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April 30th, 2007


I cannot remember his name. He was perhaps in his mid-forties. He had a salt and peppered beard. The photograph on the photo identity card in his auto certainly did not resemble him. Perhaps it was one of those cases of sub-leasing where the original driver sublets his auto to another fellow for a few hours.

I: Shivajinagar
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?
I: Russell Market
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?

Our conversation during the second half of the journey swung between two words – gota-gotilaa, know-don’t know, understand-don’t understand. Yet, we spoke a lot. He said he could not speak Hindi. I said I was in the same position when it came to Kannada.

We landed in Russell Market. I picked up the mattress that I had come here to collect. I did not realize it would be so heavy. The maker of the mattress simply started loading the mattress on the head of the auto and began tying it. He was very upset with this load. I insisted that the mattress be kept inside his auto, but the mattress maker told me that if the mattress was kept inside, it would keep hitting the meter and raise it. He was very upset and I thought he was reluctant to drive me back to my destination. I asked him once whether he was interested in going further or whether he wanted to part from Russell Market itself. Meanwhile, the mattress maker and he were arguing. The mattress maker insisted that nothing would happen to his auto and that he should drive me back.

Our conversation began during this part of the journey.

He: Now where?
I: Shanthinagar.
He: How do I go from here? Left or right?
I: Ummm, ummm, ummm, take a left. Route gota?
He: Gotilla.
(Oh no, I said to myself and started to map out the roads in my head. Bangalore being a city of one-ways, I started to think what route would be faster and quicker. Not knowing what landmarks to give him, I suddenly said)
I: M.G. Road gota?
He: Gota
I: So, M.G. Road
(He swerved his auto to the left and from Commercial Street, hit towards Russell Market again and then out of Shivajinagar towards M. G. Road. I started by asking the usual question of how many years since he started driving)
I: Kitna saal, how much time, driving you?
He: Eh?
I: How much time? Auto driving?
(He could not fathom)
I: Owner? Auto ownership? You?
He: (W)owner huh? No. Rs. 170 per day.
I: Oh (saying it profoundly)
He: Karntaka?
I: Baambay
He: Baambay huh?
I: You, Karnataka
He: Yes
I: Karntaka or Tamil Nadu?
He: Karnataka
(I was suspicious still. I wondered whether he was trying to hide from me that he was indeed from Tamil Nadu. But I could not push myself into verifying. After all, I have also, in many strange ways, tried to conceal my own Muslim identity in this city. People ask me my name. I say ‘Zainab’ and then immediately add, ‘Zainab Bawa’. I hope this confuses them, but often it does not. Then they ask me if I am Punjabi or Muslim and I quickly say, ‘I am a Ph.D. student, from Bombay’. In this city which is still strange to me (and I, seeking my own sources of intimacy and understanding here), I protect and defend my identity, off late. Sometimes I feel a stranger to my own self as I protect and defend. Sometimes I wonder if I am betraying my own self. Sometimes I wonder what I fear.
Hence I could not push myself to ask him whether he was indeed Kannadiga or whether he was actually Tamilian.)
He (summarizig): Rs. 170 a day, 20 hours of driving. Kannada gota?
I: Solpa solpa, little, little
He: Haan
(As we hit the airplane landmark, it suddenly struck me to ask him whether he knows Double Road)
I: Double Road gota
He: Double road gota
I: Then Double Road
He: Are you sure?
I: Pakka, 100 per cent
He: Route gota
I: Yes, routes gota
He: Where are you taking this mattress? To Baambay?
I: No, I have rented a house here. I am taking it there.
He: Who was that boy traveling with you?
I: Friend.
He: Brother?
I: Yes, yes.
(Often times people ask how I am related to my male friends. Most, like him, safely want to seal the relationship as one of brother and sister. I, not caring, often say yes-yes. Strange I feel here, my relationship with men under a new form of scrutiny)
He: How much did this mattress cost you?
I: (raised my index finger and indicated 1)
He: Wandu saavra, one thousand?
I: Yes
He: What kelsa, work, do you do in Baambay?
I: I am a student-o here.
He: What?
I: Student-o (trying to think what would be a simpler term), err, ummm, college-o (I struck upon it at last!)
He: Haan. Where?
I: Jayanagar
He: Which college?
I: Private college
He: Private huh?
I: Yes
I: (trying to polish up my Kannada) Bangalore, malay season? Rains?
He: Yes, yes. What about Baambay?
I: Garam (then realizing that this is Hindi), tumba bissi, very hot.
He: Yeah!
(We hit the traffic signal junction at M.G. Road and Cubbon Park. He turned around, smiled and said)
He: Left side M. G. Road. Gota?
I (laughed): Gota, gota
(he got out of his auto and checked if the mattress was okay and if the head of the auto was not too burdened)
He: Why did you load on top? Mele galeeze, it is very dirty on top. Your mattress will get dirty.
(We continued journeying. At Convent Road, he says)
He: Hindi, don’t know much.
I: Kannada, don’t know much. What about English, you?
He (laughed): 4th standard, dropped out. Gota?
I: Yes, gota.
(He kept on saying something in Kannada as we hit Richmond Road. I tried memorizing what he was saying so that I could get it translated later. But beyond a point, I lost him. He continued saying something and then he turned around to ask)
He: Gota? Did you understand what I was saying?
I: This much part, gotilla
He: Hmmm. Father, Baambay?
I: You mean appa?
He: Yes, yes, appa.
I: Baambay.
(I am not sure what he asked after that. I understood it to mean whether my father speaks Kannada. But later, I wondered whether he was asking for my father’s religion …)
I: Baambay, Hindi
He: Brother?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
He: Amma?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
(He turned the auto left, into a lane from Richmond Road)
He: Routes gota?
I: Yes, from here gota.
(We hit my destination. I began to untie the mattress. He screamed)
He: Madam, no, no, not that way, the auto will topple over you
I: oops!
(He carefully untied. I asked him to load the mattress over me. He picked it up on his back and asked where to leave it. I was feeling embarrassed and asked him to drop it near the staircase. He looked surprised and asked)
He: Mattress mele (don’t you need to take it upstairs?)
I: Yes, mele (pointing towards the elevator) lift-o
He: Then let me drop it inside the lift
(He dropped the mattress inside the lift. I handed him the fare)
He: Did you check the meter before giving me this?
I: Yes. Let’s go to the auto and check it together.
(The reading was right.)
I (joined my hands): Thank you. I am very grateful.
He (embarrassed): What are you joining your hands for? Aiyyo? No, no, it is okay.

But perhaps he did not understand what I was grateful for. I was grateful to him for the trust he gave to me in the time of our journey. I was grateful to him for the intimacy which our unspoken language brought to me. I was grateful to him for those few moments of friendship, for those few moments of friendship in this city which I find strange and hostile.

I am grateful …


  1. May 2nd, 2007 at 11:57 | #1

    i read your notes occassionaly….i like reading them….

    have a nice time in Bangalore…