Auto-ride lessons in negotiations.

Through my auto journey today, we come across several signals. Each with its own kind of beggars. The usual suspects. We meet a cripple, a mother with a son, eunuchs. Each have their own negotiation strategies that they use, inspiring a different evasion strategy from me.
Aap ko yeh bura lagwayenge. Kuch logon ko dhamkayenge. Aisa hi toh chalta hai (they’ll make you feel bad. some of them will threaten you. this is just how it works), the autowale-uncle says. Leads to a fascinating conversation with him about the politics of begging, the dynamics of guilt and privilege as he sees from his driver seat. There’s certain kinds of passengers who would pay, he tells me. Out of guilt, pity, generosity and also spite. And some who would look to him for help. Some who would be downright rude.
What is your stand on begging, I ask him. He starts by telling me how people who refuse to pay him Rs. 20 at night might pay Rs. 100 to an eunuch out of fear. I laugh and give him an unsolicited lecture about how sometimes it really is impossible to negotiate with both groups. He agrees. And then tells me in all seriousness that all of this is at the end about what one think deserves to be paid for, and what deserves more pity, and thus more help. You’d pay the shirtless cripple in coins; the eunuchs start negotiating at a Rs. 500, he points out.

The conversation turns to one about opportunities. If begging really is the only option. And who am I as a auto-affording citizen to comment on their opportunities, I mumble. Kisi ke chehre pe nahi likha hota unhone Kaise din dekhe hai (it isn’t written on anyone’s face what kind of days they have gone through), he tells me. Woh minute ke signal mein, aapko jo lagta hai, usi soch se paise dete ho. Agar aap ki shaadi nahi ho rahi, Aap chakke ki duaon ki bhi keemat karoge. Agar aap job karti ma hain, shaayad bacche ko dekhkar jyaada taras khaoge. (In that minute-long signal, each one makes snap decisions about what they are willing to pay. If you aren’t able to get married, you will value even the blessings of the eunuch. If you are a working mother, you would feel more empathy for the kids that beg)” We speak about the assumed hierarchies of what is considered under-privileged, and what, deserving.

We arrive at my destination. I pay him in notes of Rs. 10; there is a gap of Rs.5 that neither of us have the change for. We look around for shops to get change, while I search frantically through my purse. He knows that I’m late because of the last 2 phonecalls through the trip that he heard. I tell him to keep the change. “Rehne dijiye (let it be)”, he tells me instead. “Aur agli baar langde ko de dena (next time, give it to a cripple)”. Smiles. Waves. Leaves (Me thinking.)

Jayati Doshi
29th May, 2016. 1.30 pm

A flight journey. Too many families. A gorgeous man. And me. (Among others)

I find my seat in the flight. 3 kids and 2 infants in a 2 row radius. Check the battery of my ipod; gonna need that. A newly wed couple arrives on the other side of my row. And a gorgeous gentleman takes the seat beside mine. Light teal blue shirt, jeans, octagonal jaw and just the right amount of stubble. And a warm full smile.

Food is exchanged, kids are threatened and bribed around me. Families returning from a summer trip to the north exchange mundane information across the plane. Phone calls that suddenly seem more urgent are returned.

The gorgeous man takes out a book and puts his bag in the shelf above. Chronicles of Narnia. I smile. He notices the smile, and smiles back, sheepishly. Or charmingly. I can’t really tell.

I realise there are cookie crumbs on my shirt. No idea how, since I haven’t had any cookies all day. As I dust it off, he points out an insect in my hair. A live big insect. I gotta have set some kind of a record for awkward introductions.

The plane takes off. The man really is reading the Chronicles intensely. (I’m totally thinking Hot Dudes Reading)

Electronic devices are now allowed to be used. The couple plays a game together on their phones. A grown man in the seat diagonally behind me plays candy crush rather competitively. Sounds on.

A father and his 5ish year old son in the row diagonally in front take turns playing a video game and exchanging tips and reactions, complete with sound effects. The mother, when not distributing biscuits to the family (2 kinds, brought along in jars) cajoles her other baby son with rhymes on her phone, playing at full volume, her singing along with it.

The kid sitting in front of her stands up on the seat to watch. His mother keeps tugging at his shirt to make him sit. While trying not to wake up her toddler.

Another father in the seat right in front of me is helping his 11ish year old daughter with hangman, which she explains quite succinctly to him. After a while, he takes the phone and starts playing it himself, promising the daughter to give it back after yet another one. When the daughter gets angry, he gives her his phone. Meanwhile, this mother has joined the father in playing hangman. The daughter cannot find any interesting game on the father’s phone, so threatens him by trying to read his messages. He locks the phone. Her phone gets locked meanwhile, and now she refuses to give him the password till she has the phone back. Finally, the negotiations end with the three of them now playing together.

Another man sitting on my other side has just asked for his 9th glass of water,each time only getting ruder.

I turn my attention to the Narnia man. He’s still reading as he sips his coffee. Notices I’m looking and responds with an explanation. He can’t remember reading it as a child. So he’s catching up. Why? I ask. Why not, he says. Also reads adult books though, he clarifies. The last fiction book he read was Kafka. I now realise I’m staring. Probably blushing. There has to be a catch. And then it comes. His boyfriend introduced him to Existentialist literature.

The kid in the row in front screams. The one in front of him joins in the symphony. Another from somewhere else in the plane adds his high pitch little person voice. The kid behind me wakes up and takes his place in the orchestra. The 5ish year old brother screams “shhhhhhh”, echoing sentiments of the plane. Some kid gets thwacked somewhere in the front. Loud crying. Slowly all of tiny lungs do get tired. Takes a few minutes for the plane to quiet down.

A few minutes later, a man (presumably a relative) comes strolling to the family in the row in front. “I knew it had to be you”, he says to the baby in Gujju. Laughs. Asks the father if he has Rs. 50 change. The mother, now trying to put the child to sleep, gives it to him. Along with a biscuit. The man wants another one.

I return to my book on the business and politics of AIDS and its research. Titled “Wisdom of whores”. It suddenly seems too adult.

The flight is now landing. The very thirsty man beside me, now down 12 glasses of water, decides it’s trivia time. Do you know why they ask you to raise the window panes? He asks, and then answers himself, proudly. I knew, I wanted to say to break his bloated balloon. I don’t.

The flight lands. The gujju mother calls her “maharaj” to tell him to start making the “rotlis”. Another aunty calls the driver. Phones start to buzz. Lots of comments about the humidity in several languages.

I see the Narnia man one last time as I leave the airport. His equally handsome Camus-loving boyfriend (presumably) has come to pick him up.

I breathe in the horrible weather. Oh, Hello, home-ish city. I have missed you.

Jayati Doshi
27th May, 2016. 3.45 pm


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Notes from a Bibliophile.

My bookshelves, they are like carriers of large parts of my history. Organised in patches of memories from my life, they are reflections of my meaning systems.

When you come home, spend a few minutes looking at my shelf, taking in the titles of my books; some faded, some shiny new, and you will know all you have to about me.

You will know that I love second-hand books. And that when I am feeling sad, I go scavenging for them. I especially like the ones that have a disappearing name on its first page, the ones with things underlined (with pencil, always with pencils). My favourites are the ones with scribbles in the margins, or the ones that had been gifted with personal notes. It makes me feel intimate with the previous owner, because I now know what matters to them.

These books, they will tell you of how I have evolved, because books cannot be deleted. They will tell you that I was a Meg Cabot fan, and that I once owned a Chetan Bhagat book before I became more elitist about the literature I devoured. That I still have some books that I would never publicly mention enjoying, but bookshelves don’t lie. It’s an honesty the kindle can never provide.

Open these books and you will be privy to my thoughts. You will see little stars and smiley faces, exclamation marks and circled question marks as well as some epiphanies doodled in the margins. You will see outlines of the tears I cried while reading them and the pages that have had bookmarks in them for real long.

The bookmarks, they are a story of their own. You will see the shady but wonderful ones my sister made for me when she was a child. The quotes I turned into page markers. Plane tickets and coffee house stubs. Like the remnants of my time with them.

I like taking my books on vacation, like a companion for all places. These books, often become conversation starters, and their covers are all you need. I can write a whole series of conversations I have had when I was reading The wisdom of whores by Elizabeth Pisani. The kindles will never hold that mystery, or the joy of being so open about what it is that fascinates you at that moment.

Some books, they hold hints to my intimate moments too. The Murakami, Norwegian Wood, as my companion in one of the tough phases of my life, has all kinds of stains from being in my purse for too long. Flip open my copy of Bridge Across Forever and you will see lines of hope a friend’s father wrote to him before he gifted him this book, the wishes that the friend carried forward when he gifted it to me, and then some notes from a screenplay a friend and I tried to write inspired by it. These books, they have seen me through as much as my closest friends, and you will stumble across these stories when browsing through them.

I will let you borrow these books if you wish. And for me, that would be like sharing a piece of my soul. It will be our shared memory and not just a common pdf. I will warn you not to use pen marks on them, but I will let you leave me little pieces of your heart in it when you return them. And years later, if you have forgotten about the book, I will remind you to return it because there is a paragraph in that book that I want to find. It will be an extra reason to reconnect, should that ever be needed.

When finding these paragraphs, as I turn the pages, I will relive my time with the books, perhaps stopping to read some of my favourite parts. Not as efficient as your Kindle’s search, but bliss cannot always be rushed.

So, next time you are home, stop by my bookshelf. And smell it. It has centuries of stories in them, the joys of holding them, and real shelves of my love. Their brightness may not be adjustable, but they can be held. Hugged. And they light up my soul instead.

Blossoms bookstore, Bangalore, India. A home/haven for bibliophiles.

Jayati Doshi

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