What was his problem? Fuck you, man!
These minor setbacks apart, I have to admit that the fellas did lighten up those lonely trips to Spencer Plaza or T.Nagar. And for those friends of mine who went on and on about how they were “busy working, we are not on vacation sitting on our asses like you dude”, screw them…I have new friends in Madras.