Friday, July 25, 2014

Home, Sabby!

The traffic in India monopolizes all conversations. It is a beast, most days. Every variety of vehicle darts through traffic searching for an opening that often doesn't exist. There are few main roads where traffic moves intermittently at a relatively fast pace (the key word is relative!). The side roads have been taken over by encroachment (people building their huts or stalls on the sidewalk/street) and navigating through those is impossibly slow. You can be an hour or more late and safely say, "traffic" with a head wag and literally no one will be mad you weren't there on time. Well, except for Westerners. We like our schedules and our punctuality and expect wine where there is no water.

Motorcycles - or 2 wheels as they are frequently called here - are the fastest way to get where you're going. They plow through stopped traffic and congregate at the front, they take to the "sidewalks" (more like a foot path) to move around slow cars, and they weave in and out of traffic "openings" that no sane person would consider. They have a bad reputation as dangerous and as the cause of most accidents until it takes you 1 1/2 hours to go three miles in the car (an actual experience). Then you harbor secret feelings of envy.

Those who can afford it, hire drivers to avoid the frustration of traffic and absence of parking. They run around $300 per month plus about double for the use of their car. Those who can't afford a driver ride in autorickshaws piling in their entire family and several packages. Its a cheap way to travel - about $.50 to go 5 miles - but they are slow and terribly wet during the rains.

We've been on the hunt for the perfect driver and have tested out more than 20 in our search. When we first got here, I wanted a driver who was patient, didn't honk his horn, who didn't weave in and out of traffic, and who spoke English. After a month all my priorities changed! A driver who speaks fluent "horn" (but doesn't necessarily use it), who can be the first to jump into a sudden opening in traffic, who turns to the right confidently (there are no turn signals for this - you just have to stick your front end into the mob of oncoming traffic and go!), and who knows when to take the side streets is worth his weight in gold! Meet Sabby - who more than meets his weight in gold.

Sabby owns the car service we've been using to go to Church. Most of his drivers don't speak English but Sabby does. When he offered to be our driver, we grabbed the opportunity. He is my cultural consultant. I ask him a dozen questions a day (like "why is this cow just walking down the road! Shouldn't someone come get it?") and he patiently explains India to me. Plus, he thinks I'm funny. He laughed about the cow and told me that you don't try to move holy things. He thought I was really funny when I suggested that some holy grass could move the holy cow somewhere less inconvenient.

Everywhere we drive, I spy a hundred things I don't understand. Sabby never gets tired of my questions. "What in the world is that guy doing?!? Doesn't he value his life???" Sabby laughed and said, "Yes, ma'am, he of course wants to live. There just isn't room for him in the vehicle and he must work." So I check out the guy who wants to not only live but to work as Sabby flies past him.

But the best part of having a driver comes when you need to find an item. You rarely need to find a store since there are precious few buildings that we would consider stores and every soul in India knows where those are. But if you need to find something basic like scotch tape, or a gift bag, or some bubbles for nursery, or a butcher your driver is the one who knows the exact spot in the hodge-podge of cubicle sized vendors where you can get your item at a good price. And when you are thoroughly exhausted from hunting down all those random places, you can say "home, Sabby" and he will smile and take you there the quick way.

1 comment:

  1. I really like his "Only Friendship" sticker by the radio. Tell Sabby that your kids in America are grateful that he keeps you safe and street-wise!

    Also - your line about "expecting wine where there is no water" is oh-so-sage. Very Marie Antoinette.