Date: July 26th, 2005
"Mumbai. One ticket please." I asked. The clerk behind the counter smiled. Clerks never smile. It is against the Holy Clerkship Regulation Act, 1979. But it seemed this one was blasphemous. A bastard child of a wholesome afternoon meal and the male testosterone, which invariably surges on the sight of a pretty face. "No tickets available ma'am. Atleast not on such short notice." he smirked. He smirked. I hate people who smirk. You cant see their teeth when they do and it sort of defeats the purpose of expression.
I did not want to waste anymore time on the silly clerk anyway, so I step off the line and into a slight drizzle. A taxi waltz right up. "Chalna hai kya madam?" a voice beckons. Its a strange word - madam. A sort of dive in savior for the egos of hundreds of women across the country. The sentence in its absence would have sounded so improper, save its obligatory address. I got into the cab as it pulled away. "Kaha ku?" he inquired. I did not exactly know the answer. There is a thing about answers and me. I never seem to have a stock of them. Kahan ku, kahan ku.. my mind repeated. I do that sometimes when I hear a queer dialect.
I never fancied the railways. I always excused myself admitting I was fastidious. Well, it was raining anyway and the smell of rusted iron can be a bit repulsive at times.
"Kahan ku.. madam?" the driver growled. "Bus station" I quipped, more as a reaction than an assertion. "Kaa? Imliban?" he deliberated further. I had no clue. "Bus Station!" I asserted this time. "Hau wahi.." he tuned away, pushing a tape in for the deck. I had no idea what it was playing but by the look of his head bobbing, I guessed it was popular. He smiled at the rearview mirror. Nice gutka stained teeth. Thumbs up.
As he waived through the traffic, I had a few simple questions lined up in my mind. Why am I going to the bus station? More importantly, Where am I going? Answers!! I did not want to go to Mumbai anymore. Atleast not in a bus, atleast not in the rain. The journey would kill me. What are you, a chicken??!
"Kaa jaari hai madam?" my friend behind the wheel opened his trap again. "Aaa..umm.. Manipal" another reaction! Manipal??!
"Lekin ab koi bus nahi reta madam. Mera bhai.." he motored on.
Who is this guy, the ride-an-inquiry? Shut up already. But I queried anyway, "Kab rehti hai, bhayya?"
"Pata nai, kounter mein poochlo" Well, he was not the inquiry after all.
He then assumed that I flatter myself by indulging in conversations where I nod and smile meekly, because he began to recite his opinions about the great vehicular congestion and the downtrodden state of the taxi community. On any other day, he would have had my sympathy or may be even a word in jest, but this was not one of those days. It was a day I was going to a bus station and allegedly to Manipal, which I thought was close to Maharashtra all this while. But apparently, as my map told me, it was not.
Well, I could go to Manipal, afterall. Nice beaches. I understand it is in Karnataka and is quite a way off Mumbai, but I could give it a try. Hmm.. but why would anyone indulge in such a frivolous activity? Just like that. Finally an answer! Atleast an answer I like.
Meanwhile, Mr. Taxidude is waving at the traffic cops. I ask him how long more before I reach the station. At this point, I would like to tell you that a taxi wallah's definition of an answer is quite different from the universal one. An answer is any random statement, which follows an interrogatory statement. So, he replies that I could get a ticket at any bus stand or the bus even. I thank him profusely for his benevolent answer and get down at the next bus stand.
I walk up to the little counter there and ask for a ticket to Manipal. The clerk behind the counter grins and says, " Saari, no buses for Manipal from here now."
(to be continued..)