The Toilet Angel – Part two

Read Part 1 first

The next day having reached Pondicherry we were sitting in one of our favorite restaurants waiting to place our order.

We spotted our regular waiter crossing the restaurant on crutches.

“What happened to you?” we asked.

“On the way home from Pondicherry on my motorbike one evening I was hit by a drunk driver.

I spent 2 months in hospital but the doctors couldn’t save my foot”

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The Toilet Angel

 

Toilet Just Do It

I pull off the highway into a large motorway services complex similar to what you would see alongside motorways in the west and now increasingly common in India.

This one has a large petrol station, coffee shop, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant and quite probably the worst McDonalds in the world.

It’s 8 am and we are heading from Bangalore to Pondicherry for a few days break.

The South Indian restaurant serves lovely Masala Dosas for breakfast but one of the main reasons we stop here is because it has possibly the cleanest public toilets in the country, a rarity in a nation where entering a public toilet usually requires the wearing of a hazmat suit and gas mask.

Having broken our journey here many times over the years we have always been impressed at how well the toilets are maintained by a young Tamilian lady. Meticulously scrubbing and mopping both the men’s and ladies toilets she ensures that whatever time of day you visit they are always clean and smelling fresh. She lights up our day with a beautiful smile and over time we have become nodding and greeting acquaintances despite not sharing a common language.

It’s been 9 months since we last came through this way and we were shocked to see her limping as she worked. A piece of leather encasing the stump where her foot should be.

With hand signals and the few English words that creep into every language she explained that she had been heading home from work one night and while crossing the highway to reach her village was hit by a speeding lorry. Badly injured she spent 2 months in hospital but in the end the doctors were unable to save her foot.

Life in India for the working masses is tough, seldom affording the luxury of a long convalescence.
She is back at work, scrubbing, mopping, ensuring the toilets continue to be spotless.

And despite the missing foot…………….. still smiling like an angel.

 

Read Part two here

Road Rage

Indian Traffic

Driving in India can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience at the best of times. The complete disregard for road rules and personal safety never ceases to amaze me.

Over the years I have had a number of “near-death” experiences and although over time, I have become immune to all but the most idiotic maneuvers there are still times when I need to go home for a change of underpants.

Most people, and in particular ex-pats, in an effort to keep blood pressure at manageable levels, will have a driver. They then cower in the back seat, praying fervently or texting their last will and testament to loved ones, anything to take their mind off what is happening outside the vehicle. I have toyed with the idea myself on a few occasions but each time the driver has scared me witless as they sought to prove their driving skills are worthy of a seat on a Formula 1 Team while simultaneously demonstrating that rear-view mirrors and indicators are superfluous items on an Indian motor vehicle. After all, mirrors are only for checking one’s hair- style or for picking at ones teeth while talking on the phone. I can’t read or look at my phone in the back seat without being overcome by nausea while the driver insists on testing the body’s capacity to withstand lateral g forces in excess of those experienced by fighter pilots.

In the end I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to adapt to the conditions, drive myself, and lower my expectations for sane behavior in a motor vehicle. I must confess I have become quite good and suspend judgment on most things that I see or experience. It has been helped also by the fact that I now drive an SUV and in India “might is right” on the roads so most other road-users afford my vehicle a little respect. The exceptions of course are the Government buses, which despite being the largest vehicles on the road have mirrors the same size as the one the dentist sticks in your mouth while he asks you what you did for your holidays. Motorcyclists also drive me to distraction as they seem to live in some other dimension when it comes to road behavior (see another one of my rants on motorcyclists here).

Occasionally though, I must confess that my saintliness does wear off and years of suppressed road rage comes boiling to the surface like lava during the eruption of Vesuvius.

Recently I was waiting for traffic to clear at a junction so I could turn right. Finally spotting a gap I started to turn, when my 6th sense for self-preservation, honed over years of flirting with death while commuting across Indian cities, made me glance in my right-hand mirror. The driver behind me, deciding that 20 seconds was too long to wait at a junction, pulled out to pass me. Slamming on the brakes to avoid being speared in the side by the errant Toyota, I snapped.

Drawing on my extensive knowledge of contemporary rap lyrics, I spewed forth a virulent torrent of abuse. I summoned up every curse, defamatory phrase, and vituperative epithet I could think of. Every sentence I screamed at him contained new and innovative uses of a word that rhymed with “trucker” and “trucking”. I used it as an adjective, a noun, a verb, an adverb, and often in inventive ways not normally found in classical sentence structure. My college English teacher would have been proud of my eloquence.

Finally pausing for breath I noticed The Boss in the passenger seat beside me, mouth agape, staring at me in shock, having never imagined that the calm, beautifully mannered and well-spoken husband of hers could articulate himself in such a vernacular fashion.

Sensing his chance, the deviant driver pounced on the opportunity to respond to my tirade.

“Get lost you bloody rascal!”

Perspective

The morning started badly. I woke still tired, with a headache and residual nausea, the after effects of the previous evening’s over indulgence.

A mild comment here, an innocent request there, became irritations, niggling away inside my head.

The morning matured into midday and the irritations became magnified, the constant churning of my mind blowing them out of all proportion. Irritation becoming frustration, frustration becoming anger, anger giving way to despair.

In an effort to dispel the black clouds inside I went for a drive, all the while, fictitious story after story unfolding in my head, fuelling my self-pity.

Pulling up at the traffic signal, I sat lost in my internal drama.

A tap on the window.

A young man stood with his hand outstretched, begging for alms. Handing him some coins, his face lit up. A beautiful smile, beaming with gratitude, eyes twinkling …………….. the smile of an angel.

My heart melted, the lights turned to green and I drove off.

Looking back in the mirror, the angel stood smiling where I left him.

The angel had only one arm.

How I became India’s Most Wanted!

burglar-cartoon1Today I broke the law………….20-30 times! I have become an habitual law-breaker, a career criminal, the sort of person you would never bring home to meet your mother!
The day started innocently enough. I set out for a drive to Juhu, a suburb about 11kms from home. As I approached the first traffic signal the lights changed from green to red and I slowed to a halt only for my peaceful mood to be interrupted by an urgent honking behind me. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see the driver of the car behind me gesticulating at me urging me to drive on. Now where I come from red means stop so I stayed put. The honking continued until, frustrated, he pulled around me and drove past glaring at me through the window. Perhaps he is in a hurry, I thought to myself, while noticing streams of traffic flowing past me as I sat waiting for the lights to change.
At the next signal the same thing happened again, but this time a couple of cars stopped with me, only to decide after 20 seconds that they had waited long enough and roared off through the red signal leaving me sitting alone scratching my head and wondering if I was colour blind.
At each signal I started to observe a pattern, the traffic would slow as they approached the junction as if they were about to stop but then surge ahead en masse swerving around traffic coming rightfully from the side as their signal was green.
Even if the traffic stopped they would slowly creep forward inch by inch until by the time the light changed to green they were already through the junction.
Realising that it was more dangerous to be the sole law-abiding citizen and risk being rear ended by another driver not imagining in his wildest dreams that I would be stupid enough to stop for a red light, I decided to assimilate and blend in with the local customs and traditions as any good traveler should do.
I developed my own technique, scanning ahead of the junction for any traffic police hiding behind trees ready to pounce and if the coast was clear proceeding merrily through the red light. So on I went, breaking law after law, defying all that my parents held true and right, to become a repeat offender, a lawless undesirable, a menace to society.
Looking back on my last 6 years in India, I realize that my criminal record has grown rather lengthy.
I often overtake on the left hand side because a truck is trundling along at 20kms per hour in the right hand lane. I flagrantly break the 80kph speed limit on the empty expressway, thinking that 100kph is a more reasonable speed. I blatantly disregarded the new law (brought in after the brutal gang rape in Delhi) that bans tinted sun film on my car windows, because it’s too damn hot and I don’t think assaults on women will stop if my windows aren’t tinted! I regularly park in the proliferating no parking zones brought about to ease the traffic flow, because when cancelling all the parking they forgot to provide an alternative.
My parents would be ashamed if they knew what a hardened criminal I have become, and if the Boss’s parents knew then, what they know now, they would have refused me their daughter’s hand in marriage. What shame it would bring on the family to have your beautiful daughter, the light of your life, married to India’s Most Wanted!

Another epic road trip!

I am off today on another road trip, this time up the West Coast of India. I will first head West from Bangalore to Mangalore and then work my way up the coast via the hippy haven of Gokarna, followed by Goa, and then the mango district of Ratnagiri before reaching Mumbai in about a week’s time. I once did this trip in reverse about 17 years ago and remember it as a drive along some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen. Miles of golden beaches and palms as far as they eye can see. I hope the rapid pace of growth in India has left these areas as unspoilt as I remember

The last few days have been filled with pre-trip preparations, getting the car serviced, and deciding what snacks to take ( probably the most important thing). Chocolate unfortunately not being a viable option with the 36 degree temperatures currently prevalent.

This time the Boss and I will be joined by the Junior Vice President, my 6-year-old niece, who has already packed her own snacks, loaded up the Ipad with cartoons, and packed enough clothing for 3 or 4 fashion shows!

My trusty steed for this adventure will be the ever reliable “Roxy”, faithful companion on many a cross-country odyssey and seen below after a 1000km, 16hr drive from Mumbai.

The magnificent Roxy

The magnificent Roxy

I am sure there will be plenty of interesting material for the blog like the photo I took below on a previous trip.

Jan 2010 005

It’s just a scratch!

My apologies for the quality of the above photo. It was taken on my cellphone while I stood in the middle of the highway as the truck roared past me at the insanely high-speed of 20 miles per hour!

My posting schedule may be erratic though as I will be in areas where there will be no internet signal and sometimes not even a cell phone signal. I may also be trying to recover from another hair-raising day on the road, with my feet up, recumbent in a hammock a glass of wine in my hand, and the laptop far from reach.