Our most loathed autorickshaw driver looks a bit like an Indian Santa Claus, only less jolly.
A bushy salt-and-pepper beard covers a round face topped by a turban. His forearms are huge and somewhat frightening. He wears the loose-fitting, drab blue-grey pants and shirt that compose the typically-ignored uniform of the hundreds of thousands of auto drivers in India's capital. He smiles a lot, but in a demented, screw-loose sort of way. He’s there most mornings at the informal auto stand around the corner from our house, where he can often be found urinating facing the street.
I'm pretty sure he's a lunatic.
“Mmm hmmmm KG Marg, hmmm,” he’ll say, sounding like some sort of Sikh Slingblade. He speaks in an incomprehensible but disconcerting gravelly rumble, his crazy eyes darting from the road to the rearview mirror.
We try to avoid this maniac whenever possible. But sometimes we’re in a hurry to get to work and he’s the only guy waiting at the auto stand.
The Maniac can’t believe his luck in such cases, and starts rushing toward us (usually, but not always, before he finishes urinating).
“Hmmm, come, come,” he hums, beckoning us with pee-stained hands toward his green and yellow auto.
With no other options, we reluctantly obey. Invariably, once we’re inside he looks over his hammy shoulder and tries to rip us off.
“Hmmmmm, KG Marg, Fifty!” he says, pointing enthusiastically at Aliyah. He turns to me, bouncing in his seat. “Jhandewala, hmmmmm. Eighty!” His eyes light up with insane glee as he imagines how many more crazy pills he’ll be able to purchase after this haul. “One-thirty!”
After complex negotiations (during which I say “No” twelve times), we settle on our destination and price. He revs the engine and drives away, a phlegmy tune soon spilling out of his big chest.
“Hmmmmm, oh, ho, hmmmmmmmmm,” he sings.
“I’m scared,” says Aliyah.
“Let’s not go with this guy again.”
Soon Cuckoo starts speaking loudly in a language that I don’t understand. After five or six seconds of Indo-jargon, he looks at me in the rearview mirror, his mad eyes open wide, awaiting my reply.
I squirm and smile awkwardly.
“Yes,” I nod.
He erupts with a booming laugh, as if I’ve just said the funniest thing in the world.
At a stoplight a few minutes later, Aliyah gently nudges me to look at our driver, who’s quickly descending from irritating wacko to potential sex criminal. The Maniac’s lips are slightly parted as he stares at a white woman’s uncovered calf in the auto next to ours. He stares for several seconds, looks away for a beat, and then stares for several more seconds. This repeats for the duration of the red light. When traffic finally starts moving, our mental driver hunches over and guns the accelerator, feverishly weaving in and out of other vehicles in an attempt to catch another glimpse of ankle (which is apparently an arousing body part here).
“Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm,” The Maniac hums in harmony with the overtaxed engine. All for naught, though, as The Calf's auto takes a turn and is lost to him forever.
He looks at me in the rearview mirror, his fanatic eyes plaintive and seeking some sort of male empathy over this loss. This madman looks at me as if were brothers, as if only I could truly understand the depth of his suffering. And then he says this:
"पिटी उस बोथ एंड पिटी थेम अल व्हो वैन्ल्य थे द्रेंस ऑफ़ यौथ रेकाल्ल. फॉर ऑफ़ अल साद वोर्ड्स ऑफ़ तोंगुए एंड पेन, थेसद्देस्त अरे ठेस: इत मिघ्त हवे बीन."