I work hard.

That is not a confession but a matter of fact statement. I work hard for many reasons…so that I can send my son to a good school, because I have lost all my friends (I should title this “Confessions of a Category Manager”), so that I can find my purpose in life (by the process of elimination…this one ain’t it!) and most importantly, so that I do not have to use public transport. Though Mumbai claims to have a better public transport infrastructure than most cities – I beg to differ. Compared to Chennai or Delhi, traveling by auto-rickshaw in Mumbai is still akin to having sex in an airplane toilet (pleasurable even if it leaves one with a sore back…). But the constant pressure of the Global economy (damn you, Friedman) is sullying the thusfar obsequious outlook of my city’s Rickshawallahs… Today, Mumbai rickshawallahs are as opportunistic as any mid-level manager working for any major IT company… (am I pushing my luck or what?!!)

And so I tend to avoid them. But as my spiritual teacher (Enid Blyton) once told me – you cannot avoid your fears…destiny will make you face them. That’s what happened with me. My office shifted to a Special Export Zone – a walled fortress with tighter security than Tihar, housing factories and software sweatshops…key drivers of the FM’s plan to someday show the middle-finger to China. This also meant that my car now required a pass to enter this fortress. A pass which requires process and documentation which makes filing your IT returns look like a walk in the park. So there I was this Monday morning, waiting for the said pass to arrive, flagging down irate and egomaniacal Rickwallahs so that I could make it in time for the 9:30 AM conference call. After a good 10 minutes I found one that was vacant…the guy stopped and gave me the “you-can’t-just-disturb-the-CEO-without-an-appointment” look.

“Seepz” I said. (That’s what the SEZ is called)

He looked at me as I was speaking in Moldovan. “Seepz chaloge?” I repeated infusing an extra dose of politeness I usually reserve for my boss. He looked at me as if I just asked him pull out his toenails…a look that said “Are you totally out of your mind?!! Why on earth do you think I would like to go to Seepz?!! Don’t I have anything better to do?” It was obvious that he was verbally challenged so he just threw back his head in unmasked disgust – snickered like Dr.Evil at my plight – and proceeded on, ignoring me as if I was an empty guthka packet by the roadside.

I was stunned. And even more so, when Dr.Evil actually stopped 10 feet away, parked his chariot, got out and leisurely proceeded to rub some chewing tobacco on his palm. I took whatever pride I had left, stowed it somewhere between my pancreas and gall-bladder – and went up to him again. “Seepz Chalo…dus rupiye zyaada lelena…” I can’t believe I was giving into such rampant exploitation…but I was getting late. He continued his carcinogenic activity as if I hadn’t spoken…stuffed the tobacco in his mouth – gave me a “Leave me alone or Die” look, took out his Vada-pav stained copy of Maharashtra Times and started browsing through it as if he was studying for UPSC…

This was too much for me…so I turned around and went back to my original waiting spot. So there we were standing 10 feet from each other… each having what the other required… but not acknowledging the obvious carrier-passenger relationship. For me, now it was a matter of pride. So I just stood there…waiting for the next vacant auto. The minutes passed like a glob of honey trailing along a horizontal piece of sandpaper. No auto. And best of all? No passenger for him either… 5 min. 10 min. Peak hour was over… and soon we were the only remnants of the morning rush. He started getting impatient…and I was far beyond impatience. Finally, he looked up, put his paper down and beckoned to me to come and sit in his vehicle.

I looked at him. With all the disdain and bile I could muster, i stared at him – and did the unthinkable. I told him, “Nahin, tere saath nahin jana.” and looked away. He couldn’t believe his ears…shook his head at my pigheadedness (???) and went back into his newspaper.

I felt great. A feeling greatly enhanced when within a minute of this a vacant Auto came my way… As I passed the still unemployed Dr.Evil…I looked at him. Yes…he was looking at me too… I gave him a mock salute, and he nodded, probably acknowledging the winner of this battle… and letting me know that war between man and rickshaw was far from over…