An errant thought has been playing in a loop inside my befuddled brain ever since a certain Madame Mukerjea took over my living room and my life a week ago: how did the lady manage to get her driver to do her bidding, and a real frightening one at that, when mine shudders and sniffs, grumbles and declares war when I beseech him to do what he has been primarily hired for - simply turn up for work each weekday morning and get behind the wheel? Just turn up and drive mind you, not wash the car he has deigned to drive (“naavu driver, cleaner alla”); not stop by at the neighborhood store for milk or bread (“naavu driver; mane kelasa madolla”); or horror of horrors not come to work on the weekends, public holidays, or on days when it rains or when the derby season is on (“naavu manushyaru, bari driver alla!”). You get the drift, right?
Fresh off the boat (the mofussil bus, in this case), the last one - my eighth in the past 10 weeks just for the record - started on a very promising note.
Watching me race through the morning madness, stuffing water bottle, lunch bag, laptop bag, phone, charger and books into the car, he sighed deeply and said, “City people are so unlucky - they are always worrying and running.” At that moment, I mistook his disdain for sympathy and smiled wanly only to realise that soon his Zen-like attitude would reduce me to tears. Traffic rules, just like worrying and running, were for clueless city folks not for him from the lucky countryside. So zooming through red lights, overtaking vehicles from the wrong side, jumping lanes and parking in no-parking zones were all minor blips in his glorious game of life. That I lost a good part of my savings and my bonus, paying off traffic fines and goodwill money to the victims of his Laissez-faire, has made me eternally wary of the calm, collected and utterly unflappable kind of superman behind the wheel.
His predecessor was a strategist. He had a plan for everything or should I say every day. On Mondays, he would mastermind a mid-morning emergency where the wife/ son/ neighbour/ dog would take violently ill; on Thursdays, he would call in about his enlarged prostrate/ stones in his kidneys/ a buzzing in his head/ an inability to move a single muscle; on Fridays he would arrive at 8.30 am and want to leave at 9 am to take the Volvo bus to his village to attend a wedding/ funeral/ naming ceremony/ house warming/ election rally/ panchayat meeting. On the Tuesday and Wednesday that he did report to work, he would make long and loud phone calls on his Galaxy Note S in the car that made me painfully aware of what an important man he was and how I would rot in hell for making him devote his lofty life to as mundane a task as driving instead of saving the world, his dog and his prostrate, not necessarily in that order.
The one for whom I shall feel an overwhelming rush of (misplaced) affection is the one who turned up one morning on my doorstep, asking if it was true that I was looking for a driver. Yes, I bleated, telling him to wait. He raised a bushy eyebrow and asked if “something was burning inside”. Proceeding to calmly elbow past me, following his twitching nose which was enraged at the sight of my burning kadai in the kicthen, he let out a loud ‘Aiyyo’ and gave me a look that turned me, like the vegetables in the kadai, to ashes. I had met my nemesis in the garb of a desi Gordon Ramsay, attitude and all. Car and driving forgotten for the moment, he lectured me on the joys of cooking on ‘simmer’ flame, not high heat; on using ‘naati’ vegetables, not the farm monstrosities that we city slickers buy and told me with great pride that he cooked ALL the meals in his house. “Don’t worry, I will teach you,” he smiled benevolently.
“Errr…but you will drive first?” I ventured. “Oh that. Later. First, go and buy ‘naati’ tomato,” he added, sizing up my meagre fridge supplies. The fact that I preferred bread to cake - in this case burnt dal to his masterful ‘soppina huli’ made him declare that he could not work for someone who has no “taste”.
Having failed miserably to curry favour with this y, is it any wonder that I read with awe and admiration the achievements of Madame Mukerjea in the driver department?