Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chanakyapuri ka Chaiwalla

Fact is at least as strange as fiction. I want to share a little experience from last week. Some friends in Bangalore requested me to submit papers for their visas to Pakistan at their High Commission here in Delhi. 

Here is what happened:

I approach a well-locked Gate #1 of the magnificent blue-domed building of the PHC at 3.50 pm (the office closes at 4 pm), thanks to a traffic snarl, which delayed me by 30 minutes. As I approach, there is only a commando with a Kalashnikov pointing straight at me...I smile and ask him where I could submit the visa papers. He gestures towards a tiny one-foot-square window...I find it too quite shut...however there is a marbled-eyed man with a long, flowing beard knocking on the window from the inside..."rukiye!", he screams at me just as I am about to turn away...he then opens the window, examines the papers, shakes his head and says, "aap ko saare papers jamaa karne slips kahaan hain?!" (I am thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have the Kalashnikov with me right now?!) 

So I was meant to go to the Malcha Marg Standard-Chartered counter and pay INR240 and obtain two bank slips...I say your website says no such my heart starts to sink again, he says "koi baat nahin, aap woh agli gali jo dikh rahi hai, wahaan se right ho jaayein, ek phal-waali baithi hogi...usse aap doh yellow slips khareed lein"...and I am thinking "what sort of hustle is this?" So I sprint, since barely 5 minutes are left for the deadline to expire (and Monday would be too late for my friends to make the trip)...turn right after 50 phalwaali!...instead some half a dozen pathaan women waiting for their stamped passports. They see me in despair and say "kya baat hai beta?" I tell them what I need...they say they do not know where the woman is...but they point to a little boy who might know, since he cleans the sidewalk. The boy says the lady is there only in the morning...damn! But there is always hope for the despairing in our land...the boy quickly adds, "lekin koi baat nahin, aap woh road ke aakhir tak jaayenge (300 metres or so), toh ek chaiwaala se mil lijiyega." I am stunned...I always knew the West did not understand the idea of free markets (we did) was more surprising proof of my prejudice! 

So I sprint another 300 metres in my dapper Clark shoes and blue jacket...make it to the end of the road (literally and otherwise)...but while there is a tea-kiosk, there is no chaiwaalla...more panic, since it is now almost 4 pm! I hear a helpful shriek from a distance..."rukiye sir, main abhi aaya!" Then he asks "kitne slips chahiye?" I mutter three (thought I'd keep one as a souvenir!)...he asks for Rs.100 more money than I had calculated. His explanation: "Sir, hamaara bhi toh commission hoga na!" Commission next to the High Commission...My heart melts and I give him a tip on top...he is delighted.

On the way back I encounter the elderly pathaan ladies again...from my sprint they can tell, I am half-way to my manzil...they smile and one of them says "Allah sabka khayaal rakhta hai!" I nod in profuse gratitude... 

I run back to the window near Gate #1. It is almost 4.10...the window tightly shut...this time I take bold and do the knocking myself...the man with the Talibanesque beard appears, opens the window and is finally happy with the yellow slips and the papers...

"Monday ko Mr.Sajjad ko doh baje phone kar ke poochhiye ki Karachi Literary Festival waale vise lag gaye hain ki nahi." 

Lag gaye thhe!

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