Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Highwaymen came riding, riding, riding…

So I’ve been dancing around this topic ever since I started the crib. I kept putting it off because, for one, until very recently I had to interact with these people twice a day and felt very strongly about them. (That’s an understatement.) Now that I have some distance I feel I can write more objectively.

For another, they have asked the Government to raise their basic fare and the fare per kilometer and that really got my blood boiling.

Auto Drivers, ladies and gentlemen, are scum. Scum from the lowest reaches of hell. Dante was wrong -- there are actually 10 rings of hell and one is reserved exclusively for auto drivers. (A glaring oversight on his part.)

A month after coming to Bangalore, I was walking down a slightly deserted road at night and couldn’t believe it when one of these worthy gentlemen leaned out of his trusty auto and snatched at my bag. Luckily he couldn’t get a good grip on it and sped off into the night. That was a very appropriate start to what would be a very long and interesting relationship with the members of this profession.

In these 3 years I have been asked to get out (nowhere near my stop) in the coarsest language (sundry times), grabbed (twice), threatened (the exact words were: “I know where you wait for autos, I’ll be there tomorrow.”). I have been cheated out of 100s of rupees, on top of being asked—almost without fail -- to pay more than the meter indicated.

I do not even count among these offences the constant ‘No’s I have had to face whenever soliciting their services. Sometimes it feels like in their frenzy to reject customers, they turn down perfectly lucrative opportunities. I understand that they believe they are striking a blow against the moneyed classes by thus rejecting us, ‘look at who is begging whom now’ is what they no doubt say to each other as they sit back in the auto stands and discuss philosophy. But then maybe they shouldn’t masquerade as auto drivers and take up something more constructive, like join a Maoist group (if it’s not too much hard work.).

The rare few who actually feel like putting in a few hours’ work and consent to take you (they pick and choose customers like the belle of the ball chooses suitors, and as carefully), will always ask for more, stating that where they’re taking you is so out of the way that they would NEVER get a customer to bring back to a more sensible location. So we are supposed to care about how much they earn (or don’t in this case) even after we have been dropped off. Even though they show no such consideration when you are standing in the pouring rain at 9 at night, begging one auto after another to take you home. On one such occasion after some 20 refusals, I remember asking the auto driver in desperation, “So where do you WANT to go? I’ll go wherever you want, as long as you take me…”

Of every 10 auto drivers that come your way nine will reject you (unless it’s a very desirable location like MG road or Commercial Street). But this is the fun bit of it: they declared a STRIKE to protest a night bus that the government wanted to introduce saying it would THREATEN their livelihood. The government actually gave in and it was bye-bye night bus service. They STRUCK work again (which frankly isn’t much different from a work day for them.) when the government decided to introduce the Metro to Bangalore, again because it would ‘deprive them of their livelihood’. It’s like highway robbers complaining of too many policemen on the road “We haven’t been able to surprise any victims! I haven’t cut a single throat in days!”.

Fortunately the government was sensible for a change and didn’t give in to their ridiculousness.

Now they’re asking to raise their fares, and apparently the government is considering it seriously. Hello? What about the fact that they always take more money anyway? Do you think they’ll change their ways just because you’ve raised the fare? How about ensuring they’re not all borderline gundas and thieves before allowing them more money?

And for those people who obviously have never taken an auto in Bangalore, and think this is all a much ado about nothing and that if we just reported them to the police everything will be just hunky dory -- lemme tell you something, you %$#@s. This one time, a friend of mine had walked up to a cop who had seen the whole thing and complained. “Say that again in Kannada and I might consider that a complaint” the good policemen had responded.

So there you are. People here have so taken this behaviour for granted that they simply advise you to buy a two-wheeler when you tell them of your auto woes. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that Bangalore gets an increasingly bad name simply because of auto drivers and refuse to look at the issue as a serious law and order problem. I came across an old college classmate who shifted to Bangalore recently from Bombay. She said she felt awful here and missed both Bombay and Calcutta miserably. On further probing it turned out she was shocked by how auto drivers lived by their own rules here and that she felt on the verge of tears every time she prepared to ask one of these thugs to take her somewhere. “Even normal human codes of conduct don’t apply to them it seems!”

Though I have SO much more to say, I won’t. If I were to give you details of some of the incidents I just touched upon, it would shock non-Bangaloreans to the core no doubt (people from here would just drawl “ I told you to get a two-wheeler”.) but it would take days and days to do.

I should mention that I have met one or two decent auto-drivers in my time here. I consider it a little bit akin to the “prostitute with a heart of gold” phenomenon.

Anyhow, now that I have that off my chest I feel much better, and even better still at the thought that my office cab-system allows me to avoid these rogues like the plague.

Wishing all my fellow-city dwellers similar good luck.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Weekday Mornings

The most difficult part of a weekday is the morning.( No surprises there.)

1) We have a very zealous garbage collecting system. The garbage people will keep ringing the bell at the crack of dawn and threaten to break down the door if you don’t mollify them with some garbage. So even if you’ve eaten out the previous day and have nothing in your trash, you make garbage (just chuck in a few newspapers) so you can slip them a little something to keep things quiet.
2) Then right when you’ve slipped back into your soft, warm bed and drifted off to sleep again your maid comes a-ringing. I am convinced she counts off ten minutes after the housekeeping people leave. She NEVER comes with them.
3) After you’ve let your cleaning lady in, and exchanged a few heated gestures (pick up a spoon and make a disgusting face to mean ‘it was cleaner before you got to it’ and she points to her nose and then to me to say ‘I completely agree, but what’s your point?’) you slip back between the sheets and promise yourself you’ll positively spring out of bed in 5 minutes.
4) Of course you don’t and the sheer lateness of the hour galvanizes you into activity the next time you wake up. You somehow manage to get everything done (or do you?) and close the door behind you (or do you?)
5) On the way to the office you realize:

· It was shampoo day and you haven’t.(shampooed)

· That’s Ok, because if you tie your hair up it doesn’t show that it hasn’t been shampooed.

· No it’s not because you’ve left your scrunchy on the dressing table. All you have is a pin, so you stick it into the side of your head and check the effect in your little mirror.

· You wish hats were allowed in the office. You consider taking up Islam just so you weren’t miserable on such days.

· After you’re done bemoaning your hair, it strikes you that you may have left the gas on. Did I, didn’t I?

· And the taps? ‘I’m pretty sure I left that one tap running…it’ll flood the apartment’.

· ‘If only I had checked everything before shutting the door’ you think. The door!!!? Did I close the door? By this time you’re ready to turn the car around and head back home to check all of the above.

· Of course you can’t because you have three other disgruntled cab mates looking daggers at your greasy head. (Don’t ask why they do that, short of distributing sweets I’ve tried hard to win them over.)

So you worry all day about your apartment, and only hope the waterlogged rooms will prevent the fire from completely ravaging it. And that the thieves will be deterred from stealing anything with so many natural disasters going on. “Bad working conditions, boys, let’s rob some body else’s house or pick up a few passengers in our autos.”

And then you return home and (in most cases), find that except for some nauseatingly badly washed crockery (note to myself: Point outside the window and then the utensils to say “Those monkeys would do a better job than you!” when the cleaning lady comes the next day) everything is fine with your home.

Aah, home sweet home. There’s no other feeling like coming back to an undisturbed apartment and settling down to your daily fix of TV. Easily the best part of the whole ordeal that is a weekday.


Monday, January 21, 2008

For love or for money.

All of those people who get paid for doing something they enjoy should be hunted down and killed. It’s not fair that ever since I started working I’ve had to CHOOSE. Get paid, or do what you’re good at and have fun with.

When I whine about it everyone claims that it’s the same with them but that’s not possible right? They’re just saying that to make me shut up.

The creative writing jobs come with the assumption that the work is its own reward. That’s all very well, but job satisfaction don’t pay the bills. And the jobs that DO pay the bills make one so miserable that eventually I think there’ll be a psychiatric bill in there among the grocery and electric bills. It’s such a vicious circle.

Friday, January 4, 2008

About Junior School

Yesterday I went to watch Taare Zameen Par. What can I say, I thought it was beautiful. I cried, I laughed, I shook my head indulgently, I gnashed my teeth in rage. It was everything a good movie should be. (and the fact that there was minimum singing and dancing was a HUGE bonus.)

It also brought back to me the hell I endured in Ashok Hall Junior school, right after my family came back from the Phillippines (where I had spent all five years of my life till then.) I didn’t know my own language at all and was also quite unaccustomed to the work pressure in Indian schools. My difficulty with Bengali made me a prime target for a sadist of a teacher (My mind seems to have repressed her name) who thought up the most humiliating and sometimes painful punishments to inspire me to do better. I was given a place at the back of the class, along with a few other worthless children who didn’t deserve to sit close to the good students. I would stay as quiet as a mouse, hoping the teacher wouldn’t pick on me at least that day. But she usually did, slapping me around, making me and the others kneel down inside or outside the class, and when she felt like it, making the ‘good students’ mete out punishments to the bad ones. I still have a friend who was from the ‘good side of the marks’ and had to lead me out of class by the ear, though neither of us talk about it much.

Let’s be honest. I was no angel either, Bengali under this woman’s tutelage had fast become the bane of my existence and I was damned if I would spend one extra minute having anything to do with it than I had to. So to the mirth of one and all I would be kicked out of class for not having done my homework, almost every day for 5 years.

There were several other teachers who were almost as bad as this fiend, if not worse, because whereas I really was a dud at Bengali, looking back I can’t believe that I have come across the occasional history or even English teacher ( I remember a particular Mrs Ohri who took an instinctive dislike to me, which was unfortunate because she was my class teacher for a year and had a tendency to make profoundly spiteful comments in front of a class full of sycophantic students) who tried their best to break any spirit I may have had. Needless to say I was a complete wreck in junior school and spent many an evening after school crying in my mother’s lap, feigning stomach aches every Monday morning, or plotting fierce revenge the moment I grew up.

I hated school with a passion, and consequently apart from the time I spent at home, I would say between ages 6 to 11 I was a very, very unhappy little girl.

It took me four more years and a wonderful teacher in my senior school called Mrs. Anima Bose to change the way I looked at my own mother tongue. She talked to me like I was a human being (of course it helped that by then I was in my teens and teachers hesitated to torment older students who weren’t quite as helpless.) In fact she did much more than that, she gave me respect and convinced me that if I was good at one language I must be good at others.(Turns out that wasn’t true about German..I was awful at it.) I recall one day we were discussing my problem and both of us had tears in our eyes. Needless to say, my Bengali improved almost overnight and I ended up beating the topper in my section in my Board exams. (Again—Board exams are a joke, proved by how I was nearly at the bottom of my class in the English paper. But still, it makes a pretty dramatic point.)

Anyway, my point is this.

I wasn’t dyslexic. I wasn’t too stupid either. A little respect and a bit more attention might have done wonders for a little girl feeling lost and out of her depth in a new country, with new languages, and in her eyes, very unpleasant teaching methods. Instead my school made every day miserable—reinforcing my dislike for school and all things academic until I got promoted (mercifully every time) to senior school; a release from hell.

Once the oppressive atmosphere and daily beatings and humiliations ceased I began to come out of my shell, made some wonderful friends, started doing better, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had a good time—had a tolerable enough time for the last 7 years of school.

Maybe it’s time teachers and the school system began to think how to encourage students to do better, rather than punish them mercilessly, incessantly, for doing badly. Maybe they should enquire why a student is doing badly, and if so what they can do about it…instead of cultivating an exclusive club of ‘good girls and boys’ (I remember thinking they were all teacher’s pets and spies until I grew up) who alone deserve the teacher’s attention.

Maybe we can let our children be children and help to develop their individual strengths (accept that kids, just like their parents, can’t be 100% good at everything) instead of trying to squeeze and beat and slap them into a prize child we can boast about at the next dinner party we go to.

Easier said than done, I can hear people mutter who had the patience to read this far.

I never said it was easy… but it’s the right thing to do.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

You had me at Hello.

What I find profoundly annoying is the way politeness manifests itself nowadays.

Number one on my hate list is the ubiquitous “how are you?” question which seems to have replaced the ‘Hi’ Or “hello”. I’m well aware that the more old fashioned “how- do you do-very fine thank you’ exchange is as old as the hills in the West, but over here until my parents’ time, unless you wanted to really KNOW how a person was feeling on a particular morning you refrained from asking him how he was.

I am a real throwback to an earlier period (not Neanderthal, wiseasses, a little later) and just cannot shake off the habit of responding to a passing “how are you?” with a genuine, well-considered list of the pros and cons in my life so far. “Aah getting along…my back’s troubling me a bit and that fish I ate yesterday was not the best…” and trail off when I see my questioner disappearing round a distant corner.

I have been told by well-wishers I am supposed to say “I’m good.” Regardless of the fact that the fish I ate died of some horrible disease before I got to it. “it doesn’t matter if it’s inaccurate” they patiently explain, “just say ‘I’m good’.”…” No… whether you’ve been very, very naughty also doesn’t change the answer” (a quick roll of the eyes)—“next time just say “I’m good’.

I still don’t get it though…why not just say “hello” then? There is no chance of my saying “my Grand aunt is very serious” if you say “hello” to me, is there? Why trick me into thinking you care only to walk off while I’m showing you my appendicitis scars?

It’s just impolite that’s what it is.