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..