The White Tiger Stops at Gray – Part 2

I now know what the writers of television soap operas must be going through. I mean, they stop at a crucial point, only to come back the next day to find another point at which to stop. Pretty hard task. I am going to do the square thing and proceed with the story after recapping the driver episode with you all, instead of this deplorable practice that SUN TV serial writers have of replaying the last 5 minutes and then going in for a break soon after.

So far, we have a driver who is bordering on giving me a nervous breakdown and my intestines are on the verge of collapsing under the strain of an upset stomach and  butterflies. Also to note that I am going back with my young daughter alone in the car for a good hour and a half to the airport, and I had begged the husband to keep calling me every few minutes.

I don’t know what I expected the calls to do – inform the police to strap up their hound dogs on the highway if I don’t pick up? Anyway, before going, I dutifully emptied the contents of the stomach lining again and hoped that while the lining grew back, there would not be much else to throw out and resolved that I will not stop en-route for any such requirements. I told the daughter in as much subtlety as possible to tone the conversation down. You see I’ve got to be careful while telling her this. Next thing I know, she’ll be asking the driver – “Driver Uncle, are you dangerous?” and we all know that not-dangerous-driver-uncles can turn dangerous when asked that question.

I don’t remember if there was a Greek hero who was honoured for having unending reserves of energy. It sounds like the kind of hero that Greek mythology would have liked. Anyway if there was someone like that, this driver would have been his avatar. Mere things like driving and being up and about the whole day did not seem to tire him. Catch me at the end of a work day, and you will see the drooping sunflower about to close up and leave for the day, not the bright sunflower beaming up at the sun. Not him however. He kept the charade up and blabbed to me about his life story again. I was quieter than usual, but simple things like that did not deter him.

I must mention that it started raining now. I peered out of the car, and the countryside was steadily darkening and the rain started a patter. Spooky Agatha Christie novels competed with Sherlock Holmes (The hound of the baskervilles I think is the one where the pouring rain forms the backdrop) and the Arvind Adigas of the World I cursed almost loudly.

The husband’s calls were coming in and so far I was asking the driver for location information and conveying them religiously to the better half. Given that each time he called, he was eating or drinking something, I am not sure how much of what I was saying was being absorbed. Once he said he was having tea, and then he was tucking into soft idlis, and then another time he was having coffee, and buying chips. Remember my bill of health in the gastronomic department? Empty – not a thing to eat or drink since a miserable black-tea-with-lemon in the morning and linings torn down. And every time the life savior called, he gave me a status update on what he was eating. Men and finesse I tell you.

“I love the rain. It reminds me of what all is possible on Earth.” The poet had commenced.

What did he mean by the promise of what all is possible on Earth? Did he simply mean the evaporation-condensation process or something else. He also added something about the place being really beautiful afterward. I had to agree. I love Earth soon after a rain too. Everything looks so clean and fresh.

We went on this way for a while – the poet talking, me barely nodding, daughter asking weird questions about the moon. I don’t know how long this happy state of affairs lasted before he told me his mother had died when he was three days old. He had been brought up by his mother’s sister. I felt a pang of sympathy for him.

“But I ran away from my aunt’s house when I was thirteen. You see my aunt’s daughters had attended their age and I felt awkward to live with them after that. It is embarrassing when…”

I almost gagged. I must take a minute here to bash this utterly nonsensical custom that is prevalent in South India with this “attended age” gig. Which other country in the WORLD makes such a huge deal of a natural biological process? I mean do we really need a band to come and perform when a girl attains puberty?  Do villages really need to gather round for food when this happens?

South Indians as a creed may not know how to enjoy their functions, but they certainly want their share of rituals and functions. They clammer for engagements and weddings and births and naming ceremonies and first birthdays. You see how this came to be? After the first birthday bash, there aren’t any rituals right up to the time the girl gets married – can be a long wait.  What about the male equivalent? Why not celebrate when his voice cracks or the first stubs of facial hair appear on his face? Huh?

Back to the point, this statement clearly had me on edge. I had no intentions of talking about the driver’s aunt’s daughter’s puberty. But what was I to do? There was a checkpoint of some sort coming up and he was slowing down for that. I wracked my brain a bit, and thought hard.

I was just pondering on this spot of a problem when I hit the perfect solution. Remember my telling you early in Part 1 that our family were a talkative bunch, and we were left trying to butt into the driver’s stream of talk for a few minutes of airtime? How does that happen? Simple – the fiend beat us to it at our own game.

So now I think, what tools do I have at my disposal to beat him at his own game? There are two occupants apart from me in the car. Though I can be impressive when I want to, and talk like the dickens, currently I was not interested in saying anything more than “Oomph” and “ah”, both unimpressive as conversation replacements you’ll agree. But I did have my daughter. If you tap her with the right sort of questions, she can perform to meet the expectations set by her genes. So, before the driver recovered from the checkpost, I asked her to narrate the Ariel story for (hold your breath) Driver uncle in great detail. I could have asked for any princess story and been safe. She went on about Ariel and Samuel or Samantha and Flooper and Ursula the sea witch for such a blasted long time.

You see what I’d done there? Driver Uncle was allowed to ask questions, but only about the story she narrated. So, filled up to his neck he may have been with Gujarat and fate and cousins attaining their age, he was stuck with a mermaid and a sea witch. Personally, I love Ursula the sea witch. Just her description and moral epilogues ran for a good 6 minutes.

We had reached an intersection of sorts – to the right seemed to be the first glittering lights of the airport, and to the left was a desolate road with nothing. There was no traffic anywhere nearby. The car slowed to a near stop: as if deciding and I gulped.

“Being evil is very bad. When you are evil, you will get destroyed right?” said my daughter summing up Ursula the sea witch’s fate

“Silence.

“Yes”. Pause.  “Will you be a good girl on the flight?” asked the driver.

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9 thoughts on “The White Tiger Stops at Gray – Part 2”

  1. Ursula comes to the rescue. Am sure happy that the talkative gene is quite strong. 🙂

    And, I never understood this celebrating “puberty” thing, actually. Very sick,if you ask me.

  2. This definitely qualifies as good short story. I esp. like the ending part and DID NOT like you revealing my eating habits 🙂 (in my defense, it was stress which made me eat more)

  3. That was a nice ending. good thinking. I could use the same strategy during my train journeys. only, my children are quieter types.

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