(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 11th December, 2010)
“Driving your own SUV is the only thing sadder than driving your own sedan, right?” my brother mused.
“Where? Where?” I peered out of my Alto.
He pointed lazily at a furious man arguing with an auto driver from the driver’s seat of a Scorpio.
“Wow. I’ve seen a poor sod driving his own Camry,” I said, “I ran into his bumper.”
“The poor sod was probably the driver,” my brother suggested.
“No. He got out glaring, and then got back in when I raised my hand to apologise,” I said, “and he was wearing a tie.”
“Well, you never know. Paatti says our maids dress better than we do.”
“Hanh, but Mr. Camry didn’t swear at me. Quite the gentleman. Poor thing. My friend Neel says it’s less humiliating not to own a Rolls Royce than to have to drive your own.”
“Hmm,” my brother said, “it’s like buying a beach house, and mowing its lawns and swabbing its floors because you threw all your money into it, and can’t afford domestic help. That said, there is one thing more pathetic than driving your own SUV.”
He pointed. I gasped.
A chauffeur-driven Nano.
“Now that...,” I breathed, as the white-uniformed, moustachioed chauffeur guided his yellow charge between a cycle and a bike, “think he owns it?”
“Nah. There’s this dude at the back. He’s crouching – his embarrassment is understandable, really.”
“Yeah. This is like living in a garage, with servants to clear out the mice everyday.”
My brother frowned, “but, you know, people were saying the Nano could replace the auto. And this is sort of the right colour. You think our chauffeur’s actually an entrepreneur?”
“It’s a ninety-second signal, and both our cars are going to miss it. Why don’t you find out?”
A few seconds later, my brother was engaged in animated conversation with the man at the wheel of the Nano. I could make out flailing arms at the back, and then realised the passenger had reason to fear that my brother was a head-hunter. I did have a relatively expensive hatchback.
“Well,” my brother said, getting back in just as the signal turned green a second time, “he’s the driver. Gets paid 8000 a month, said he’s willing to switch to ours for 8500.”
“Including Deepavali, Pongal and New Year bonus, his salary beats the cost of the car, right?”
“Yeah. And the value of the car depreciates, while his appreciates. So by next year, he’ll probably make twice the cost of the car.” Then my brother frowned, “I see why I find having a driver for a Nano weird. But you chicks pay money to have people pluck hairs off your face and cut your nails, so what’s your grouse?”
Conceding he had a point, I was silent for the rest of our ride. However, the results of my survey on a social networking site put the Nano-owner in the bourgeois class. Apparently, there are at least two chauffeur-driven scooters in India – one in Bangalore, and one in Kolkata.
But my biggest jolt was to come when my mother asked me if I remembered the cycle-rickshaw driver who used to take me to school when I was in kindergarten.
“Of course. What about him?”
“He came home the other day. He’s joined a political party. Told me to contact him if we needed any help of any kind, and then he got into the back of his rickshaw and trundled off.”
“His legs have grown that long?”
“His nephew chauffeurs the rickshaw for him. Apparently, being a politician requires him to maintain a certain status.”