In the midst of a commute argument one day, a colleague flung at me, ‘What do you know about it? You have a car and a driver!’ All I did in reply was remind her that I hadn’t always had the two; I didn’t have the heart to tell her that problems don’t end with acquiring a driver. They merely begin.
My first driver hailed from Bihar. He was incessantly social. Not only would he chatter every minute that I had my feet in the car, he would also chat with everyone in sight. Within weeks, he was running an unofficial employment agency for drivers from my office. But he was unflappable. Even when I caught him selling my cast-off tyres from my own car boot, all he did was grin cheerfully and inform me accusingly that he hadn’t made as much out of that deal as he should have!
We thought he was happy with us, but one day, he came to the husband and said, ‘Much as my heart dreads being parted from you (that was the kind of hyperbole he would talk in), I have found another job.’ When we had removed the flowery phrases from the matter, we found that the problem was we were not paying him overtime. And here I was congratulating myself for not having made him stay beyond his duty hours even once in the eleven months or so he was with us.
But I was soon to learn with the wisdom of hindsight that he had been the best of the bunch. For there followed a spate of drivers all armed with official looking driving licences from the wilds of East India, but few driving skills to speak of. One we sacked in two minutes flat because we found he did not know how to start the car; another in ten minutes because he couldn’t reverse it.
One specimen that stayed with us for two whole months took Appa to fetch the son from school and reversed neatly into a car in the parking lot, the car of a teacher. Appa watched in mute horror as students of all shapes and sizes gathered around, vowing vengeance on the driver. Luckily, the teacher herself was more placable. She was also the son’s English teacher. Appa came home and declared wrathfully, ‘Either he stays or I do!’ That wasn’t a choice really.
The next number was also from the state of Bihar, and he belonged to the same ilk as an honourable cabinet minister. He provided me with privileged insights into why that ministry is run the way it is. For he was bone lazy. He was usually to be found snoring in someone else’s car. It used to be my car till the stereo conked out. Since it was never the same car two days in running, I had two options: Either I waited endlessly in the sun — one day it was a full twenty minutes — or I begged the parking attendant for help. Ever since the parking attendant told me in a superior way that I should get myself a new driver, I preferred the first option. Maybe I should have just got a new car stereo.
Plus, the driver believed vehemently in an egalitarian society. Thus, while I struggled down the office steps with my arms full of bags and bottles, he would sit on the parapet and consider my descent ruminatively. The point at which I touched base at the car is when he would start putting on his shoes and socks, and begin ambling leisurely towards me. Then he would unfurl himself into the driving seat and reach out to open my door, while I waited outside, my arms aching. I barely had time to close my door before he would be ODing on the accelerator.
In the process, he reversed the car into an uncharacteristically gentle stop one momentous week — on my big toe. My yells were of no avail. He smiled his big, gentle beam and got out of the car to examine the truth of the matter. Amma, who was in the car at the time, was horrified, and that evening, when I got home, read me a lecture on how I had to make the driver maintain the proprieties. Accordingly, I have begun my drill. In the mornings, I swing my arms and walk towards the car and ask the driver to get my bags. Then I wait outside the car till he gets the stuff. When I get inside, he hands me my stuff most unceremoniously. Reaching office, I get out by myself, while he drums impatiently on the steering wheel, and tell him to carry in my bags.
I also look longingly when other drivers hand their passengers lovingly into cars, personally supervising the shutting of the door and the arranging of bags. Then I remind myself that at least I’m better off than an unmarried friend, who, fed up with the driver she had personally hired and was paying every month, sacked him. He just glared at her and said, ‘I won’t go till Saab (her father) says I am sacked!’
First published in The Financial Express.