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Monday, April 03, 2006

Look ma...no wheels.

Saturday, the 1st of April, 2006, was a day like any other. Well, it was a workday for people like me, and apart from the usual apathy of a working Saturday there wasn't too much that seemed to be out of place. However, there is much to be said for life's little surprises. I mean, there always is, isn't there?

Like any other weekday, I woke up at the crack of dawn, and finally managed to get out of bed about an hour later. Then it was down to the usual getting ready and sitting down to breakfast. Breakfast, and simply because I live with my aunt who is a chef extraordinaire, is always a great way to begin the day. And I can't imagine why there ever was a time when I used to forego this delectable meal in the effort to reach work early...but such human rumination never results in anything constructive, not in retrospect at least.

But this wasn't just any other weekday. No. This was April Fool's Day! And not being one to pull a prank on people myself, I quietly prepared mysef for a day of being the butt-end of everyone else's jokes. Well, I guess I was expecting the worst things to happen to me, but then superlatives have aways been subjective. And to top it all off, I decided to go to work as if I were still back at HPU and cruising down campus in my loose, faded-as-all-hell jeans and a t-shirt that looked like it had probably seen some action in Vietnam. Unfortunately, I didn't happen to have any of these items of clothing on hand, so I settled for shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Not that I looked terribly out of place or anything, but showing up at a "place of employment" just millimeters short of looking like a homeless person, especially in India, is, as Victor Navorsky from The Terminal says, "Unacceptable". For me, well, I guess it's my way of saying that I don't appreciate working the sixth day of the week. I was pretty sure I'd hear something about my choice of apparel on this somewhat interestingly auspicious day.

Nothing. No one said a word to me about what I had on. On the other hand, it didn't seem like people had enough time to plan any pranks or anything. So, as it turned out on this busy Saturday, everyone except me was occupied. Alright, that's not entirely fair, so allow me to rectify. I had a creative task that had been taking a while and that's what I put my energies of the day into. Not the most eventful of Saturdays, but then again, they haven't really been that way for a while now...he he he. Anyway, the highlight seemed to be when I caught up with my good buddies Shiva and Pradeep who had just returned from a brief holiday. Now, I know I said 'highlight', but stick with me as I recount the details of this day because this is exactly what was going through my mind.

Saturday seemed to be ending on a positive note, and although these guys asked me to accompany them for a night on the town, well, I had to decline. I don't know why, but it seems like I'm more comfortable being a "home" boy than to be out drinking and staying up till the wee hours of the morn. Nope. I'm an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kind of guy, and I'm happy being that way. So, as always tends to happen in such situations, I bid adieu to Shiva and Pradeep and made my merry way home.

In the auto, getting 'jiggly' with it in the back seat, I was soon consumed by the millions of thoughts that seem to inundate my occasionally placid mind. And that's what I was doing, just sitting in the back and thinking about things inconsequential and the like. I also happened to take note of the exceptional skill of the autorickshaw driver who seemed to be weaving in and out of traffic like some kind of three-wheeling magician. A good example of lane indiscipline? No way. This is India folks. To borrow the title of the last Fiddy Cent album and add to it my own touch of Malayalee-ness, "Get used to it or die trying". So, there was this driver working his magic and trying to get me home in time for something that I had no idea I was going to be late for. Then we got to the Trinity Church traffic signal, passed it, thankfully, for if you ever get stuck there that's exactly what you get: stuck! The next traffic signal is the one that turns left onto Airport Road. Now, they've done a fair bit to try and widen the road...by a few inches at least. But let me tell you that the hodgepodge tarring job that they did leaves much to be desired...not to mention one's behind needing something cool and soothing, like a vanilla softee.

A couple of seconds after making the left and getting onto Airport Road and "SKREEECH!" The auto driver swung into action like a man possessed, and managed to start pulling over to the left side of the road. Me? I was sitting in the back, a little dazed, a little confused and thinking to myself, "WTF?!?!?!" Rightly so, I'm afraid, for no sooner had I heard the sound I noticed that my perspective had become a little skewed. As for the sound, it wasn't the brakes. It sounded almost as if there was metal grating across tar.

And that's when it struck me...we seemed to have lost the left rear wheel. Could this be possible? Only one way to find out, so I glanced to my left because I, like the auto, seemed to be inclined towards this direction. Sure enough, there it was, in true movie fashion, the left wheel rolling past us and into traffic. But it wasn't done with that. Absolutely not! As if responding to cries of "encore" from a passionate and maddened audience, the wheel managed to jump the foot-high divider and made a dash for oncoming traffic. The auto driver, in hot pursuit of this crucial bit of his vehicle, seemed to be making himself an ideal candidate for "roadkill" of the day. But he managed to retrieve the wheel and make his way back to his autorickshaw. In the meanwhile, a well-meaning bystander, as they usually tend to be here in India, pointed out what he thought was wrong with the picture. "Hey, he left his engine running," he said in an I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter sort of way. And with that profound observation, he was off.

The auto driver returned with his wheel in hand, and the first thing that he said to me was, pardon the translation, "It looks like the both of us have something lucky in our stars, man. Otherwise, we would've toppled over and it would've been a lot worse." Right he was. It wasn't as if he'd forgotten to tighten the bolts on the wheel. His axle seemed to have snapped off rather cleanly right behind where it normally attached to the wheel. Ooof! That was a close shave no doubt. And I agreed with him when he made that statement, as we stood there waiting for another person to come help us move the rickshaw out of the way. In a couple of minutes we did come across someone, another auto driver, who jumped out, helped us move this injured vehicle to the side of the road, and then offered to take me the rest of the way home. Before leaving, however, I made sure I cleared the bill with the first driver with whom I'd shared this ordeal. Then, I said,"Take care of yourself," gave him a big hug, and continued on my way home.

Quite an ordeal, no doubt. But then again, was it an April Fool's joke? I think not my friends...I think not.

And for other auto stories by yours truly, check out these links:
1) Of Autowallahs and Madmen!
2) And then the autorickshaw driver said...
3) Another one for the "auto-fellow"
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