Monday, May 28, 2007

Vinod, sirf Goldie Banana laana..

We have realized that we been rather lucky to get a driver like Vinod.

The search for a driver in Mumbai had begun rather painfully, when we moved here last year. We weren't quite prepared to pay as much as the going rate, and our usual over-baked attempts at 'bargaining' (feigning heart attacks at what they quoted) drove away a good many prospects.

In fact, a couple of times, Vijay would take a new driver to office and back 'on trial' for a day or two - but they would apparently decide he just didn't cut it as a potential employer, and disappear wordlessly. This initially suited Vijay just fine, as it meant free rides to work, but it got tiring after a while.

That's when Vinod landed up.

One of the security guards at our buildings introduced him into our lives, and since then, he has been an integral part of it.

Some nice things about Vinod:

a. He is a smart, polite, young man, always well turned out, bright eyed and alert. He has greyish green eyes that twinkle as he wishes me good morning, every morning.

b. When I approach the car, he appears out of nowhere like a shot to open the door for me and always offers to help with the shopping packets. He also patiently runs after me to give me my cellphone, or purse, or whatever I have absentmindedly left in the car, and there is never a hint of sarcasm in his smile when he does this.

c. Before us, he worked for a crazy, fussy Mumbai-model-starlet-type, who would keep him out at all odd hours of the night; and so he seems to think Vijay and me are dream employers by comparison.

d. He hasn't missed a single day of work without good reason, always arrives half an hour early, and never complains about being called either too early, or beng kept too late - oftentimes, he even lands up on Sunday of his own accord, just to see if he can drive us somewhere.

e. He has apparently honed his driving skills by driving, from the age of seven upwards, a tractor in the uneven terrain in his village in UP - so he manoeuvres our Honda City like a bicycle through thin cracks in the traffic (Vijay may not agree that this is a good thing).

f. He always politely puts up with Vijay's backseat driving and contrary instructions 'Koi Jaldi nahin..aaram se chalaao...' followed by 'Late ro rahen hai...thoda daudao'. He also doesn't mind running around buying our groceries for us 'Sirf Goldie banana laana...sirf teen Alphonso mango laana..'

g. He doesn't chat while driving needlessly, but when he does speak, it is always amusing because of the overly polite, sing-song way that he talks. 'Hume gaaon nahin jaana, wahan bore hote hai....hamare papa-mummy kehte hai shaadi kar lo, par hume shaadi nahin karni...jab model memsahib hume Sanjay Dutt ke ghar le gayi to unhone hume dekh ke pooncha 'tu baarah saal ka hai, kya?..Aur phir hume paanch hazaar rupaiye diye..Bahut peete hai..'

h. Thanks to having worked for his 'model memsahib', he knows all the party places in Mumbai better than we do. To a query like 'Vinod, Hawaiian Shack maalum hai...?'....a quick 'Ji, Sir' is shot back with quiet confidence and we are off.

i. When he doesn't know a place, he consults his respected elder brother ( also a driver) who he lives with, and who serves as his map and moral guide. When he heard that we were off on our road trip weekend recently, he checked the route out with his brother and sweetly offered to drive us there 'Bhaiiya ne kahan ki mujhe aapko Wapi tak pahuchana chahiye, wahan ka raasta achha nahin hai...'. (We ended up taking him halfway and then he took a train back home)

j. He has a lot of assured self-confidence without being egoistic. This is evident in his belief that he can beat up anyone if necessary - although we haven't seen him actually lose his temper with other drivers and cretins on the Mumbai streets. 'Hum mein bahut taakat hai', he says matter-of-factly. It's a bit hard to believe this fully considering he is roughly half Vijay's size ( Vijay himself is six feet tall but one foot wide), and that Sanjay Dutt (drunkenly but excusably) has mistaken him for a twelve year old.

Some not-so-nice things about Vinod:

a. He doesn't exactly respect each and every traffic rule all the time, and tends to drive a little faster than necessary- and so he has to be chastised by Vijay, once in a blue moon ( I never notice as I am always gazing dreamily out the window at nothing, but I have heard from Vani that he confided to her 'Jab madam hoti hai gaadi mein, to main hamesha bahut aaram se hi chalata hoon..'. Just a little touch of protectiveness! Wait, these are supposed to be his bad points..)

b. He makes us feel a bit guilty by letting us take advantage of his good nature and flexibility. We tip him often and pay him well, but sometimes still end up feeling a bit like imperialist exploiters.

c. He's basically a little too good to be true, and no driver after him will match up. This is a bit of a problem, but that's in the future...

The one time when he did admit to having been in a scrap with the law, recently, we were very much interested in knowing the details. (So he is human, after all!).

Vinod (one evening): Sir, aaj hamara license chala gaya. Kal court se collect karna hai.
Vijay: Kyon, kya hua?
Vinod: Ek police-waala aaya aur hum sab driver pe chillaane laga ...bola ki humne wrong parking ki hui hai. Par humne nahin ki thi, sir. Uss ke saath sab driver log ladne lage..aur ...aur hume bhi gussa aa gaya, sir. Humne bhi police-waale ko keh diya!
Vijay (very interested to see where this goes) Kya kahan tumne?
Vinod (a little ashamed): Bas keh diya, Sir.
Vijay (cajoling him, getting ready to hear the choicest of Allahabadi abuses): Bolo, na..kya kahan?
Vinod (finally getting his crime off his chest, in his usual sing-song, slow manner): Sir..humne police waale ko poonchha...''Tumhe Hawaldar Banaya Kisne?''

And that's our Vinod.

Additional note: Last night, Vijay and I discovered that Vinod apparently sleeps 3 hours a night. 'Sir, neend hi nahin aati doh baje tak, kya kare..phir paanch baje uthke sab log ka khaana pakata hoon. Par teen ghanta bahut hai..'. I am very worried by this fact and am wondering whether the 'bright eyed, alert' look is actually a 'glazed eyes, robotic' look in disguise. I have advised him to drop his 'midnight cup of tea' habit and try to sleep more, considering that he is our driver, and will also encourage more daytime naps. I knew there was a catch, I knew it..

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Bread Pakoda Solution

So yesterday was a particularly bad day at work and I came home in a horrible mood.

Sometimes people in my office really amaze me, but let us not get into the details. Not good for the blood pressure. And anyway, I have decided to become a highly spiritual, forgiving person and rise above and beyond all the little matters. I will look at all my fellow human beings with a kindly eye (not sure what the other eye is supposed to be doing at this time) and try and understand other people's perspectives more. No more judgements - even for the cretins I work with.

But till I reach that stage, I will have to learn to deal with the bad moods. And I think I've hit upon one possible solution.

It is called 'Home Made Bread Pakodas and Chai'

Vijay came home at an unusually decent time yesterday ( may be indecent from his boss's perspective but who cares about that!) and started talking about going out to Bandstand for a Bread Pakoda, his favourite snack. I demurred (cool new word) because I could imagine the dirty brown lumps floating in a sea of unhygienic, reheated oil. As a compromise for him, and to get my mind off the bad day, I offered to make Vijay his snack at home, and he delightedly agreed.

I shall carefully list the steps for those of you who don't know how to cook: this is one stunt you can definitely try at home!

1. Go to the fridge, open it and start moaning that none of the ingredients you need are there. Get the husband to come and find all the ingredients from different parts of the kitchen. Feel vindicated when you prove to him that there is no white bread in the house. Make him call up nearby store and deliver the same speedily.

2. While the store guy brings the bread over, happily discover three already boiled potatoes in the fridge. Warm them in the microwave and then mash them up with your (washed - well, ideally) hands, enjoying the warm, gooey feel between your fingers. Be in a happy, relaxed mood at this time, and do not equate this in your mind to bashing somebody to a pulp.

3. Once the potatoes are properly mashed, grab a nearby knife while husband watches nervously. Don't bother to wash your hands at this point as you will need to get them into the potatoes again. Use the now mash-potatoed-knife to expertly and vigorously chop one large onion into teeny tiny pieces, all the while not imagining cutting an annoying colleague to bits.

4. Add the chopped onions to the mashed potatoes and energetically use your fingers to massage them into a nice paste. Add a spoon of salt and two spoons of red chilli powder to this mix and continue to pound away, while not bitching about office politics to your husband at all. Do not choose this moment to remove your hair from your eye, thereby getting chilli powder into your eye and running around screaming until you find a tap.

5. Through watery eyes, if your eyes happen to be watery at this time for any reason, cast a withering look at your concerned, hovering husband and ask him coldly 'Who's going to prepare the besan?'. Watch him mix the besan, water and a pinch of salt to a fine consistency. As your eyes stop burning, feel better about life and therefore do not nag him about the besan mix being too thin and too thick alternately.

6. Heat some oil in a pan and watch it blankly for a while. Then ask your husband 'Who's going to slice the bread?'. Watch him cut the bread into neat pieces. Do not snap at him when he asks you if it should be cut into triangles or rectangles. Just say 'Rectangles' quietly ( You can also choose triangles if you're in that kind of mood).

7. You are now ready for the final act! Put your tasty alu-masala-mix in between the bread slices, trying not to 'sample' too much of it while doing so as this is going to give you a stomach-ache later. Since you have dirtied your hands enough, ask your husband to take over at this stage. Watch him dip the stuffed bread slices into the besan and gently drop them into the heated oil. His hands are all messy with the besan and soon, so is the ladle he is using to fry the bread-pakodas, and also the entire stove area. Do not reprimand him for strewing all the extra fried bits and pieces merrily all around the kitchen instead of into one plate.

8. Prepare the roti-dabba with napkins so that the husband can deftly drop the golden, delicious looking treats into the same, where they will remain hot and tasty until the tea is ready. Remember the tea at this point. Since you are no longer doing anything useful, prepare the tea, using only my brand, Red Label.

9. Impatiently wait for the husband to finish making the last of the bread pakodas. Useful tip: ball up the remaining alu masala into round balls, dip them into the last of the besan and fry them into delicious kofta-type balls. Voila! 6 bread pakodas, 3 kofta-balls, 2 cups of steaming tea are ready.

Ignore the fact that your kitchen looks as though its been hit by a tornado and that your maid Zareena may either have a heart attack or quit tomorrow morning when she sees it (it's a cruel world and her occupational hazards are her concern).

10. Last step: Excitedly run to the drawing room with all the food, run back, switch off the gas, run into the drawing room again to enjoy your home-made treat. Remember to take some Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Ketchup (It's different), and the tea with you. Sit cross legged on your mat, enjoy the sea view and pretend you are enjoying the sea breeze too ( hey, it's hot in Mumbai and we need the AC). You will notice by this time, you have forgotten all about your stupid colleagues and you realise it's wrong to let such insignificant things bother you.

After you have enjoyed the perfect cup of tea and eaten the hot, tasty, spicy, crisp bread pakodas (1.5 nos.) and kofta (1 nos.) and your husband has devoured the rest, you lie back contentedly together like 2 over-stuffed bread pakodas - and watch a two hour special on the Birth of the Universe on National Geographic. This further helps to realize how tiny you really are, and thereby strengthen your belief that all the little things in life that get you down are even tinier, so they're just not worth it.

But the converse is not true: the little things in life that make you happy are indeed worth feeling good about.

And as you lie there half asleep, you realize you've totally spoilt your dinner for the night - but what better way could there be to do it?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Ghet Bhell Soon, Bhani

A most unfortunate incident has occurred. I feel almost bad making fun of it.


But seriously... it is quite terrible. Vani had an accident two days back. To cut a long story short, here it is for you in bullet points. Imagine, if you will:

1. Vani travelling blissfully in Auto.
2. Auto driver deciding to turn into 'Auto-pilot'
3. Vani observing auto is now flying across the road.
4. Vani and Auto-pilot screaming 'yaaargghh' or similar
4. Auto meeting Sturdy Pole. Full stop for Auto.
5. Occupants suriving. Vani slightly better off than auto-pilot.
6. They both immediately rush to hospital ( for some reason, choosing to take another auto rather than a cab, but leave us not judge them- they have been through enough).

So the upshot of it all is that Vani has been advised bed rest and has been hobbling around at home. Fans of Vani, who have got to know and love her through this blog, will be glad to know that she is recovering well.

When her boss Tarun (who is based in Bangkok) heard about the accident, he was quite concerned, naturally. To show this concern through a simple gesture, he sent me a message to ask me to send her flowers on behalf of the entire team.

I told him, no problem, and passed this task on to our (Vani's and mine) secretary Raman.

Raman needs to be understood a bit more. He is around one hundred years old and due for retirement anyday now. A soft hearted old man with a gruff exterior, he is terribly underworked because Vani and I travel a lot and work out of a different office on most days. So he usually appreciates the one or two projects given to him, making a mountain out of every possible molehill.

Me ( breezing into office): Hi Raman
Raman (gruffly): Hi
Me: Raman, Vani's had an accident - did you know?
Raman (expression showing a strange mix of disgust and concern): Noh, I diddan knowh.
Me: Well, anyway, Tarun has asked that we send her some nice flowers at home. Can you please arrange them?
Raman ( steely determination entering watery eyes): Yah. I can sand it.
Me: Great. Make it out to say 'Vani, Get Well Soon - from the Team. Regards, Tarun'
Raman (having done with me, rudely turns his back): OK.

I proceed with my work, only interrupted once by Raman.

Raman (sneaking up behind me and booming in my ear): Sand it to harr homm?
Me: Yes, please. You know her address, right?
Raman (disgusted at the question): Hobviously I knowh Bhani's haddress.
Me: Ok. When will it reach her?
Raman: Bhy twalve.

Sure enough, by twelve thirty, I got a call from Tarun who had obviously been thanked by Vani for the flowers - he thanked me for the 'quick action' and insisted on finding out how much it cost so that he could reimburse me. I assured him it was done through Raman at the office and therefore, not an issue. I, in turn, thanked Raman for the 'quick action' who grumbled back at me, pleased.

The thought of having brought a smile to poor battered Vani's face brought a warm glow over all of us. I could imagine her delight and surprise at unexpectedly receiving a huge,lovely bunch of blooming flowers. I was personally touched by our collective thoughtfulness.

Now, the actual flower delivery as I discovered after conversation with Vani. Bullet point version:

1. Vani, having resolved to work from home, sleeping between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
2. 12 noon, calls on Vani's mobiles starting. Confused courier chap confounded by Raman's directions ( 'Haddress is A-5..mast be phipth phloor only')
3. Courier chap finally reaches Vani's house. Ringing bell.
4. Irritated Vani slams open door. Courier chap thrusts flowers into her face.
5. Flowers consist of approximately 4 dilapidated roses and 4 other unidentifiable flowers, dying in their tight plastic shroud. Vani recoils at stink and thrusts them back into courier chap's face.
6. Vani finally reluctantly accepts flowers are for her and takes them from man.
7. Vani discovers who is responsible for these pathetic posies- a dirty pink envelope contains (apart from wrong address) 'From Tarun and Team. Item: Mixed Flower bunch'

I went over to see her in the evening and discovered this horrifying Mixed Flower Bunch. Cursing Raman, I remembered that his constant endeavour, his personal life mission, is to save every possible rupee for the company - so he must have ferretted around for the cheapest option in town. (In fact, now I think I have seen similar flowers in the gardens near our office ... and he did disappear for half an hour that morning...). I shuddered at the thought of having to tell Tarun, 'Boss, you owe me Rs. 20 for the mixed flower bunch..'

Anyway, Vani and I did have a good laugh about it. And Raman and Tarun are probably still basking in that warm glow. So everybody's happy.

(Please admire the picture of the flowers, courtesy Vani. My first techno-savvy attempt at uploading pictures.)