A license to drive

31-Oct-2017- It is almost 10 pm and my flight to Pune is delayed. Amidst the tantrums thrown by passengers, the tearful attendant, the abusive fellow and a lot of noise, my musings and imagination starts working overtime and the best way to spend my evening- beyond wa and fb is to write. The flight was delayed at 21.10 from 21.10 to 22.10 (a mouthful) and finally took off at 22.50. So, a story I had been meaning to write for some time was born.

Part 1: The beginning

13-Jun-2017 – My driving license expired. I was blissfully unaware.

20-Jun-2017 – I don’t know what made me look at the booklet. It was made in the era when the license used to be a book. In the 20 years I had it, some of its pages were torn off and my photo didn’t look like me, primarily because I had aged and the photo was still in twenties. But it still served its purpose when the guy in white wanted to check, they would look at it disdainfully like it came from another planet and give it back reluctantly. And then phew, it was no more even a saving grace, it died.

I was about to travel to Bikaner and it was earlier renewed in Bikaner, cool, I could get it done in a week. Problem solved.

22-Jun-2017 – Oh no, it was renewed in Barmer. Now where the hell is Barmer on the map? I don’t recall ever having travelled to the godforsaken place. Doesn’t matter, it is still in Rajasthan, I should be able to renew it in Bikaner, it is the digital age, I thought with all the confidence of a person with little experience of sarkaari daftar.

25-Jun-2017 – Back from Bikaner. Laws are laws (and in-laws are by-laws- no relevance, but J). And the law says that once a license is made in Barmer, it can only be renewed in Barmer. And if you want anything different, you require a complicated document called a No-Objection-Certificate. Really? Who and Why should anyone have an objection? I can drive.

I wondered how I ever got it renewed there? Think, think. Am I a time traveler? Of course, my dear mil was posted there hence I got it done in absentia (shhh, proxy used to work in those days)

Now how do I get a NOC now? I am sure mil knows someone who knows someone. Found the “someone”, and went a call, sms, wa, reminders and more.

30-Jun-2017- I am getting fed-up, why am I not getting a simple thing called NOC?  Someone please remind him again.

5-July-2017- I got it, looks like an NOC. Read it with the reverence it deserved. And reread. What was this again? They got my date of birth wrong? (How can someone sitting in an unknown RTO in an unknown city get her highness’s DOB incorrect?) How did they dream up this date? But then I can’t use this. When I go with my id proof which mentions a different date, someone is going to throw this NOC out of the window. I need to start the process all over again.

6-july-2017 – Now I had to find someone really jugaadu, who could undo this atrocity. So found a twisted friend who just happened to be posted at the B city. Told him the whole story. He just said, ho jayega with the nonchalant confidence of a Government officer.

15-jul-2017 – wa- anything happened on DOB. Friend: hold on, I am busy.

18-jul-2017 – wa- a gentle reminder. Friend : kal pucca.

20-jul-2017-  Friend: The RTO guy is adamant. He says his file has this DOB so it must be correct, his file is nothing short of the Bible. hence all the id proofs must have goofed up somehow. That lone guy knows that the world is wrong about when this diva was born. So what next. I told him, I don’t care. Clean up the mess. Twist the tale from the tail. I guess he smiled. And said something like- I must sit with him till he solves it. Will he take money? Maybe, we will find a solution, thus spoke the guy with 6 pack brains.

1-Aug-2017- wa- Friend: yeah, got it done, sending it soon.

16-Aug-2017 – Finally I got the godforsaken paper once again and it was correct this time. Ah bask for a few minutes in the glory of having fought a govt system and having won!

Part 2: The Conclusion

Visited the nearest driving school. Can you get the license made quickly? Yes we can. It will cost. That is fine, my time is costlier. Deal done.

8-sep-2017 – I get a call from the driving school. You need to go down and get a backdate entry done since your license is an alien one. Why is that my responsibility? I am paying you. No mam, you have to do it yourself. Sigh, ok.

11-sep-2017 – drive down to RTO (without a license). Reach the specified window. Nobody there (at 11.30 am, I though office started at 10.00 am) but several folks queued up. Waited for a few minutes twiddling my thumbs and toes. Finally, someone took pity and told me to go to another window, where a harassed looking woman was noisily sipping her cold saucer of tea and doing what looked like sorting papers. After a few minutes of watching this, I looked for the opportunity to tell her, excuse me and parroted the issue to her as she deigned to look up from her busy schedule. She disdainfully took the papers and stowed it away in one of the many piles. Come after a week. Why, should be a minute’s job. She looked at me exasperated look there is something called backlog. I will get to this in due course. Phew. Ok, can I get a receipt? She gave me a what-is-a-receipt-look and decided not to respond to the superfluous and silly query. I was mortally afraid she would lose the holy grail called NOC.

18- sep-2017 Went back and lo and behold, she had got it done. Promise was a promise. I got a 12 digit number. Wow, looked at it with even more reverence, a number after a week of effort (more than a month, but what the hell).  Went and gave it back to the driving school. Ok, that out of the way, we will submit everything and call you if needed.

29-sep-2017 It is needed. I got a call. Please show yourself for the biometrics. Third visit to the RTO and got my thumb printed and mug shot taken. When do I get the license now?

Soon, he promised. (No driving test, do note)

29 Sep-2017 Called up the driving school. Where is the license? Oh, you don’t have it yet, we will check and revert.

Two days later, I hear some music. It is processed, will come by speed post, Can’t I collect it? No madam, that is the process, the driving school receptionist was also exasperated by this time.

23 Oct-2017 Got a tried-to-deliver note at the door.

24-Oct 2017 – went to the Post office and got what is finally looking like a license to drive.  Just in about 3 months and a few days later. Man, aren’t we efficient.

PS: An intermediate visit to the RTO on a working Saturday revealed locked doors. Maybe it was a achcha din.

 

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The waiting room

Reminds you of the railway station, the crowd and cacophony, the chai and the stink. Train whistles, the incomprehensible announcements and the strain to listen for your own train. But this is a different waiting room.

Here only those people wait, whose trains have derailed, or are about to. They are trying to repair the tracks, push and pull to get the train back on track and somehow make it run, so they can leave for home. A few never do. 

Here they dont say ” train no so and so has arrived on platform number so and so.” Here it is ” Bed no 102″ and Kamble and Banerjee, the names and the numbers, and the call to feed or meet the doctor or sign something you have not read.

I am in the waiting room of an ICU. All around me is chaos. Sea of people, waiting to catch a glimpse of their loved ones, waiting for that ray of hope, that word from the doctor that can change despair to a smile or bring a frown and a tear. Noisy, crying, sharing, yet so distant from it all. Hearing it all, but not absorbing.

Hospitals are a part of life. And death. I am at the same place I was slightly more than two years ago. Same hospital, same ICU, same waiting room. I lost Baba here. He was already lost, but here I lost his physical being. All around me are faces, in despair, but still hopeful as they cross the nights of nightmares. 

When you think it cant get any worse, it does. And we get used to that and then there is a new low. How much the human mind can accept and get on with life, feels like a trial and error test.

Why does she have to suffer so much? In the past so many years, I have seen her lose her speech and her smile, her walk and her zest for life. A vegetable, that breathes and swallows, with a beating heart. That is about it. Just pain and more pain, which she doesn’t feel, or maybe feels and does not  express. Cancers, and then free from cancers. But not from this hell called dependence. Not from this journey that is a constant struggle for survival.

Who will I take home from here, a whole being or a part? A person who always smiled at me, now closes her eyes and shrinks away as I talk to her, or touch her.

Do your job, dont worry about the consequences. I was reminded today. Do your best, dont expect anything. Maybe that is the learning. And emotions? That are ready to flow, that have to be pushed back because there is so much to be done.

I try to work. In an effort to remain sane. Not break. I have to be strong and stronger, specially when I am powerless. Someone else pulls the strings and we dance. I do- the biggest fallacy. Who are we? Who am I? My face is expressionless, as I listen to the doctor’s verdict. Impassive but with a storm inside. 

Life sucks. Death sucks more. But maybe it is the end of suffering, pain and despair. But can’t it be painless? Among so much pain and pleasure, something goes on- that they call life, as it sits in the waiting room, for death. Somebody give respite from it all,  she needs to rest. In peace. 

What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

IMG_1963

The girl with the groot tattoo

tattoo

#Bizarre1

She was sitting diagonally across me in the flight.  Adorning a low back gown, quite an unsuitable garment for a flight, of course with a looong slit exposing most of her limb. The gown elegantly showed off a groot-like barren tree tattoo covering the exposed back (hence the backless). She seemed to have a great affinity towards being inked and pierced. I could see another tattoo around her neck extending all the way up to her ears and looking quite like a two headed snake but could not be sure as I could not stare too hard. Couple of more stars were visible on her right wrist. (of what I could see). She had four observable rings, one through her nose, two through her eyebrows and one on her lip. (Maybe more)

Her hair was confusing. Rooted as Brunette, a few centimeters later, became blonde and at the edges turned into a rainbow of greens and pinks. She had several wrist bands, I counted 7. Then she felt cold, and did something pretty funny, took out her jacket and put her arms through it and left the back open, well, (maybe only her arms felt cold, I am just a silent observer). She looked so cult like, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she brought out a dagger and started killing people around. But then this was a United flight and you get dragged out for far less reasons than this. After settling down on her seat, she took out her phone, adjusted her hair, said oats and took a selfie, (seems she had a phone full of selfies as I could see her later watching them narcisstically (the auto-correct insists that I must spell it as sarcastically- which is fine too).

A while before the plane landed, she spent half an hour making up, using a large convex mirror to observe and hide the blemishes better, face, eyes, lips, till she got it done to her satisfaction and certified by a pouting selfie again.

#Bizarre2

On the way to Los Angeles, I had plenty of time to observe the folks around. Wondered who next to choose for #weird

  • The tattooed guy at the metro station, with all four limbs fully tattooed in color.
  • The two guys who walked like one, step in step, one fair and other dark, the white fellow staring at the other in complete adoration, without blinking and without taking eyes away for a second. Unfortunately the duo ran away from the train (in unison) as soon as the guy in uniform came in to check the tickets, so the story ended there, without more ado, or was it duo.
  • The girl driving the sports car on Rodeo drive, wearing nothing save a half open shirt with one leg perched up on the seat, a gymnastic miracle of driving with one foot. Look pretty adventurous, sport.
  • And the award goes to

The big-bad-momma who pulled her child to her knees and gave him four hard spanks, which could be heard several meters away. The howling child, who suddenly stopped howling as he was too scared, and the bad momma held his face hard and shouted at him, scaring him to do her bid and listen to her, whatever the hell she was upset about. My hands itched to give her a similar slap. Nobody at the station objected, the guards around looked away. The platform full of people appeared stunned, everyone looked at her for a bit and then forced themselves to look away, knowing better than to intervene. The train came, they went away, but the resounding echo still lingered and while the child’s bottom may bear the marks for a few hours, his heart will bear the scars forever.

#Bizarre3

This time it was a whole breed. A bunch of people loitering at the airport, with an aura not unlike an Indian railway station. It was the noisiest gate in entire Frankfurt airport. It was a complete cacophony of humanity who insisted on speaking in loud volume at the silent airport and who had to play their whatsapp videos out loud for the world to hear with blasting Bollywood music. And then there was this guy who snored through all this, his torso occupying four chairs, while lot of others were standing, his T shirt well above his swollen torso. We Indians give too hoots about others’ discomfort.

As we boarded the aircraft, I realized, on just how dirty this noisy crowd could be just as I visited the loo. Eieeks, is that how they use it at their homes, tissues thrown all around, basin blocked, loo not flushed, I mean, come on, it is all well documented, well labeled, all you need to do is follow instructions beyond nature’s call as well. But no, Lufthansa is more Indian than India, but still not a part of Swacha Bharat looks like (Microsoft has yet to add the word Swacha in its dictionary, Mr Gates, are you listening?).

By the time the flight landed in India, I deduced that this noisy, dirty crowd was also unruly. The air hostess kept on repeating, please sit down, the plane hasn’t reached its destination yet, please sit down as her voice raised a few decibels, and people just ignored her plea and shouts and displayed their bus-mindset by getting up, and blocking the aisle while the plane was still taxiing in an urgency to get out. I guess we are an overzealous lot, in a hurry to load ourselves and in an equal hurry to unload.

A bunch of 12th standard kids were on the flight and the most laudable and noteworthy joke they cracked was about stuffing a nipple into the mouth of one of the boys as they laughed heartily and loudly at the vision. I just mentally raised my eyebrows, let me forgive them, they know not what they are saying.

The last straw being the Gujju bhai at Delhi immigration just before me, who while waiting suddenly found his voice and shouted to someone standing far away “अरे jignesh bhai, passport तो देते जाओ”.  About 200 people turned and looked at him, while he remained unfazed as he waited for Jignesh Bhai. It is just after I have gone through turbulent and emotional experiences like this when I feel so proud of my fellow countrymen. What a loud covfefe aggressive bunch we are!