Driver Diaries

In India where many people do not drive , employing a person to drive your vehicle for you is usually the done thing. Not just individuals  even organizations employ drivers  to drive their various vehicles. In a labour surplus country like ours it provides employment to many- particularly in the government which employs drivers by the kilogram! . Of late the rapid expansion of taxi companies are new avenues for employment of any young man ( yes they are usually men) with a driving licence!  Dealing with drivers is therefore something that  most people in India do. Please note that I use the word Driver and not Chauffeur because the word Driver like all those men that this post is about suggests someone  dynamic unlike  "Chauffeur"  which has a very passive ring to it.

My first memory of a driver dates back to the time when I was about six years old. My father, an engineer  in the central services had been alloted a Mahindra jeep and with it came the driver- Mr. Rajender- a warm hearted Bihari . Rajender unfortunately did not like driving a jeep. He was used to driving a crane earlier and he considered his transfer to jeep driving nothing short of a professional come down. Though I never heard him say anything to my father, he used to constantly regale me with stories from his crane driving days. Unfortunately, he tried one day to drive the jeep like a crane ,probably doing some irreparable damage to it and was therefore granted his wish of being sent back to the workshop to drive cranes. Actually, drive is the wrong word because when I visited the workshop with my father during a Vishwakarma puja I  got a taste of what  " Driving" a crane was all about- you sit somewhere high up and watch the arm of the crane move up and down when you press a lever in front of you- a most aweinspiring experience for a six year old!

Then, there was Yadiah who drove my father to and from his office during his posting at Hyderabad. Yadiah for some strange reason considered himself to be my guardian though he never really drove me. He used to constantly keep my mother updated about my whereabouts whenever he happened to run into me anywhere in the twin cities ( this was prior to the Cyberabad avatar of  this former princely state- so a person could actually could run into someone at least twice day if s/he traversed the same route!) A most annoying situation for a college goer as you can guess..! But my most trying experience with Mr. Yadiah came when I went to submit my application form for a passport. The passport office was located at Mehdipatnam- outside both Yadiah's  and my regular beat. Yadiah was convinced that " baby"  should not actually talk to the person on the other side of the counter. He decided to intercede on my behalf  trying to grab the papers out of my hands. He had in the meanwhile obtained a stool for me to sit on and observe the proceedings from afar. After the threat of a  near tantrum a very hurt Yadiah went back to sit in the " bandi" while I stood in the queue and submitted my papers.

The years went by and my experiences with drivers began to expand in variety.

It was 2007 and as part of my work with an international NGO, I had to go to Nagapattinam to supervise a survey . The office had arranged a taxi for me that was to report at about 5AM. It was 7.30AM when the taxi finally showed up. There was this young man at the wheel who seemed completely unaffected by all my grumbling about the delay. He sat silently at the wheel and it was when we were on the East Coast Road that he slowly cleared his throat and asked me " Madam.. can I ask you for  a favour?" " Sure, go ahead" I said. "  I will give you a phone number. Can you use your mobile to call that number ? A girl called Selvi will answer. Please explain to her that I cannot meet her today because I am driving you to Nagapattinam" !!!! This was a new situation for me- I was being asked by the young man to mediate a tiff between him and his girl friend. No way was I getting involved.. " Sorry my boy. This number is an official one. I can make calls only to officially permissable  numbers"  I said trying to get out of the situation. But "getting out of the situation"  was easier said that done.  Mr. Young man would keep stating that there was some problem with the taxi which he needed to check. When he stopped he would make a pretense of opening the bonnet and then  make his way to the nearest  phone booth .. I  noticed that the taxi would miraculously need to be examined everytime  we passed a phone booth. After about a  dozen stops we reached the field site. Once he dropped me  there he disappeared. Soon the driver of our district office vehicle came to complain to me that the driver of the taxi in which I had come had disappeared with his phone. Finally on the return journey I threatened to take a bus back if he continued with his phone calls.. Eyes filled with tears he tried to explain to me about his relationship with his  very jealous girl friend. Romantic though I am,, I had no intention of giving in to the phone cravings of a obsessive lover. I kept a stoical silence while we drove back to Chennai.

Unfortunately, emotional needs are not half as bad as those relating to the bodily functions. I was driving back from a coastal village in Nellore in Andhra Pradesh in a taxi with a colleague from our Bangkok office. We were both quite tired after a hard day's work in the hot sun. I was sitting up front with the driver and W was at the back trying to catch up on sleep ( I had picked him  from the airport in the morning and driven straight to the field site, so I guess the poor chap was jet lagged). I think I must have dozed off too because  about an hour later  W was shaking me awake and asking me " where is he?" pointing to the empty driver's seat. The taxi was parked on one side of the road and I could hear the other vehicles whizzing past on the highway. It is strange the way silence on a highway is accentuated when the engine of your vehicle is switched off. I was more or less sure where our driver was but I did not know how to present it   to W. " Shall I go and look?" he asked me. " No lets wait"  I told him. After about ten minutes of waiting our man emerged from the bushes with a bucket in hand and trousers rolled up to his knees.. He was most embarrased to see that we were up and were waiting for him. " Madam.. my stomach has been giving me trouble since this afternoon. But please dont mention it to my boss"  he said..   Meanwhile W wanted to know where our friend had been to with a bucket in his hand. " To water the crops in the fields around"  I said. The sarcasam was lost on W who  kept quizzing me about irrigation practices along the coast for about one hour until in sheer desparation I feinged sleep.

The experiences as you can see are very varied - each one leaving me completely unprepared to deal with the next. The next one being a journey to   Krishnagiri with three other colleagues in an " INOVA" taxi. We found that the driver had adopted a most peculiar posture  while driving. It was not until we had reached Vellore that we realized what the problem might be. He had a boil in a very crucial part of his anatomy that affected his sitting comfortably. He therefore rested only part of his gluteus maximus on the seat and drove in that odd posture! He was too shy to see a doctor about this problem until we forced him to. After a surgical procedure at the Krishnagiri hospital and some antibiotics life for all of us inside that Inova became easier..!

Life on the road for a frequent traveller like me would be most boring without these experiences.  I sometimes feel like Arjun in Kurukshetra..so much has been the influence of these " Sarathis" in my life! So next time you need some dope on drivers, I guess you know who to contact :)





Comments

  1. You make me smile with your anecdotes:)

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  2. Hope to see this Arjuna shoot @ us some more arrows from her quiver of anecdotes...:-)Ur post left me grinning from ear to ear..

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  3. LOL!!! Inspired to start writing again:P Drivers- how i hate the ilk...LOL on the Nagapattinam drive;)

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  4. @ Cloud Nine though the Nagapattinam drive is funny now I was kind of really worried while I was on it and so was the Krishnagiri one - you see driving the way the guy was in that odd posture we were worried that he may hit the accelarator when he should hit the brake. @ Rahul welcome to my blog. Hope to see you here more often. Kp thanks for your comments.

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  5. My most memorable experience was when I was shown the middle finger whie changing lanes on the intersate. I wish I could have a driver here!

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  6. Hi Meera,Luved reading ur post of driver-diaries.

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  7. Your narration about your personal experience with driver and his phone cravings being an obsessive lover is commonly seen on both sides of the border.

    Labelling as "irrigation practice" is pretty funny too.

    I must give you 10/10 for having kept your writing skills very impressive.

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  8. That was amusing. there are some wonderful souls amongst them, but today, it is all too different

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  9. hahaaaa...." To water the crops in the fields around"....:))

    and yaa, it was a good journey here while reading this post which reminded me so many encounters with drivers.....

    Nice post Meera ji.

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  10. Too good...thouroughly enjoyed reading this dear....! The visit to Nagapattinam and the 'water and the bucket' was mind-blowing...

    Your way of narration is simply SUPERB..

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  11. It is interesting that you study Drivers in the same way that Drivers must be studying us passengers and our quirky ways!Nice read .

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  12. Very nice post Meera....Drivers can be founts of wisdom as Arjuna found out eons back:)

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  13. Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. @ Tarique Mian, Satish, my kitchen flavours welcome to my blog. Hope to see you more often here. Varsha you are right I am sure the drivers who drove me would have had a hearty laugh discussing me with their friends! Ani, Irfan, Krupa thanks for the kind words

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  14. LOL...u had some interesting Sarathis there..:)...

    Nice one.

    Cheers!
    SUB
    http://khonjtheeternalsearch.blogspot.com

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  15. Really Good to Read Meera. Something different and something very nice :)

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