Had to travel to Delhi to meet a Client. The last time I was at the capital, it was on Dad’s LTA. My height was about 4 feet and I had never shaved in my life. Or in other words, it was 1990. I have no memory of it, except for the ‘super bad’ picures my dad and me had clicked using the ‘hotshot’ camera. If you are a 30 something Indian male or female, you WILL remember ‘hotshot’!!
Besides those pictures, my only other memory was ‘Palika bazaar’. I remember PB distinctly, because it was the place where I was fleeced Rs. 50 for a VHS tape that was supposed to have 5 episodes of ‘Tom and Jerry’. When I opened the box after coming back to Chennai, I realized that it had just a one minute long tape inside. That night, I swore to kill the shopkeeper using a two-barelled rifle, while riding my horse in a cowboy hat.
Cut to present. I won a ‘Reebok’ backpack on the ‘scratch and win’ competition onboard the flight. It was apparently worth Rs. 1,195 and I could get it for Rs.500. Not wanting to get into another draining decision making exercise, I decided to decide later whether I really wanted that backpack.
Got out of the airport and confirmed with the client that they had sent a cab. Stepped out, pulling my two piece luggage into the sea of cab drivers waving placards. I started to skim through them, looking for my name. 10 minutes and about 300 placards later, I could not find my man. Went back to square one and tried again slowly. 15 minutes later, no luck.
Its one thing to not have anybody to pick you up from an airport. Its quite another, to be decked in a suit and a tie (I will come back to the tie again, later in this post) at 11 AM in the middle of a Delhi summer and not have anybody to pick you up from the airport, especially when your cell phone has died on you.
The funny thing about a booming economy is that while more people have fancier cell phones, the Public Call Office is suddenly not in vogue anymore. It has especially become uncool anywhere near an airport terminal. Had to walk all the way to the arrival terminal to find the only PCO in the entire airport in our capital. Thankfully had the cabbie’s cell phone number.
It has been a while since I had a hindi-only conversation with anybody and my linguistic capabilities are inversely proportional to my angry state of mind. I was shocked to find out that Mr. Anil Shinde, my ‘sarathi’ for the next 3 days was indeed standing near the arrival terminal. How stupid of me. I should have looked more closely.
‘Main blue pant our blue shirt main hoon, sir’. Blue must really be the in thing this summer, because I walked all the way back to find about 5 people at the specified spot, all dressed in various hues of that color. The third shoulder I tapped was Anil.
He did not have a placard. I was furious. I asked him if we had met before. He din’t get the joke and instead went on about how he had never left Delhi. I wanted to hold him by the collar and scream “what were you thinking? how the fuck were you planning to recognize me and have you really been fancying your chances for the last 45 minutes??”. However, he did not give me a chance. By the time I gathered my luggage, he had already walked across the road and I would have lost him again, if not for the blue, which thankfully was not so much in vogue on the other side of the road.
Through the ride to the hotel and over the next 3 days, Anil would become my new best friend in Delhi. I would develop a certain kind of love for the Air freshner he uses in his Indica and how it mixes with the smell of his supari to create a heady mix. I would also develop a deep respect for the man’s optimism. One of those evenings, I asked him to take me to JNU so I could meet a friend there. He had no idea where JNU was and he did not think it was worth his/my time, to ask somebody before we started driving.
He simply started in his favorite direction and left the rest to people he would stop next to, at the traffic lights. In the dying moments of the red light, he would roll down his window lazily and ask his neighbour for directions, the last few parts of which would invariably get drowned in a sea of irate honks from those behind us. But find JNU, we did. The decisive last direction came from a chap who had just emptied his bladder next to a roadside tree and was mildly flattered to see a car waiting for him to finish up.
Anil and me talked a lot. Me, talking in a broken version of my national language and he concentrating hard and encouraging me along. We talked about our familes and he told me that I was his second best customer ever. I lost gold to a 30 plus girl from Bangalore, who took him to lunch on one of the days she drove with him.
We survived each other. I wanted to surprise him with a big tip on the last day on the way back to the airport, but as ‘Murphy’ would have it, the cab company decided to send a different car on that day. Anil is a legend when it comes to optimism. In my mind, he is second only to the dude who came up with the fantastic idea of the ‘necktie’. So fantastic that its only fair to talk about him in an exclusive post!