Sunday, November 14, 2010

The "Road of Life" - Lessons from "Life on Road" - Part 1

Three-and-a-half months since my last post. I look more like a firm nowadays, posting quarterly. Without much ado, here goes blog Q3 – unaudited (unedited?!)

This time, it’s about lessons learnt on the roads of Chennai. Traffic in this city has its unique share of humour. Not to forget / mention the larger chunk of irritation, anger and a host of emotions spewed through the exhaust of every vehicle. Narrations below, therefore, refer to anecdotes involving the self and the traffic system. Mostly dominated by the latter, the former is a helpless witness to the extent that he could but blog about it. The irony, though, is about how we could attempt to promote a Greener world when everyone on road (vehicle included) is Red in the face!

The Chennai auto-driver:

The Chennai auto-driver, to say the least, is the most powerful economic indicator that every above-average and over-gray-haired economist has failed to observe and track. He is powerful enough to usher in a sub-prime on a local basis. The ‘taxiing rate’ he quotes could create a bearish clone of the strongest bull any fund market has ever seen. Salaried professionals would incur a negative balance on their Salary a/c in a jiffy, and businessmen could file Chapter 11 (of any book!) within the bat of an eyelid. Bargaining, in such a situation, is hardly possible. Except when you use humour – precise and pointed, only to save a dozen and a half of INR.

I spend a total of twenty minutes daily, only talking to auto-drivers to convince them for lower ‘taxi quotes’. Excerpts from a couple of conversations are given below:

“AUTO! Mount Road??”

“Why not, sir? Where in Mount Road?”

“Spencer Plaza...?”

He then acts ignorant. Someone who has not heard of Spencers Plaza, being in Chennai for more than three months, is better not described any further. On second thoughts, he could, at best, be branded as ‘a blot on the landscape’, to borrow from Sir P G Wodehouse.

The acting reaches its Oscar zenith soon.

“Spencer Plaza?! In Mount Road?! You mean behind Cathedral Road?!”

“No, you just have to go straight-as-an-arrow from here. Cathedral Road doesn’t even come in the way!”

The guy then acts as if he just finished installing Google Maps in himself, by doing a vigorous headbang to denote cognizance (now understanding that you do have a sense of routes around here). “Ohhhh! OUR Spencer Plaza?! (Mark that usage. Spencer Plaza is OURS now!!!)) I was thinking about something else! Hop on!”

“Before I do, how much?”

“Hundred bucks, sir.”

“For four-kilometres-and-a-half?!!! Hope you in your senses?!!”

“Sir, it’s a one-way ahead. Petrol charges have increased. So has the price of food-grains. But only for you, sir, 60 bucks is what I shall charge, and no more.”

“Forty it is, a buck no more...”

And then I walk ahead, to attempt the same to the next sapien they call an auto-driver.

Phase II is callback. When the above Jack Nicholson screams at you, claps twice, and calls you back. “Clap-and-another! Sirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!”

“Now what?!”

“You can’t fathom the traffic going forward, sir. It’s too tough to drive... 50 bucks, sir. No less...”

“Oh, I suppose you didn’t know you would be part of this phenomenon called traffic, when you started three-wheeling?! FORTY!!!!”

“Sir, please sir, spare a tenner if you would, sir.”

“Who would give me an extra tenner, like I do now to you?”

“The Almighty will, sir. I will ask Him to do so.”

“O.k, here goes. I give you my 40 now; the other tenner that the Almighty owes me will be re-assigned to you in my morrow’s prayers. Now shall we do the honours?!”

Jack Nicholson now does a LOL, and says, “Must say you talk funny, sir! Give me 45!”

To which the reply was, “I talk funnier, if humour doth discount! Forty...”

And phew, the journey only starts...