Playing dumb – the professional way
Who would have believed it? I was busy. Me. I still remember the time not too long back when the most tiring work I had was to muffle the sounds of my snores. And today, I am so loaded with work that I’d probably have to hire a secretary to brush my teeth. Today morning, I reviewed my projects, packed up my notes, charted my expenses, and got the recordings collated and organized. And now, I had to go and do my biggest task for the day… getting a rick.
If you’ve been to Bangalore, you’d know that getting a rick is never easy. But today would be fairly easier than otherwise, I told myself. Today, I’m trying to get to office early. It usually is easier to get a rick at 7:30 a.m. Not saying it will be easy, or simple… Just easier than usual…
Ah. Lucky me. There are two ricks right next to my place. I go to the first rick. The driver’s inside, reading some newspaper. So far, so good.
“Bhaisaab, Gaadi chaloge?”
(“Hey, bro. Does this rick run?”)
No response. I mean… NO RESPONSE. He continues to read the paper. Doesn’t look at me. Doesn’t even flicker his eyelids.
Response – He flipped to the next page. Only, I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of secret code I was supposed to break, or whether he was simply done with the previous page.
Maybe if I tried a bit louder? With the second rick driver?
Niet. Nothing doing. Shouting in all-caps didn’t even get me a sideways glance. I was beginning to worry now. I had seen this in a movie once. Guy walks around being ignored by everyone, he remains puzzled for about quarter of the movie, retraces his steps and finds out that he’s actually dead. I looked back to the path I had taken. No. No dead bodies. Maybe I was losing my voice. Maybe I’m just squeaking…. mumbling unintelligible gibberish and not realizing it. Hey, it can happen. It was like I was back in Geography class.
I pick up my phone, dial, and listen to the phone ring…
turutu turutu….turutu turutu….
“Whoa!!! Hamish!! Haven’t heard from you in ages, man. What have you been….”
“John, can you hear me?”
“Can… you… hear… me? Simple question”
“Errr… Sure. I can hear you. Is there some kind…”
“Can you understand me?”
“Can you understand me? Am I speaking clearly?”
“Of course I understand you, man. You’re speaking English. Are you ok? Are you in some kind of a…”
Ok. So that theory’s out. My voice was audible and comprehensible. It still didn’t explain my two auto guys, though. And I was running out of theories… unless… maybe it’s the news!!! Something BIG was being covered in the papers and they were engrossed in that story. Whoa… That must be SOME story. Maybe another war had been declared. Maybe George Bush dreamt that India had weapons of mass destruction. Maybe Rajnikanth announced retirement. Maybe Aishwarya Rai shaved her head… Something BIG… I know curiosity has been found to be dangerous… particularly to cats, but I gave in. I peeked over the driver’s shoulder.
As best as I could figure out, he was reading an article on how snoring could lead to bronchitis. Either that, or a snippet about a two headed snake being found in Argentina. He must be one hell of a snorer, cos I can’t imagine he could be that perturbed about an isolated incident of reptile mutation all the way over in Argentina… unless…. unless HE was responsible for it!! My god! An eccentric mad scientist!!! He works as an auto driver during the day, but at night, he loads weird creatures into his laboratory, does experiments, and ship them off to… Argentina…?
Hmmm… wait… I think this theory may not be as ironclad as I thought. Crap… those were my better theories, and they got invalidated pretty quickly. Now what can ex…
Even before I finish that thought… (the thought up there… in the previous paragraph… pay attention!!) it hit me!! The rates!!! I wanted to kick myself for not thinking about it sooner. Imagine Sherlock Holmes looking at a body, puzzling over the mystery; declaring it to be ‘extremely singular’ and ‘possibly unsolvable’, when all this time, the murderer was standing right behind him, with a gun in his hand, blood all over him, and a written confession in his pocket. Pretty embarrassing, you would admit.
This fair city’s RTA (Road Transport Authority) had seen it fit to raise the auto fares recently. Our RTA would do anything the Autorickshaw Drivers Union asked for. If the auto drivers had asked the city to dance on a mixture of broken glass and hot coals, the RTA would grumble about it for a while, and then say “ok, but we’re ONLY gonna do it on one leg. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
The fare was, thus, hiked. Many autos already using rigged meters which usually runs faster than the auto itself. AND, it runs not on petrol, but on the cheaper LPG. So what does this hike mean? To the average auto driver, it means that he could work less than he used to, and still earn the same amount as earlier… This means he is less inclined to be helpful to the average commuter, not that he ever was the beacon light of compassion.
This explains, at least partially, the ‘deaf’ and ‘dumb’ auto drivers I met today… the ones on the scholarly pursuit of newspaper driven knowlede… Now they can spend less time ferrying passengers around… and more time on R&D, whence they conjure up newer and newer ways to fleece their fellow citizens.
Even before the price hike, you had to beg, plead, roll over, and play dead before an auto driver would consider taking you where you want to go… Now it’s becoming even harder. There shall undoubtedly be more price hikes in the future… and one day, the time will come when an auto driver is legally empowered to fleece the traveller without limit. He can, after ONE trip, for ONE consumer, make enough money to retire to a brand new furnished resort in Honolulu.