(Published in India Writes, India.com, on 7 June 2011, retrieved from http://www.indiawrites.com/celebrity-speak/why-i-dread-a-‘good-yewening’-wish/)
I remember a time when the sound I dreaded most was that of the slippery voice creeping up by my ear as I browsed through the cosmetics on display, to say:
“Medam, your faice is wery dork. Will you see some faerness cream?”
“No, it isn’t dark.”
“Medam, your wopen pores are wery lorge. Will you see skin-toightening cream?”
Now, I think longingly of the sales assistant who believed pointing out my facial flaws would endear her to me. Because these days, the sound I dread most is the whistle of the parking assistant, followed by the ingratiating, “good yewening, medam.”
That takes the number of sub-species I have discovered over the last five years to three – one, a circle of middle-aged socialites who only pose for the papers in strappy blouses or vintage cars or both; second, a posse of women who offer perfume, makeup, solutions for non-flawless skin and an inferiority complex the moment you walk into a store; and third, a crop of ‘parking assistants’ who expect to be tipped simply for existing.
You’ve just eased your car into a slot, when the panicky whistle sounds, and a uniformed man runs to you like he’s going to save you from dying by fire, one hand holding his whistle and the other struck out as if he’s about to scream, “noooooooooooooooooooooooo!” in a Bollywood movie.
“Medam, push slightly this side,” he pants.
“Medam, cawr,” he says, unfazed.
You sigh and get back in. Excited, he frowns in concentration and flutters one hand toward himself, while the other supports the whistle, which is working overtime. “Puhishoo, puhishoo, PUHISHOOOOO!”
Holding up the panicky hand, he runs back and then wags it at you urgently. You edge forward, and he runs to the front of the car, willing it to move a few more micro-inches forward. Then, his expression turns horrified and he bangs your bonnet in a bid to get you to stop.
“You made a dent!” you scream.
He ponders for a second, and then yelps and draws one knee to his chest.
“Medam, you ran over my leg!” he moans, and then, adds magnanimously, “but it’s okay.”
You meet him again an hour later, just as you’ve pulled your car out. Holding up his whistle and hand, he throws himself about your car and then taps on the glass with one hand, while clumsily saluting you with the other. “Good yewening, medam.”
You roll down the window when he places a foot somewhere between your wheel and the headlights. “What?”
“Good yewening, medam.” Salute. And then he holds out his palm, “good yewening, medam. Tea, medam.”
After losing most of my five-rupee coins and notes to the vandals of my car, I contemplated carrying around a flask of tea with me. After a SWOT analysis of my driving skills suggested that my seats would consume most of the beverage, I abandoned the idea, and finally decided to stop paying them to do what they’re paid to do.
Since then, I’ve lost a heel of my one good pair of yewening shoes in a bid to outrun one of them to my car. I’ve nearly lost my toe to another who decided to prove his worth by trying to bang my door shut while whistling. I’ve almost squashed the foot of an assistant who beat me to the wheel. I’ve left a few square inches of my sari under the boot of another.
But I met my match with a parking assistant who guided another car to halt across my path, before he marched up to my window and banged, “medam, hello?”
“One nyimit, medam.”
He did take a minute to whistle till I nearly went deaf, urging the driver of the other car to move till I had a whole micro-inch of extra space.
“Ask him to move some more.”
“More-aa, medam?” he gave me a long-suffering glance, and then hunched along to the other driver and called, “ladies, sir. Medam wants more place.”
When the driver had glared at me and moved enough to let me finally drive off, the parking assistant banged my bonnet, “tea, medam.” With a flourish, he indicated the luxurious space accorded to me.
“What for? Isn’t that why they pay you your salary?”
“Medam!” he exclaimed, looking appalled at my grasp of corporate economics, “I could have just been sitting in my chair.”
As I parted with my last green Gandhi, I thought wistfully of the many appraisals I could have used that line at.