Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Long Way to Work

Cab drivers in Singapore are an ilk of their own. They can disarm you with their heartiness or put you off with their sullen taciturnity. When you open the door of one of the blue or yellow or white or silver cars, you can never be sure of what to expect.

Sample these:

After a night of work and breakfast at Komala’s at Farrer Park(where we’re almost always the first customers and my roommate was once requested to come in later as they hadn’t opened yet), we found a cab at the traffic signal. The driver was extremely loquacious and cheerful. He had a rumbling laugh rising from the depths of his belly and a deep voice. He pointed out a Buddhist temple to us as we drove down, and launched into a soliloquy (supposed to be a conversation, actually) on poverty in India. He was critical of businessmen buying their wives aeroplanes when beggars languished in poverty on the streets. He couldn’t comprehend why he could get to Delhi in a few hours from Singapore, but had to travel more than a day to get to Gaya from there. He told us about the large number of IT professionals who crowded into the restaurants of Little India come Sunday. (Of course, we didn’t tell him we belonged to that category too). There was something rather amusing about the way he spoke, though, and my roommate wore a very uncomfortable expression as she tried to keep herself from laughing out straightaway into his face. The most priceless moment, though, arrived when the driver, glorying in the magnificence of his country, mentioned the ‘Cocodye’ farm. My roommate looked up at him, puzzled, and he promptly snapped his palms, joined at the heels, at her. ‘Cocodye!’

“Crocodile!” I announced simultaneously, convulsed with laughter, for I’d already seen the Crocodile Farm pass by, and I couldn’t even bring myself to thwart the driver’s eagerness as he looked out of the window constantly, trying to find the place and telling us how you could purchase leather bags there (which made me wonder, on a serious note, if the farm bred crocodiles to kill or for conservation- their website says they practice ‘sustainable utilisation’- something I need to learn about).

Then there was the driver who asked us a question or took directions, and followed up every sentence we uttered with, “Thanks. Thank you very much. Thank you.” Three times. OCD? I hope not. Then another memorable one was a huge fan of Indian cinema who watched Hindi DVDs on weekends and got his daughter hooked as well. He went on about what a safe place Singapore was, and as he dropped my colleague off before me, told him that he would be taking me to a discotheque and not home- whereupon, in two minutes, I received a call from my colleague to make sure I’d got home safe and sound. Another driver, smelling the food we were carrying home to the other girls, asked, “Is that dosey?” They have varying tastes in radio channels, so you never know if you’re going to be treated to some Western Classical or pop or Chinese music, or be bamboozled by an incomprehensible game show (in Chinese, of course!)

Of course, this immense garrulity is limited to a few drivers. They aren’t always comfortable with English, and we’ve even had an instance when one of my flatmates was told that she didn’t know English (needless to say, she was left speechless). Many of them do make conversation, often intelligent talk, and it is indeed amazing how well-informed they are. They know a lot about India in particular, and not just the basic stuff that any interested foreigner would, but also politics. Many of them are people retired from regular day jobs, and it is heartening to find them doing a job which, back home, would be regarded as degrading and inconsequential- what a price we pay for our ignorance!

Unpredictable. That is what they are. And this makes each drive an adventure and a journey to look forward to (even when the destination is office).

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