Driving Ms. Gargi

Tiwari , our driver

Well I may not be like Ms. Daisy and may not have her personality depicted in the movie, but travelling to India does set you back in time. There are many things that we take for granted here in the US that are not done as easily. One is driving around from one place to another; another is the mere simple process of crossing streets. Traffic rules pretty much seem to be random and  nonexistent. The crowds are immense, the traffic unbelievable and crossing the street is like taking your life in your hands. For that reason, I had to have a driver take me around. Driving around the streets of Bombay (now Indianized to Mumbai) is like being part of a perpetual video game. Our driver is expert at dodging other cars, jay walkers, carts, buses, random animals (yes, there are random cows that just slowly waddle into your path, not caring how long it takes them to cross the street), etc. The first few days, I start closing my eyes at all the near misses, surprised that the driver hasn’t hit a human, cow or car.  But I have a wonderful driver named Tiwari. He has been our family driver for over a decade and he never changes. He always looks the same, hardly seems to age and time seems to stand still for him. I cannot even tell you how old he is, but relative to what he’s told me about his children and some quick calculations, my guess is that he is close to 50.(Asking a person’s age in India is pretty much taboo). He is so trustworthy, reliable, efficient, dedicated and indispensable to all of us in the family. To call him a “driver” is to trivialize his role in our family. He takes me to all the places that I have visited in the past and he remembers the routes without hesitation. I never have to tell him how to go there. He is a living, breathing GPS and navigation system rolled into one. In Mumbai, it is impossible to have a navigation system since there are so many tiny roads and alleyways without signs.

He and I would converse about our various customs. Just sharing stories about our lives and lifestyles would bring us closer. He called me “Madam” and showed me so much respect that I felt like a rich, Southern dame. He would open doors for me, hold my packages after shopping, bring the car around to the front of any store or shop and basically ran all the errands I requested of him. I felt bad initially for ordering him around and telling him to meet me here and get me there like a princess, but after awhile you get used to being driven around and enjoy the pampering.

He would take my clothes to the dry cleaners, pick them up, pick up anything that was sent for tailoring, deliver a message, pick up something from the store if you gave him instructions and money, he would take something that needed repairing and report back for any driving duty all in a matter of a day’s duty. I could trust him implicitly with my purchased items and leave them in the car without any concern. He may not have enough money in his life, but there was an honesty about him. I would never wonder or question the fact that he might take something from the car that I had bought. He told me he had several older children of which I knew nothing about. Some were married and one he would marry off next year to a man who was requesting a good deal of money from him for the dowry. His stories made me feel as if I got transported to another world. I told him about my life in the US, how we could drive long distances very fast (speeds you can never achieve on small Mumbai roads) and how we would drive in the snow. He was fascinated by that. He’s never seen snow and he could not fathom driving in something as cold and slippery as snow.

I do not know Hindi (the national language of India) well and Tiwari’s English is limited. We managed nevertheless with my shabby Hindi and his broken English. For example, I would tell him after visiting a monument or tourist site, in broken Hindi, to meet me at the “big banyan tree at the end of the road”  and he would look at me in a confused, but conciliatory way, nod his head very effusively and say “Sure, sure ma’am, I will wait for you” in perfect Hindi. Except my problem was “banyan tree” is not known by Indians the same way we may say it. There may be a word for it unknown to me in Hindi. So I would be looking for Tiwari and he would be looking for me amongst what looked like a million people. Miracle of miracles, my perfect driver would find me in all the mess of street vendors, a myriad of people and nerve wracking traffic. Tiwari would always find me as if I had a tracking device tied to myself.  What a wonderful, loyal and devoted man our Tiwari is…. I hope he gets all the happiness in his world of simple pleasures.


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