Monday, April 30, 2007

The vegetable vendor

The vegetable vendor yelled. It had been an hour since she ventured out in a somewhat posh locality to sell vegetables. This has been her routine since around a decade. She made a small profit in a day and on some good days the profit touched Rs 100 mark. But in most of the days it was much less than it. She managed few hundred rupees, usually breaching the Rs 1000 mark a month. That was barely enough to make her family earn a decent living. She had been living with her 3 children, which she had before leaving her abusive, alcoholic husband. Like many others she dreamed that her children will have good education. She was an illiterate but she understood the importance of education for good living. This was one of the reasons she did not allow any of her children to work, though occasionally they helped her.

Today seemed a bad day. Not even a single buyer since an hour. Finally one lady showed up. She was a 30 something, stout, seemingly snobbish lady with loads of make up. She came and enquired about the prices of the vegetables. She hated leafy stuff, usually avoided potatoes as she heard it made her fat. Finally after few minutes she decided to go for few brinjals.

“How much does it cost”

“Rs 22 a kg”

“I need to buy only a quarter”

“Theat will cost …”

“I mean 250 grams”

“Rs 6”

“How come? See 1 kg costs Rs 22. So 1/4th kg, I mean 250 grams should cost 22 divided by 4, nearly 5 rupees”

“No. It is Rs 6”

“Still … Rs 6 is too much. Tell the right price.”

“It is 6 only”

“I’ll give Rs 5. Not a penny more”

“No. It costs us so much. It is not possible”

“OK. I’ll get it from someone else”

“Ok. You can have it for Rs 5”.

The lady gave Rs. 5, took the brinjals and got inside her Honda City which was waiting for her to take her to a beautician.

The vegetable vendor looked at the soiled Rs 5 note, smirked at no one in particular, and moved ahead.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Taxi Driver

“ Churchgate", I said.

He dumped my luggage into the boot space and went to the driver’s seat.

He was a man probably in his late 50s, seemed like a person who hardy opened his mouth, so unlike many drivers who start blabbering the moment you step in the taxi. A tall man, with some hairs white, though they were mostly covered by a cap, rather a hat. His face wasn’t visible, especially in the dim light little after sunset.

But fifteen minutes in the journey which would take probably an hour, his baritone voice started talking. He was quite amazed by the level of ignorance I had about Mumbai. I told him that I belong to a small town near Allahabad. He also belonged to Allahabad. And then came numerous discussions from government policies to sports to Indian economics. He revealed that he left his hometown in his 20s and is has been a long since then. He had a daughter who was married and a son who would be getting married shortly. However, I didn’t go deep into his personal life as I thought he might not like it, and also it might appear that I was making fun of his not so affluent life. Though I came to know that he and his son were both in same profession, and even his wife and his daughter in law were in same profession. I smiled that the family with everyone a taxi driver. Though I had never seen a female taxi driver, I knew that times were changing. He seemed to know about all the topics under the sun. But one field he seemed to be expert was Bollywood.

Meanwhile he carefully negotiated the traffic, following every traffic rule which were often unheard of in my part of country. But he revealed that he cannot afford to break any of the rules.

Meanwhile we continued our discussion on Bollywood, which later turned out to be a monologue as he was way too knowledgeable than me. I gave some of my comment about likes and dislikes. I showered praise on modern breed of actors like Hritik Roshan, John Abraham and dislike for the likes of Abhishek Bacchan. I thought that he is there just because he got way too many opportunities as he was son of Amitabh Bacchan. In fact I added that I didn’t like Aishwarya Rai and couldn’t understand why she is so much overhyped. I conceded that she didn’t look as hot in Dhoom 2 as she was made out to be. He seemed to disagree and changed the topic, as we didn’t seem to agree.

Meanwhile, after an hour of ride in heavy traffic, I reached my place. I took out my luggage and I paid him. But he didn’t seem to come out of taxi. The reason he gave was that he would be surrounded by people.

“What a jerk” I thought.

But few seconds later I got a glimpse of his face for the first time. I was nothing less than stunned, and somewhat embarrassed. I stared at him with a open mouth till he spoke.

“I was preparing for a movie in which I am playing role of a taxi driver, and what better than experiencing it firsthand”

“But …”

Before I could complete, Big B drove away, and I was still wondering if it was a dream or something.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Contrast

Few hours and it has been world of a difference. I had to catch a flight and to catch that I had to go to Delhi taking a 2 hour ride in general compartment of a train.

In the general compartment, it was not much overcrowded, maybe 120 odd people in a bogie that can seat around 80 people. Not overcrowded by any standards in this part of world, and they all were comfortably adjusted at their seats. There was a teen smoking his beedi, who reluctantly put it off after I complained that it was causing uneasiness in me. Then there was that lady in her teens probably married who was hollering on probably everyone out there. Then there was a group of 3 ladies, of whom one was a grandmother, and 2 had probably 9 kids between them (I could count only till 9!). They seemed highly ignorant about where Delhi was and were reluctant to believe that they had still more than an hour before Delhi came. Yet they were adamant on being close to gate as they had kids and didn’t want to be left behind when Delhi came. Then there were people who were trying to catch precious moments of sleep as they snuggled themselves into positions of comfort amidst uncomfortable seats, filthy aisles and mild stink. Most of the people, I felt were quite ignorant about things and probably knew very little about what was outside their ‘world’. Maybe it was due to lack of opportunities owing to socio-economic status or lack of willingness to learn or restricted view of things (which is often a product of above two!) or probably they are not motivated or willing enough to learn or probably a combination of few of these.

Completely different was the scene at the airport with all its ‘pseud’ junta, mostly nibbling sandwiches or pasties or cookies and likes, with a newspaper in one hand and a coffee in other. Maybe a third of them had laptop in their hand, and they loved to flaunt it. The TV set gave all the current news about the happenings in this world, and most of them were abreast with them. Within the aircraft most kept themselves glued to magazines, laptops, ipods and mostly unaware of & least concerned about what was there 37,000 feet below them, and though aware of key happenings in world, they were almost completely oblivious of what was happening right under their nose.

These two worlds in a space of few hours presented a stark contrast. We often claim to be doing well; we often claim that India is shining but it is quite restricted. Maybe it covers only the second class of people, but like an iceberg, only the tip is visible but a lot of chunk is under the surface of water which is often unnoticed and uncared for.