I often wistfully think about the promised lands where my friends who have moved out of India live in.
Especially when I am stuck in a traffic jam caused by a religious festival, waiting to take on the potholes of Mumbai.
Then I console myself by reminding myself that I live in a country where you still get domestic help. That I won't have to go back and do the dishes. Or navigate the crazy traffic myself.
Our maid has bunked for the last couple of days. Our kitchen's a disaster zone.
And we have been driverless for a while.
Bunking is our maid's thing. It used to bug me and I often wanted to sack her. My wife restrained me and six years later our maid has become Pygmalion to my Henry Higgins. When she comes to work that is.
But our luck with drivers is the stuff of Bollywood tear jerkers.
We have been without one for a while. Three of the last four didn't last beyond a day. We sacked one, the next one inexplicably disappeared after day one and the third called me after the first day saying that he was getting a better salary elsewhere. The fourth came to our place, agreed to the terms, and never turned up.
I ate the humble pie and called our last driver who was a bit of Cinderella and wouldn't want to stay beyond eight even for the love of money. He had this angry young man thing going and would normally greet me with a scowl. We let him go in the promise of one who was highly referred to me. The new guy didn't live up to the build up that he got and was the first of our recent one day stands. I had to read him the riot act.
Anyway Cinderella responded to my pleas to make up with a SMS (!) which said "thousand Rupees more per month, two hours less per day".
Since then I have been at the mercy of Meru cabs and a few attempts to drive myself which end up in a backache.
We have had more drivers in the last six years than the number of craters in the average Bandra by-lane.
The first one taught me how to drive. It was his first driving job as well. He used to drive tempos before. Things were fine till he began to think of me as an ATM machine for some reason. Loan for school, farming, house, a difference of opinion on paying up loans (I felt he should, he felt he shouldn't) and we had our first break up. Like Taylor and Burton, he joined me a few drivers later and then left. He fell for the call of the wild. He went back to driving tempos! The sad thing was that we had to hear this from other people. He had told us that he was returning to his village.
In between we had one who used to mysteriously fall ill on Saturday and Monday and take extended weekends. Another who could barely see, wouldn't recognise us if he saw us on the roads and would make potholes seem like air pockets. And there was one who would run at eight to have dinner with 'Maushi'. Even if we were in the middle of nowhere. Replaced by one who claimed to be a Bandra boy, but didn't know what lay across my road in the centre of Bandra. He drove like a maniac. Then quit before I could sack him. He told me, "It's not you, it's me" He said that he was a 'pilot driver' and that I deserved someone nicer and less wild.
Then came Raju. A stable driver. Polite, diffident, middle aged. Happy times? Well, he looked up to his name sake in the film Sri 420. He would take off home for a nap while I was at oblivious at work. With my car! And bought an expensive colour camera phone after taking money for us to buy a basic phone. There was no money left for a SIM card to activate it. His response to my flustered threats in Hindi was a whimpered "Lalach me aa gaya tha Sir" (I succumbed to greed sir).
I feel very hassled when I have to tick off a driver. I could be seething in anger but would be at my wit's end about how to convey my angst in my broken Hindi. I would blurt out something at the end with no idea about whether the message got through.
My parent in law's favourite, 'Tauji', came next. As old as Methuselah, with the heart of Shumacher, and a rasping smoker's cough which would make us flinch in the car and send him to the doctor. All was fine till he disappeared for six months for his daughter's wedding. This wizened Obi Wan is back in town and often pops unexpectedly from below a car these days asking me for a job.
And then there were the ones who came to try for the job and didn't make it. Most didn't know how to drive. One damaged the car while taking it out of the parking lot at home. Seven thousand rupees down. Another was a gym attendant who knocked the car while taking it out of the building gates during the trial. There were quite a few whom I asked to get off the wheel two minutes after they took it out of our house for the test. One flummoxed me by saying "meri tamanna tha aap ke saath rehkar driving seekhu." (It was my dream to be with you and learn driving). He was the doorman of the restaurant opposite our house.
Valet parking guys, cake delivery guys, studio stunt drivers ... I have tried them all.
The only thing that keeps me going was what Madhuri Dixit said in the film Dil to Pagal Hain ... "Someone..... Somewhere..... is made for you"
I hope she was talking about drivers.