When Arvind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’ won the Booker, I promptly read the book. White Tiger is about a driver who works for a rich Indian family, and turns gruesome as he kills his US-returned employer for gain.
People have heard of the fact that I travel, and that I read when I travel. Well, this should have meant that I was slicing the encyclopedia and chewing the glossary as paan – information oozing out of very pore in short. On the contrary, I confess I have done little to improve my intellect with this spot of commute. I have dedicated myself to the lighter works of fiction that have worked to improve my imagination. Whether any of this imagination has been useful in any way constructively, I am yet to find out, but it has had a terrible effect upon my nerves.
Take the case of the Gray Tiger.
During my recent trip to India, we had hired a car for the day with a driver. The parents-in-law accompanied us too, and the car was generally full. This is when a character sketch of the driver is required information for the narrative to proceed. The driver was as talkative a bat as ever visited the driver-dom. The man had an opinion to offer on any topic and monopolized the conversation on any matter. I am pretty sure the man has never been inside a plane, but he could ramble on the comforts of his car over a plane for all of 12 minutes and 52 seconds. For a man to get this much air-time in our family is stupendous. We, as a family, are well-known for our loquacity.
We were deep in Tamil Nadu, and another point to note with this driver was the fact that he refused to talk in Tamil, or listen to Tamil songs. He talked fluently in English and seemed proud of having an audience. Being the kind of man who doesn’t waste an audience no matter how large, he also told us that, ‘I don’t ever listen to Tamil songs. If you want, I have old ghazals or this CD’.
I should mention here too, that on this particular day, my intestines were dancing the Wonka. I had steadily visited the toilets in every conceivable location, and was withering like a plucked flower in a vase without water by the minute. One can readily understand why I was not quite interested in knowing why the man did not like Tamil songs. If he did not like Tamil songs, that was his taste, I told myself. But the man insisted on using the cue to take the topic of conversation onto why he did not like Tamil. He told us he had travelled extensively in Gujarat, and also that he did not like the sugar element in Gujarati food. The mention of food was making me twist in agony again, and added to this was the question: why should one not like Tamil songs if one has travelled in Gujarat?
So, there we are, just watching the scenery flit by, and listening to this man ramble on in the background, when he starts to open up his life story.
“One can call it destiny or the dance of fate, but I had to quit the employ of the Sait family.” he said dramatically. He was plainly tempting us into just muttering a syllable of interest, upon which he would pounce like a bird of prey. Had I been Arvind Adiga without an upset stomach, I might have evinced interest, but as such the only things that held my interest were toilets with water in them. Looks like the family felt the same way too (not with regards to toilets, but the story). Usually we are all agog for a story, this time everybody looked resolutely at their footwear and wondered why I’d forgotten to pack the moisturizer (at least that is what I remember thinking before my stomach got affronted and drew attention back to itself). So the maestro was left high and dry and sullenly manned the car for sometime.
The guy was chatting with considerable interest with my daughter, who seemed quite oblivious to the silent stares I was boring into the back of her head, so naturally the mo.-in.law assumed he had children or at least liked them. The mother-in-law took it upon herself to steer the conv. towards more neutral topics and asked the fellow if he had family. The man came up with utter drivel as an answer to this question, something about matrimony being a jail term or unending agony or some such thing. I forgot what exactly it was, but I remember laughing out loud. It was all in very flowery language and clearly calculated to impress. Yes – I got it now.
It was a rather bad similie about marriage being like quick sand in the desert, when one is mirthlessly pulled in, as against quick sands in the forest where the agile can latch themselves onto hanging tree branches, and save themselves. Apparently, trees near quick sand patches do that. I did not know that, it was a revelation to me.
He then went for the “Oh, I am a single man – have been alone for the past few decades” effect. After which he sighed – a hollow sigh that seemed to emanate from his bowels.
If I hadn’t just seen him function as a car driver, I would have thought he was the star student at the Drama Academy.
I don’t know about you, but watching everybody else eat a “full meals” at a wonderful restaurant, while I drank black tea and lemon combined with this dose from the driver was making me uneasy. Why was this man saying he was alone and dancing with fate and tempting destiny by jumping into quicksand or whatever drivel he was going on about?
We reached our spot of interest as it were, and the husband and I decided to take a small stroll through an adjoining grove. You know, a spot of a romantic walk pondering deep philosophical questions. The jaundiced eye was keeping the lookout for quicksand holes too, so we could decipher for ourselves whether if one of us were to fall in, would the other haul us out. The quiet birdsong kept us company for all of a minute, and I addressed the dearest – “You know what?”
I can’t remember the last time I got a nastier jar in my life.
“Yes madam? Please tell me..”
What the…..hell – whose hand was I holding onto? The husband’s all right. Have I started hallucinating? Oh god – what now? My head did a 180 degree turn to find the ingratiating chap right behind us. It is a wonder he didn’t bump into us when I stopped. I mean – really!
Events turned out such that, I had to take the car back with the daughter in the evening alone for an hour and a half after dropping the husband and parents off, through a rural countryside. I don’t think I can find a person who cursed Arvind Adiga as wholely as I did for writing the book and myself for reading it. Unease had turned to plain nervous, and I am fooling the butterflies if I were to tell them they weren’t keeping me company that day.
I held onto the husband’s hand and asked him to call me every 15 minutes, and left gulping loudly.
— Stay Tuned for Part 2.