Smooth talk

The trick, I tell anyone who cares to listen, is to wear an air of empathy.

A veteran at dealing with autorickshaw drivers in Bangalore, I wore my battle scars with ill-concealed pride.

Until this morning. Perhaps, it was my distracted air, thanks to a bombshell that a long-suffering friend had just dropped, or perhaps it was that giddy-headed feeling that comes from drinking cola for breakfast instead of coffee. Whatever it was, my reflexes weren’t at their best, so when the driver threw the auto into gear and asked, “Neevu smooth Kannadigas, aa?” I became a guppy fish, goggling at him in utter incomprehension. Now, this was a new one!

I’ve been lectured to on a variety of topics — from IT money to dirty money — in a variety of languages — Bollywood Hindi, chaste Urdu, mangled Tamil, even propah English by these demi-gods who drive us to distraction. I’ve listened to their deepest, darkest secrets — girlfriends who became ‘bhabhis’ and wives who became terrors .

I’ve been introduced to the City’s best-kept secrets like where to go for the best ‘mudde-tale saaru’ (ragi ball and head mutton curry) by these men in khakhi.
And by the end of the ride, they’ve always made such a sucker out of me that I simply haven’t summoned the courage to dismiss their demand for ‘swalpa extra’.
The trick, I tell anyone who cares to listen, is to wear an air of empathy even when disaster stares at you from the rear view mirror.

Like when one of the tribe mysteriously declares that he has run out of ‘gas’ just after you’ve requested him to stop his cellphone chatter while driving. In such circumstances, you don’t — I repeat don’t — dial the police control room. Never! You wilt under his baleful look and depending on which potholed, unlit, goon-infested part of the City you are in, maybe even offer him your iPhone so that he can continue his banter in peace while you pray that you don’t end up in pieces. This act of crass self-preservation is a sure fire way to ensure that his auto vrooms back to life and all is well with the world until your next ride.

But, like the gifted, glib-talking auto men in the City, I digress. The jolt I’ve just received has been so severe that I live out my guppy-fish avatar for a good 60 seconds. Then, I wake up and smell the jasmine, the joss sticks and the air of anticipation on my man-of-the-moment’s face. As if to shake me out of my stupor, he adds: “Nodi, naavu Kannadigas tumba smooth. Jagala madolla, nodi. (‘See, we Kannadigas are naturally nice folks. We just don’t fight’)

The die is cast. Before I can recover my breath or my wits, he tells me his meter isn’t working, so Rs 200 for an 8 km-journey is par for the course...for a “smooth” Kannadiga. After all, it won’t make for a smooth ride if two perfectly connected locals pick up a fight, will it?!

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