In the Taxi – a Typical Day in Bangalore

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The World According To Balvindra

My Driver’s Insights On Foreign Foods, Coughing, And My Chances On The Indian Wedding Market – a little story by Chris Ebbert

One person I spend much of my time with these days is Balvindra,
the eighteen year old driver of a silver Tata Indica Diesel with the plate
number “KA 01 AA 3961” by Balaji Taxi Company, Bangalore, Karnataka, kindly
call for appointment. He picks me up every morning at eight, and takes me to the
college in a faraway corner of Bangalore.

For two full hours every day, we sit together in this
tough little car, air conditioning doing its best to filter out archaic diesel
particles around us, battling potholes the size of garden ponds and speed bumps
designed to imprison Lamborghinis.

During that time, my driver makes a painstaking effort to
explain some basic truths of life to me. When my laptop’s battery charge has
expired, and I am closing the lid of my trusty Toshiba L750 to be recharged at
the earliest opportunity, there is no escaping the lectures of my driver.
Balvindra is a typical Bangalore resident, thin, tall, and dark skinned, speaking
Kannada-accented, Indian English when he isn’t interrupting his speeches in
order to nurse his iPhone, or to attend to a Jesus statue in danger of toppling
over on the dashboard, following a particularly deep pothole or an unusually
high speedbump.

“You seem to have a bit of a chronic cough going there, Balvindra,” I remarked one day, unable to contain my curiosity about the almost rehearsed, dignified little coughs he had been emitting every 42 seconds that day.

“Ah yes, Sir!” he responded cheerfully, evidently delighted to have found a subject of
mutual interest for the day. “Has been going on since my fourteenth birthday,
Sir. Very mysterious. My mother always take me to homeopathic doctor in other
city, Karnataka, very famous. He take me by the hair and pull me up like this
–“ (Balvindra grabs his own, black hair and pulls on it in the same fashion in
which cannibals in Papua Guinea tend to carry their trophy shrunken heads), “… until
my other tongue back in place.”

“Your… other tongue..?” I nodded with the gravity reserved for the terminally insane, not sure what he was talking about, but open for surprises.

“… Scientific evidence, Sir! Everybody have two tongues. One in mouth, one in throat. Invisible to layman. You pull up on hair like that, second tongue go back. No more cough. Many weeks.”

“It sounds like it’s time to be pulled by the hair again then, I presume…?” carefully
initiating the next stage of the conversation.

“Some time, hot food help a lot!” he continued after a short, but enthusiastic nod,
following an evasion maneuver and a honk aimed at a colorfully painted,
noxiously fuming truck straying into our path at the speed of a dying Helix
Pomatia, “My grandmother some time make Mattar Paneer with special chili from
North of India. You know Biryani, Sir? Next to my house big Biryani Centre. All
the coughing people from neighborhood come and buy. Is great medical
advancement, helping millions. One chili, never cough!”

We nodded at this insight in agreement and continued along the way, avoiding other vehicles in the peculiar way in which Indians
tend to share the road; the idea is basically to creep up close enough to another vehicle from behind to maximize the shock impact of the horn, use it, and start making passing motions, but ultimately staying beside and behind the other vehicle as if lacking the power to go past. Any slowing down of the vehicle in front must be penalized by vigorous horn honking, but passing is not an option, even if the road is as wide as the desert. Passengers with high blood pressure are advised to bring blindfolds. Must have something to do with the caste system.

“Do you like snake, Sir?” my driver asked, having vanquished a two-hundred year old
school bus with the Tata’s horn, now crawling toward a stop at a bus station
with several million waiting passengers, its spirit visibly broken by our
antics.

“Snake?”

“Beefsnake.”

“Ah, beefsteak! Yes, I do like it, but where I normally live, in China, I wouldn’t
touch it with a long stick. Too many creative ingredients, you never know what
that steak used to be before it ended up in a pan.”

“Could be snake?”

“Yes, why not. I have actually eaten snake, you know. In America. Not bad. A bit like
chicken, but tougher.”

“Like old chicken, right, Sir?”

“Yes, a very old chicken. Crocodile tastes a bit like that, too, coming to think of it.
I ate that once in Louisiana.”

We pondered this realization in mute appreciation while making our way through a heavy cloud of smoke billowing from acres of burning rubbish beside the motorway, street dogs blinded by the smoke waddling hither and thither between equally blinded cars and autorickshaws as we slalomed our way through the maze of potholes, speed bumps, overloaded trucks, and street vendors carrying huge baskets of coconuts.

“You reducing a lot, Sir!” he suddenly exclaimed, after a brief side glance, eyes
wide with terror, once we had exited the rubbish cloud. “Your weight become
very less!”

I looked at myself in a certain state of alarm – what had that cloud done to me? Then I realized he was speaking in general terms,
not as an immediate observation. It was true, I had been losing quite a bit of
weight since arriving in India.

“Now you can almost get married,” he added with a sense of approval. “Face and hair very
good. Only body still fat. Next time you come to India, I take you to MG Road.
Very good girls there, Sir! Hair and eyes and feet… premium quality.”

With that, he sank into contemplative revelry, dodging
scooters where possible and disciplining dopey fellow drivers through horn use.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing girls
with hair and eyes and feet of high quality, and if I cough, I will remember to
pull myself by the hair to get that other tongue under control.

Watch out for honking Tatas driven by eighteen year olds, you may be driving too closely in front of them.

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