Monday, August 29, 2011

Wisdom behind the wheel

Lately, I have been traveling quite a bit. Whenever I am in a new place, I make it a point to strike up a conversation with the cab-driver. The most profound Desi knowledge that I have ever gained, has always come from taxi drivers. In fact, sometimes, that makes me wonder why people spend so much money on shrinks, self-help gurus, or spiritual masters. If you treat the back seat of a cab as a Freudian couch, you can pretty much gain knowledge on anything, absolutely anything, that exists in the universe. The usual disclaimers apply -- the information you get, might be a well made cocktail of truth, fiction and urban legends, shaken, but not stirred. And of course, do not take any of this stuff seriously, will you?

Oh yes, one more thing - all these conversations occurred in the backdrop of India's ongoing struggle against corruption, led by Anna Hazare. Anna recently knocked out the powerful Indian government in round one. And taxi drivers in India, are usually harassed quite a bit by  traffic cops and the like, so, no prizes for guessing whose side they are on. Read on.

A few weeks ago, I was in New Delhi. As usual, I struck up a conversation with the cab-driver, who was driving me to my hotel from the airport. The conversation eventually got to corruption. My driver, who put three kids through school driving a taxi, gave me a quick lecture on corruption. His take on corruption in New Delhi was actually influenced by the occult and the divine -- may be, a healthy mix of both. He told me the story of an ancient sage who had cursed the city of Indraprastha (old name for Delhi). The sage had condemned the people of the city to be corrupt and devoid of morals. For ever. So, the reason many top politicians in India are corrupt, has something to do with this ancient sage. Apparently, Shravan Kumar,  a legendary figure from Indian mythology, who is considered an example of how people should take care of their old parents, was once passing through Indraprastha. He was carrying his old and blind parents in an arrangement known as a kanwar, which is made of two baskets, suspended from a long pole on the shoulder. As they passed through the cursed city, he stopped, and asked his parents for "fare", since he was taking them on a pilgrimage. Since his mother knew the story about the curse, she asked him to wait for a day. Once they got out of the city limits, poor Shravan Kumar, forgot all about the money. According to my taxi-driver, the curse was indeed real. So, I asked him what kept Anna Hazare "clean" while he was in Delhi. According to him, Jantar Mantar (An old Indian astronomical site, which literally means "Instrument and Formulae"), the place where Anna Hazare conducted his original sit-in, has some magic-wagic going on. It protects the upright with a cosmic energy shield. Gene Roddenberry would have been curious, to say the least.

Then, I traveled to the pride of the south -- Chennai. My taxi driver spoke a language that I least expected anyone in Tamilnadu to speak - Hindi! And, in his accented but awesome Hindi, he told me the story of the ex-chief minister of Tamilnadu, Mr. Karunanidhi. The conversation actually started with his assessment of the German car-maker BMW, and how corrupt it is. According to my cab-driver, courtesy a chauffeur friend,  he had recently seen the interior of a BMW, which belonged to a famous film-star. The car was worth a quarter of a million dollars. The BMW had a spare tire. And that, according to the cabbie,  is downright dishonest! A car, that costs that much money, should have indestructible tires. Kind of like a tire that can only be damaged by a pothole full of kryptonite. So, what does that have to do with Mr. K the ex-CM? Well, according to the cabbie, only corrupt people need spares, since they don't trust the original. And hence, Mr. K married thrice, following the spare-tire philosophy. Please don't ask me to clarify -- you just have to find the cabbie. He is usually around in Chennai airport. I think his name is Swamy.

And then, very recently, I was in New Delhi again.  In a cab, of course.The cabbie-conversation eventually got to Anna Hazare. We got into a debate on why Anna wouldn't back down during his fast. My take on the whole thing was, that since Anna is a soldier by training, he does not know how to back down. "That, and the fact that he is like a lion", said my cabbie. And then, he asked me if I knew that male lions sired only one cub during their lifetimes. Although I was pretty sure that he was on to an urban legend, I egged him on, since I wanted to know the Anna connection. So, the cabbie told me.

Apparently, after a male lion is done having sex, unlike other animals, it does not move back, to, ahem, take its instrument out. Instead, it moves forward, since a lion only knows how to move forward. And, in the process, it does irreparable damage to its instrument, not allowing it to sire again. Ever. So, if someone only knows how to move forward, he has to be a lion.

Lately, I have been thinking about visiting a shrink about all my bottled-up, subconscious issues. After my recent experiences, I think I am just going to get into a cab and see what the cabbie has to say. About my issues. Of course, the best way to get this going, is to not give the cabbie a final destination -- to keep the conversation going. So, I will ask the cabbie to keep going forward.

Like a lion.


  1. dilliwalles will be dilliwalles

  2. lion? loin?
    a cock and bull story.
    lioness doesn't always drops twins or triplets.

  3. nice post..keep posting more such cabbie experiences