Several years ago when I was in Boston and my company had rented us a Towncar . The chauffeur who came to pick us up at the airport said to us very graciously “Welcome to Bastah , Please get in the Kaah” . I was baffled and about to inform the very nice man that I am not into that kind of thing when he opened the door for us . I peeked in cautiously and then entered expecting the “Kaah” to spring up from behind one of the seat cushions . It was about a week later that I realized that he had meant “Get in the car!!! ”
Not too long ago , I got stuck at work working late and missed the shuttle and I was forced to get a cab to get back to my car . It was rather late at night and while I am usually fearless with regards to the issues that seem to beset attractive young women (Primarily because I do not fall into that particular collective) , I was a little nervous when I got into this particular cab . It reeked of alcohol , stale cigarette smoke and a ripe body odor that may have been too ripe 3 days ago . I wondered if he knew that we live in a miraculous age that is rife with remarkable inventions such as soap , deodorant and air fresheners .The taxi driver started the conversation with
“Where are you going sir” in the very familiar California (supposedly accent less ) accent .
For reasons that are inexplicable even to me , familiar accents put me at ease . When I am in Bombay and I can hear the familiar Marathi accent in taxi driver’s attempt to speak Hindi , I breathe a lot easier but that has not stopped me from getting swindled every single time when I get into a taxi in Bombay but familiar accents do put me at ease.
After I told him where I was headed ,it was followed by some silence
“Are you from India?”
“yes, I am originally from India”
“Do you like Indian food”
I find that to be an interesting question but I politely nod . He proceeded to tell me about all the Indian restaurants that he frequents in the Bay area . I proceed to tell him about the Pakistani restaurants . It has been my experience that most Americans seem to prefer the north Indian meat dishes which the Pakistani restaurants tend to excel in .This is followed by more silence
“Well I am from around there as well ”
“From India ?”
“No , I am from Afghanistan”
Fremont , CA has the world’s largest population of Afghans outside of Afghanistan so it is not much of a stretch.
“Did you come here after the Soviet invasion ?” I was showing off my knowledge of history.
“Yes , I have been here since 1980 , came here as a kid and went to school here” . I was a mite disappointed by the complete lack of acknowledgement of my knowledge of history of his country so I coldly and politely said “Thats nice” . This was followed by more silence and just as I was ready to dive into my iPhone and start checking my messages , I was interrupted again
“But after 9/11 I had a religious awakening and decided to go back to Afghanistan and decided to help rebuild my country”
At this point , I started wondering if I could jump out but jumping out at 65 miles per hour onto a highway where more cars are following at 65 miles an hour is almost always a bad idea unless you are dressed up as the Michelin man, then I toyed with the idea of calling 911 and in the manner of Matt Damon in “The Departed” , I started dialing the numbers inside my coat pocket but woe betide me , it dialed 511 which is the number to get transit information and in my fumbling attempts , I had managed to turn on the speaker phone and the loud voice on the other end demanded that I put in my bus # or stop ID. I looked in the rear view mirror and caught him looking at me curiously. I grinned sheepishly and pulled out my phone and cut it off . He continued with his story
“From 2002 through 2014 , I stayed in Afghanistan. That is where I met my wife . It was important for me to marry an Afghan woman . We have two sons . Are you married?”
“Was your wife from India too”
“No, she was from Tennessee ”
“Well you should have married an Indian girl . Indian girls are very pretty.”
I was wondering if I needed to called the department of Homeland security and more importantly how do I do it unobtrusively .
“Hamid Karzai is a good friend of mine”
Even to somebody like me who is allergic to news , Hamid Karzai is a familiar name . I knew that Karzai was the first president of Afghanistan after the coalition forces routed the Taliban.
“I am also a good friend of ….”
I could not catch the name so I queried
“Who is that?”
“He was recently elected president , he is still forming his cabinet. I decided to bring my wife and children to America , have them see the United States before we go back. ”
“I see ”
This conversation reminded me of a funny quote that my friend, Mike likes to use “the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs”. Mike spent the better part of his life working as the administrator for various cities , a stressful job with high impact . Mike is succinct but very insightful and sarcastic beyond belief .
But getting back to my interesting cab driver…
“I am sure that he will offer me a cabinet post before too long and when that happens , I am heading back”
Now I am wondering if I should be calling the Department of Homeland security or the nearest psychiatric facility.
“This taxi job is just a temporary jaunt to keep me from getting bored and meet interesting people”
I wanted to inform him that my life was not nearly as interesting as his life but I figured I better stop him couple of blocks away from my car and it must have been obvious enough that he looked surprised and offered to drive me to my car , I declined politely and tipped him handsomely . The tip was an insurance of sorts , in case he is truly linked to that cabinet post then he might remember me as the generous patron and then maybe I would be on easy street ; on the other hand if he was a loony like what I am inclined to believe, better to keep him in good spirits and what better way to ensure that . I am sure that he would spend that extra tip to buy good spirits like cheap vodka and rum which should put him in good spirits and hopefully completely forget me. I waited till he was out of sight before I proceeded towards my car , looking over my shoulder
Yesterday I managed to get myself into a situation where I needed a cab again . The cab was a tiny Toyota Prius and I got in and saw the cab driver , Yuri . A big burly man reminiscent of Grigor Clegane “The mountain” from the Game of Thrones TV show, he was probably big enough to eat me for a midnight snack and not even burp. He greeted me
“How are you, my friend” , in a overly cheerful hearty Russian accent
I was soaking wet and was being a sour puss so I remarked a mite glumly
“Why you say so so ” , queried an incredulous Yuri
“Well look outside”
It was raining in drought stricken California and I should have been grateful but I was being an ungrateful sour puss.
Yuri turns to me while he is still driving , given his bulk and the volume of the Toyota Prius , it was a feat that deserved an entry in the Guinness world of Book records or some such thing. He looks me in the eye and then grabs his crotch . I looked aghast while he continued unperturbed
“When you wake up , you grab yourself like this and ask , does it work”
“Does what work” . I asked puzzled . What can I say , I am slow
He grabs his crotch again and says “This”
I laughed and answered “Ok”
“Then you ask yourself if your legs work ”
“Then you ask yourself if you have a job”
“If this works (he grabs the crotch again) and your legs work and you have a job to go to ,then you are having a great day, my friend”
I had to laugh .
“So where are you from ? Russia”
“Ukraine , do you know where Ukraine is”
“Yes , I have been reading up on Mr Putin’s antics and it is annoying”
“You know why that happen”
“No” , I have a sneaking feeling what is coming. Me and my big mouth!!
“If we had a strong president, then Putin would not have the balls to do this . Putin is a rich man. Russia is corrupt , just like India. Everybody pay and when they pay, they pay Putin.America needs to stop this. Brother is killing brother there”
I avoid politics like the plague , well actually I avoid politics as much as I avoid religion so I ask him if he has been here long.
He is undaunted by my attempt to change the topic
“Do you know that Ukraine is older than most of Europe . The ancient Christian religions all come from Kiev and Yaarusalem.”
I guess that he is referring to the Eastern Orthodox church.
I attempt again . “Do you have any recommendations for good Russian restaurants around here?”
“No good Russian restaurants in America, good Russian restaurants can only be found in Russia . In Russia people go to restaurants to eat , drink , dance and be merry . In America , you eat in restaurant and go home . No Fun!!” , he is very emphatic
Then he softens “Go to Samovar, that is good restaurant. But it is in San Francisco”
Before I can ask him as to what I should get at Samovar , he looks at me and sizes me up .
“You come from south India. Like Bangalore”
I am not from Bangalore but that was close enough , especially considering that he was from Ukraine. I know nothing of Ukraine except Kiev and Chernobyl so needless to say I was dumbfounded , most Indians would never be able to pin point that I am originally from the south just based on my looks.
I nodded , we had reached my destination . I thanked him and got out and he looks at me in the eye again and says “Remember” and grabs his crotch.