"No problems, I will go back in a taxi" could easily have been my last words!
I offered to take a cab because I felt sorry for my friend who had driven: an hour-plus to pick me up, after which he drove for slightly less than half-an-hour to the restaurant; then an hour-and-a half to show me his home and for me to meet with his family. I figured another three hours of a round-trip driving to drop me back at the hotel is the worst punishment that I could inflict on a friend, whom I was meeting after 29 years.
As I got into the taxi, a couple of raindrops fell. I know for sure they were raindrops. The sky had quickly darkened like during the last days of Pompeii. I sat in, said bye, and as the car started moving, the clouds burst open sending down gallons and gallons of water.
The driver, who was probably in his late twenties, drove like any taxi driver in his late twenties. Sudden lurches to the right or to the left whenever he thought he saw an opening to go forward amidst the chaotic traffic that was getting insanely chaotic with the rain that was not letting up.
Lightning and thunder and gusty winds. A couple of miles in, the roads were already flooded.
The driver couldn't care about all these conditions. He picked up his cellphone and chatted with whoever it was in Kannada, which was beyond my comprehension. Meanwhile, he shifted gears, adjusted the air-conditioning, increased/decreased the wiper speeds, and occasionally remarked something to me, which I could not understand anyway.
I am always ready to die. But, not a painful and torturous death, which I feared awaited me that evening.
Meanwhile, pedestrians were jumping on to the road seemingly out of nowhere--after all, there were very few streetlights--and on every occasion I was convinced that the taxi would knock them down dead. As if that weren't enough, motorcycles and scooters zoomed in from the left and the right, and sometimes continued along on the sidewalk.
It was as if I had been inserted into a videogame. And I am not good at videogames. The last time I played I had a little bit of youth left in me and even then I didn't care for those games. Here I was in a videogame reality show.
I kept scanning the landscape for any bit of "I remember seeing this when going to the friend's place" but always drew a blank. Were we going in the correct direction? Did the cabdriver figure out I was an easy prey?
"How much more?" I asked him at one point. He didn't know what I was asking him. "Innum evvalo dhoorum?" I asked him in Tamil hoping that he knew at least a little bit of that language. He did. "10 minutes" he said. I know India enough to know that when people say it is only ten minutes more to go, well, it is anything but ten minutes.
More urban flooding. More honking. More swerving. More road rage.
Suddenly he swung left to turn into a main road. "Ring Road. Kyaa hotel sir?" he asked me now in Hindi.
I, of course, had no freaking clue. "Park Plaza" is all I replied.
A minute later, I told him, "ask somebody." I forgot the Hindi word for "ask" else I could have said that in Hindi
He crawled, while honking at the pedestrians and autos. I spotted the signage and pointed out to him. The hotel was on the other side of the road, with a median in between. "U-turn kahaan hai, sir?" he complained. I suspect he wanted me to get down right there, and then cross the street dodging the insane traffic. No way was I going to play that videogame.
"Go main road. Then u-turn" I used simple English.
He was not thrilled. But he agreed. The turn was more than a mile later. Another mile in the other direction and we entered the hotel driveway.
Neither the cosmos nor I won this round ...
... to be continued ;)