Rustom’s attitude to packers: “tell me when it’s over”
India abolished the caste system, that nefarious method of classifying society into pre - ordained sections, in the 1960s, and a good thing too. After all, it has no place in modern 21st century society.
My very first taxi driver from the Taj Hotel, chattered away incessantly as we drove along Marine Drive, over Peddar Road, past the shrine to Haji Ali, past the Willingdon Club, on to Lower Parel, where I would be working. He advised on all things material, what car to buy, where to live, etc. When we pulled up outside the Maersk office he casually asked what my name was.
“You’re a Tiwari??”. But I’m an Awasthi, I too am a Brahmin”, a reference to the erstwhile priestly class. Hands were folded in supplication, as if our meeting had been pre-ordained by higher powers. The next morning he muscled his way past the other taxi drivers to pick me up, and all conversation turned to the spiritual, his pilgrimages, etc. It wasn’t until some days that I discovered that Awasthiji was charging me 50 rupees extra, unlike the less exalted taxi drivers who nonetheless had more straightforward scruples.
Teddy’s attitude to packers: “tell me when it’s over”.
On one of my next trips back to the Taj from Lower Parel, I got into one of Mumbai’s Meeru Taxis, a modern and good dial a cab service. “Your Hindi is quite nice”, the taxi driver said just after I got it. “Mine isn’t, I know, I’ve got quite a course way of speaking. What is your full name again?”
“Sanjay Tiwari”, I reply. Taxi grinds to a sudden halt, and he turns around for the first time to look at me. “You’re a Tiwari? I’m a Tripathi (Brahmin). And I used to be called Tiwari, back in Uttar Pradesh, before moving to Bombay years ago, and for some stupid reason, thinking it would improve my luck, changed my name to Tripathi.”
‘Hmmmmmmm Hmmmmmmm’. “Do you like that?”, Tripathiji wants to know. He has started humming something.
Our attitude to packers: “just shoot me now”.
“Yes, it’s very good indeed” I reply politely, while continuing to try to read my paper. Without needing further encouragement Tripathiji proceeds to recite in verse selections of the Ramayana, one of India’s ancient scriptures. “No doubtful Tripathiji”, this will have great positive effect on you”, he says.
Mr Tripathi seems to have forgotten that it is he who is Tripathi and I the Tiwari, but he keeps calling me Tripathiji, and the references to the “no doubtful” power of a particular passage become fast and furious.
“Do you like Mumbai?”, I ask him.
“Yes”, he replies matter of factly. Everyone is always busy and business oriented, and that’s what I like. I once asked a foreigner if he liked Mumbai, and he said no. When I asked him why he replied, ‘everyone aalways bijji. Bijji bijji bijji’.
“Idiot”, I thought to myself, Tripathiji recounted. “Better to be bijji than not have anything to do. Wait till you see what happens when you’re not bijji.”
My cousin Tiwari
Our first venture out of Advent, the apartment building with the very Catholic name, has us running into the two security guards at the entrance of the building. I ask the more elder and senior looking of the two to just give us a signal when the building supervisor makes his appearance.
Silence. Have I asked him something wrong? Not asked politely enough? All four of us wait for a reply from him or the other guard.
“Are you from Rajasthan?”, he asks.
“No”, I reply, “my father’s family is originally from Madhya Pradesh”.
“Ah, I was wondering how a Tiwari came to be here”. A smile appears. “I’m Mishra”, another Brahmin. “And he”, and now he points at his colleague behind him who by now is grinning from ear to ear, “is also a Tiwari”.
The resemblance between the two Tiwaris is deafening. He a rotund 5’ 2”, smiling constantly, and me a trim 6’ 3”, and well, I remember smiling just the other day in fact. “And over there”, Mishraji continues as he points at the other wing of the building, “a Dubeyji (Brahmin) bought an apartment.”
My long lost cousin Tiwari smiles even more broadly. With this revelation of Mishraji it’s clear that us Brahmins are going places. By extension we all just bought a $2 million apartment.
The daily interactions with Mishraji and Tiwari remain polite, until one day Tiwari calls out to Mishraji as I am going up the stairs, “Mishraji”, doesn’t it strike you as odd that Tiwariji has been here for days and hasn’t yet treated us to sweets?”
I need to dig up that Government of India ruling on the caste system and pass it on to my long lost cousins. There’s too many downsides.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.