I’d simply asked, “What are all those policemen doing out there?” They were standing with their van at the corner of my street where taxis normally wait. That’s why I’d had to walk in the opposite direction to find a cab. How was I to know that my simple question, muttered almost to myself, would act like a starter’s gun on my cabbie?
He was off.
“What do you think they’re doing?” he shot back. “Waiting to make money of course.
That’s how they are. If you’re just next to your house and think you can do a quick turn without bothering about the red signal, they are right there with open palms ready to fleece you. Now tell me aunty, did you ever see so many policemen out on the roads in your time? You make the smallest mistake and your pocket grows light. They make a mistake, and your pocket grows light again.”
Thereafter he was like a one-person show of “Where the Dirt is”. The curtain fell only when it had to—at the end of my journey. One story must serve as an example of the many he told.
He had had a new ration card made. It came with his name spelt wrong. He objected. The ration officer said if you want it corrected, you’ll have to make an affidavit. “Now a man working 12 hours a day to feed himself and his family—where does he have the time for lawyers and courts? The man says to himself I’ll have to pay those bastards anyway; so why not pay this one and head back to work? That’s how it is. I paid the bastard and the name was corrected. 200 rupees for two minutes’ work.”
For him, only one person had stood out like a shining beacon in all this murk. Indira Gandhi. “Now there was a woman who had guts, who had will power and who had our love. We would line up at Mahim when her car passed by. We would wave and she would wave back. Like this (both hands off the wheel, oh mi gawd!) These days, do we know or even care who goes where in those long cars with lights? Why don’t we care? Because they’re all gutter ke chuhe. She was a sherni.” He turned to flash a perfect 10 smile at me. A bike swerved into our path and sped on.
Next moment the smile curdled with intense contempt. “Baburao Mane, Shiv Sena man,” he spat out. “You don’t know him? You’ll see him walking around on our street. I asked him once to recommend me for a job. He suggests one that would get me Rs 50 a day. I said to him I don’t have a big enough almirah to put that in saab. I’m a driver. Talk 4000 rupees a month and I’ll listen. He shouts at me. Says get out, go find yourself a job. I say sure I’ll get out. But you watch it. You’re going to be on the street one day. And that’s where he is now. In his place? Eknath Gaekwad.”
After a moment’s pause, he turned around to deliver his punch line. No words. Just a mean and malevolent “Heh heh heh”!