I am not Kalki and I am not embarking on something historical. The title is a bit deceptive. So read this at your own risk!We had planned to start out from Pondicherry very early that morning. Our driver Partipan was not exactly happy with that huge cup of cappuccino coffee I insisted he share with us at Le café. “What is this madam? You are only paying for the foam. Not good for anyone” he grumbled. And then he disappeared while we were completing the check out formalities at the hotel. I guess he was worried we might drag him to have breakfast with us. He preferred his own spots for meals- places where the food was more to his liking than what Hotel Surguru offered. But wherever or whatever it was that he ate that day was obviously not something that his stomach relished.
We had just crossed Marakanam when this careful driver suddenly started behaving like a formula one contestant. We held on to our seats as I shouted at A who was riding “shotgun” with him to buckle up her seat belt. Poor girl, she was obviously not used to seat belts( the streets of Kolkata , her home town have so much of traffic that one can usually walk alongside a vehicle). She fumbled around for the strap while I tried to instruct her from the back seat dancing dangerously in my semi erect position …!“ Don’t distract him A. He needs to focus” I told her as I finally helped her strap herself in. “ But ma’m I was not talking to him today” she protested. True.. the previous evening she had been playing “ English Vinglish” with him with not so pleasant consequences as he kept losing focus.
But today it was strange. He appeared to be completely focused – actually too focused! He was not participating in any conversation or enlightening me with details of the Tamil movie songs that he was playing . He had a serious look on his face as he drove on. When I told him to take the turning from Sholinganallur into the Old Mahabalipuram Road ( OMR), he did not seem happy. I pointed to our consultant telling him that we needed to drop her there.
As we drove on in OMR I suddenly decided that I would go to my daughter’s school for a few minutes for her “open day” – a day when the children present projects on various topics to parents. The school was only a stone’s throw away from the consultant’s house. So, I could easily get down, run in, mark my presence while he dropped her at her house two streets away.I don’t know if it was my imagination but he seemed flabbergasted at the idea. “Madam, it looks like it will pour” he said. He seemed to have a far off look in his eyes when I insisted, saying it would not take that much longer.
I usually go to the daughter’s school from the other end of OMR. Driving from this end was a little confusing as I made Partipan stop every now and then, starting from Navalur to see if this was the correct turning. This genial man, almost lost his cool with me when I did that for the third time. I wondered what was the matter.Finally when we reached the school, my two colleagues said that they would not be coming with me as they were not “ dressed appropriately to enter a school” . Partipan seemed clearly unhappy when they continued sitting in the vehicle and riding on to the consultant’s house. But he seemed relieved when I told him he need not drive through the bad approach road to the school to pick me up after dropping her. I would walk up to the highway and meet him there.
Just as I had expected ,it did not take me more than twenty minutes at the school. As I reached the highway, I found there was no sign of the vehicle. When I called Partipan, he told me that both the other madams had gone into the consultant’s home at her invitation. He asked me to call and request them to come downstairs. When I did call one of them our consultant grabbed the phone and insisted that I come over to her house “ just for five minutes “. So I called Partipan asking him to come over and take me there.The five minute ride to her house was through extremely bumpy roads. But my charioteer seemed to be in a much better mood and more like himself. He spoke about the corruption that the town panchayat indulged in when it came to road laying and followed it up with his usual litany of complaints with all elected representatives of the government. I was happy to see the change. Obviously, it was the consultant’s presence in the vehicle that was annoying him.
After the initial hospitality our consultant, a typical Indian lady given to making a news out of mere ordinary occurrences told me “ You know what happened when you were away? Partipan wanted to go doubles and I had to ask our watch man to give him the keys” For a moment I was puzzled. I wondered if our driver had suddenly decided to switch from driving a Bolero to a BSA ? Otherwise how does one explain the “doubles” ? But when I saw both the girls giggling the tube light in my head came on and a lot of things fell into place.As we got ready to leave, I looked at him closely. Partipan sitting behind the steering wheel seemed to me like a man who had achieved his dream. But the moment he saw our consultant he got into a flurry wanting to leave. He mentioned the weather again- though not so vehemently this time. He almost did not wait for the door to close when he changed gears and pressed his accelerator. But Ms. N our consultant was something else. She came up to the window and asked him to roll it down. When it was no longer possible to ignore her, he had to do just that . She in turn peered in asking loudly “ Did you find the key and use the toilet”? Poor guy, I think he was the most embarrassed person in the world at that moment!
My two colleagues began giggling again. S said “ Ma’m we did not want to go upstairs to N mam’s house but Partipan was absolutely insistent that we go” I realized why…!Yes, it seems like a joke when it happens to someone else, but think about a time when it had happened to you..There is even a Tenali Rama story along these lines where the court jester is supposed to have told King Krishnadevaraya that finding a toilet when desperately in need is like a dream come true. The King had thought it was sheer cheekiness to answer like that until he was in a similar situation!
So Partipan found his dream in an apartment complex off OMR..! It was another thing that it became common knowledge among his passengers. I wish I could tell him to stop feeling embarrassed about it. But I think if I broach this topic he would dig a hole and bury himself there. So, the best thing would be to ignore his dash towards his dreams. After all, aren’t dreams just fleeting experiences ?