Thursday, January 21, 2010


“Sar, Mumbai phust time?” I turned from the trio of squatting bare bottoms lining the road outside the window and looked at my taxi driver. Catching my eye in the rear-view mirror, he turned back, swung his pudgy right hand across his ample girth and thrust it in my face. “I’m Pandey, sar…” I hurriedly took it, shook it and pushed it back, just to get him looking back at the road again. “You good gentleman, saar. Bhery smart… you look like bhery gud man”. Must’ve been the hand-me-down Trussardi I was wearing, I thought. I smiled to myself as much as I smiled at him. I was making a good impression… should hold me in good stead in the meetings to come. I adjusted the knot of the tie in the mirror, nodded, and settled down into a contemplative reverie as the city stretched into a busy blur outside.

“Sar… sar…” I turned again. Pandey was pushing 60. A thick-set man, his grey sideburns peeped from under his hair, dyed a thick matte black, just like his bristlebrush moustache, wearing a crisp white shirt and a gold watch. “Aap uncha aadmi hai saar… I know what you peepul like… Renu Maurya, only 19, from Dehradun sar, English speaking bhery good girl sar” Trussed in the Trussardi, I coughed involuntarily and caught myself in the mirror looking like I’d just been kneed in the groin. The look of alarm didn’t escape Pandey’s notice. “Mai aisa waisa aadmi nahin hoon sar. I was king of Mumbai. I importing electronic goods from Dubai… earned crores… bahut maja kiya. But my partner, I tell you sar… gamble kiya… all lost sar. I sit-eat with hi-fi peepul sar… chhota kaam nahin karthey… what you want sar? Model? Engineer? Doctor? Air-hoshtesh? Phirangi? What you want, you tell… Pandey, get sar.”

Having recovered a bit, I tried to change the topic. “How much from the airport to Khar?” “350 rupees sar, metre chalu saaar…”, replied Pandey. “350 rupees? I was told it wouldn’t cross 200!” Pandey shook his head, “Nahin sar, AC taxi hai …” I called a colleague from Mumbai to confi rm. I hadn’t even fi nished talking when Pandey said “ Price no problem sar. You happy, Pandey happy. You not happy, Pandey unhappy. You go to Versova sar… ” I tried to correct him “No, to Khar, and only 200…” But Pandey wasn’t listening… “You go to Versova saar, I have fl at… outside, bhery ordinary, but inside phive star is phailing sar… bedroom, bathroom bhery nice… House wives come, give bhery good service. Only ten thousand for two, even three hours sar.” At this stage I was intrigued, from an entirely academic point of view, mind you. Somehow, I have this unhappy knack of bringing out the pimp in every taxi driver I meet. Wonder why? (check Typos February 10, 2008). Anyway, I asked why the housewives were getting involved. “At home getting bored sar, or needing money… all wanting good life na, sar. All different purpose…”

I was quiet. “You want less aged? Price more sar… 20,000 for medical students, model, air-hoshtesh 50,000… There’s bhery good girl, Renu Maurya sar…” I shook my head and looked away. “You pheeling shy sar. Don’t worry, I have sarkari clients. I’m total conphidential sar. Big names, but not telling, see… I started this business because big afsar give me idea sar. Nahin toh taxi driving, what getting sar… I having good phamily. Son studying hotel management. I’m driving taxi today but what to say sar, once a king, always a king sar… everybody knowing Pandey, see…” and as he turned the car into a lane, a traffic cop waved reverentially and smiled and Pandey waved back. “Nothing to worry sar.”

I had heard and read about this clandestine world of carnality with pretended class. But really, who was I to judge? I didn’t live their lives, nor did I have to contend with their aspirations and limitations. From the earliest of times, the most liberal of states to the most oppressive, in every land, in every time, this primal urge, like a river finding its course, always found takers, and givers. All civil society can do is offer options and ensure that this space is free from coercion and disease.

Pandey must’ve read my mind… “Bimari ke liye not to worry sar… apna Dr. Rajesh Rane hain na sar. … giving certiphicate sar…aur waise bhi, safety to using na sar…” Pandey stopped the car.

“Hum aagaye sar… please taking card. I’m useful man.” At the office gate I saw my colleague walking up with a welcoming smile. As I stepped out to pay the fare, Pandey asked with a questioning look in his eyes “Sar, if you wanting boys….?” I clenched my teeth and muttered a firm “No!” Pandey realised he had gone way off course, smiled sheepishly and said “Ok, ok sar… please call sar… Renu Maurya bhery good girl sar…” his voice trailed off behind the taxi. I turned to greet my colleague. There was only half a smile left of that once hearty welcome…


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