Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Easy Driver

The driver sent by Easy Driver driver rental services was turning out to be less easy than anticipated. He had shown up on time as per his telephone call to me but when I stepped out ready to leave, he was no where to be found.

"Arre, kaha hai!' I finally called him on his cell phone exasperated.

"Yaho hoon," he replied, "Gaadi ke pass."

How on earth would he know which car was mine amongst the scores of cars parked in the garage in the basement of the apartment building! He was just loitering by the cars, hoping that I would show up there to point out the right one. I sent the car keys down to him with the watchman then waited, along with my four year old daughter, for him to show up with the car.

When there was no sign of either the car or driver several minutes later, I called to the watchman to find out where he was. The watchman came back with the news that the driver was waiting in the car for us, the engine all started and ready to go.

"Tell him to bring the car up !" I roared. Surely, any driver should know that you have to pick the passenger up from the entrance of the building, not send them down with you to the basement! Now, my daughter was sure to be late for school, something I wanted to avoid at all costs unless I wanted a repeat of the silent treatment I received yesterday when I picked up my daughter ten minutes late, where the staff looked at me disapprovingly but did say a word.

And then I remembered we had to fill gas.

"Gas dalne ka hai," I told the driver in my broken Hindi. We had just returned after two decades of living in the U.S., but I could not blame living in America for my Hindi being so bad; that credit went to living in South India for the first decade of my life, and then moving to an anglicized school in Bombay where not knowing how to speak Hindi was "cool."

Ten minutes later, we were at a gas station, going right past the long lines of people waiting at the pump. I brightened up when I thought that Ramesh had an insider connection at this station to bypass lines, but then I knew something was amiss when the attendant started checking the tires for air.

"Arre, petrol dalne ka hai!" I spurted out.

"Par tumne bola gas," he muttered as he took me to the end of the petrol line.

So, I acknowledged that I had used my American terminology of "gas" instead of "petrol," but surely Ramesh could have seen that the gas, I mean petrol, gauge was empty. I missed my full-time driver of two weeks terribly at the moment--we had decided to let him go when we sent him out to buy chicken this past Saturday and he turned up two days later giving us two different stories--one, that the police had held him at the police station, and the other that his creditors had kept him. I resigned myself to receiving the silent treatment at my daughter's school today as well.

On the way back, I wondered if I had slipped in too easily into the memsahib role, expecting too much of household help without giving them their due respect as my employees. Perhaps going from not having any help at all, and being the driver, cook, maid, nanny in addition to holding a part-time job in San Francisco, to suddenly having all these chores lifted away miraculously all in a matter of weeks might have been too much for me to handle, and to fill my freed-up time I had taken to snapping at the help to give me something to do! I was immediately filled with remorse and struck up a conversation with Ramesh to atone for my lack of patience. I asked him how long he'd been with Easy Driver.

"Ek saal," he replied. "Yai mein part-time karta hoon."

So, he'd been working for one year without being fired; he could not be so bad.
What did he do full-time? I asked.

Turned out he was a milk-man, had been so for twenty-five years, and his family had been in the business for forty years. He was not your ordinary milk-man just delivering milk packets from the local dairy depot to your door, but the real thing--a milk man with a cow, no seven cows! He delivered fresh milk to customers morning and evening, and signed up for slots with Easy Drive in the afternoon.
Enthralled, I started to ask him all sorts of questions about the cows. I had not thought about cows too much since returning to India a month ago, except for my daughters excited exclamations of "Wow, look at that Keow!" every time we passed one by on the road.

The driver told us that two decades ago he had come from Andhra and had taken a family house not too far away from my current apartment and the government had given him cows to start a business. He'd started with twenty-two cows, but now had just seven.

I began to envision cows mooing and chewing cud beside a small shed of a house, and the milkman or his wife milking the cows early morning. How did they all fit in his property? Was his house very big? The questions came rolling out.

Of course they did not live in his house, the milk man retorted. Did I not know how much cows smell with their urine and dung? The government put up all the cows in a pen not too far away; there were a good two hundred cows there, each owned by different milkmen.

It was my turn to feel foolish, but I was also excited as I had read about the benefits of drinking raw, unpasteurized milk. I told Ramesh about an article I had recently read in The Times of India about slum dwellers in Bombay who made a living by emptying out a quarter from each packet of milk from the large dairies and replacing it with whitened water. The alternative was vaccum-sealed milk in boxes, but fresh milk from cows sounded so much better!

Cooperative milk is just powder, Ramesh agreed vociferously. He had worked in a cooperative dairy and knew that himself as a fact. And as for the health-benefits of drinking his own milk...why, he drank two gallons of it everyday straight after milking it from the cow, along with six raw eggs!

I told him to sign us up and start delivery right away.

How many cows did I want milk from? he inquired.

Would I need milk from more than one cow? Wouldn't one cow provide a liter of milk for our family? I asked.

Arre, he exclaimed. Milk from all cows are mixed and then given to customers. If requested, he could give me milk from a single cow.

Why would I want milk from a single cow? I asked innocently.

Did I not know that milk from many cows was much stronger than milk from a single cow! I should know that especially, with a small child," he said, exasperated.

I felt even more foolish.

Never give milk from a cow who has just given birth, he said sagely. Wait for at least three months and then start."

Seeing me hang on to his every word, he continued, Also for very little children, up to two years, you give them a thimble full at a time to build immunity and then you can give a full glass.

When are you going to start us on your milk? I practically begged. But, then I hesitated. How I could be certain that he was not adulterating the milk himself?

He looked mortified. Adulterate? Never! The references came pouring out. The pediatrician in the building next door had been buying milk from him for the past twenty years, as had the engineer in the flat behind us. His milk was shudh.

By now, he had become a man-God in my eyes, a veritable Hanuman--strong, pure, and with the goodness and purity of milk. Like Krishna, he had deigned to be the driver of my humble Maruti, and had dispensed his knowledge to me. I would forever be beholden to him as I drank my chai in the morning and evenings, ate my paneer and dhai, and cooked my food with the ghee made from his milk. Kya Easy Driver ka kamaal hai!


  1. Lovely reading. Re. sadha dood - its very very rich - so start slowly. Also, be aware that it falls in the same category as of eating from the roadside vendors.Boil the milk! Be careful and start with a thimbleful - u are still a child in India! Looking forward to the next installment. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks, Vik! It's lovely here...come visit us soon!

  3. Makes me a little depressed about our non-fat, enrichment-stripped milk in Seattle.

  4. i love the image of a thimbleful of milk. i wish i could fly there and have a sip right now.