I have nothing but hazy low res photos hastily snapped with my blackberry for this post. And even though the shoddiness of it all pains me, STABS me to the core, shatters me to smithereens...still, I must tell you this story.
Four days ago, my cousin and I were scramming out of old city, Hyderabad. We were chai-deprived, hungry, and driving as fast as we could to get away from the traffic cop whose beady eyes had inconveniently landed on our illegally parked car across from a row of squished-together stalls.
600 rupees challan. [translate: Gotchya.]
Cousin – Please! My cousin is not from around here! She just had to get down and buy something from that stall, we’re leaving already!
Me [best puppy face ever] – Ditto.
Where’s your license? [translate: Question - how many different ways can I make ‘em squirm.]
Cousin – Uhh…it’s at home. Seriously, I promise. I’m just not carrying it on me today.
Me [best shit face ever] – Crap.
Come with me to the checkpost, I’m going to write you your fine. [translate: answer – ...three delicious ways, and still counting...burn offenders, BURN.]
Cousin – Seriously?! We’re not getting out of the car. Can you just write the ticket, bring it over, and we’ll leave. Take my car keys if you think we’ll run away.
Me – mmmpthhthth. *incoherent hysterical grunt of frustration*
FINE. Give me 100 rupees. [translate: I won’t write you a ticket for 600, just deal out a 100 rupee note for my personal chai/paani and I’ll let you off the hook.]
Cousin – Give him 100 and let’s leave.
Me – Ummm...I have a 500 rupee note, would you have change?
Woman, I’m a cop. [translate: do I look like a cash register to you?]
Cousin – Sorry saab, no change.
Me – 500 rupees is all I got.
No… I want 100 or nothing. [translate: I can pocket 100 for my personal perks, not a penny over, else I’ll get caught.]
Cousin - …
Me - …
*Awkward silence* [translate: hrmph. Stupid pathetic ladies. Time waste. Go already – vanish!]
Cousin – Thank you saab, thank you, we’re leaving, we’re leaving!
Me [with unwanted 500 rupee note in hand] – That makes it…nothing then? I’m confused…?
Moral of the story: When life slams you with a 600 rupee fine, a 500 rupee note can let you off the hook.
That, and...yeh hain India.
Next stop, chai. Cousin had been raving about the Iranian chai in old city, so there was no way we were leaving without a cup. We [legally] parked our car and strutted into an all-male tea joint with 99.9% of the benches chock full of men – bearded men, shaven men, young men, old men, happy men, sad men, staring-at-us-lecherously-men, staring-at-us-lecherously-men. The 0.1% of a bench that was available was right across from a more fatherly sort of man –uncle was kind enough to let us park ourselves on his table for a quick cup of chai.
The waiter, blushing to bits cause he’d won the ‘I-get-to-serve-ladies’ lottery that afternoon, brought over two steaming cups of Iranian chai and a plate of Hyderabad’s coveted Osmania biscuits.
One sip of that milky sweet chai, thickened over a slow consistent boil, made all the gawking men suddenly fade into the paan-stained walls. This is what the fuss was all about, and sure in hell, anything as strong yet soothing as this cardamom-hinted chai was totally worth fussing about. The strategy is to take an initial nibble of the Osmania biscuit and let it play solo in your mouth – salty, buttery, rich with a vague whiff of cardamom powder sprinkled somewhere in the crumbs. Then you dangle it in your chai. Not an all-out slam dunk else the biscuit would just melt into crumbly soggy lumps in your chai. And not a coy little dip that leaves the biscuit high and dry either. Just enough to make it soft and slightly mushy, so that the sweet chai and salty crumbs marry on your tongue and give birth to giggling little flavour bunnies that beg you to dip back into the chai once more.
Time to pay. 24 rupees…no scratch that, 26 rupees. Cousin just lifted one more biscuit off the plate, and this shack charged by the biscuit. Great. That meant my plate of biscuits at 2 rupees each had probably been manhandled by at least one of those gawking men before it landed up in front of me. Sigh…hygiene to the rabid dogs…those biscuits were still totally irresistible. I enjoyed every bite to the last mushy melting buttery crumbly chai-sodden moment, trying to tune out all potential ominous-sounding diseases I could be afflicted with because I'd dug into a shared pile of biscuits. After all, whatdya expect. Yeh hain India.
26 rupees madam. We had only 18 rupees in change. And my fancy 500 rupee note. Which meant that we were back to the 'no change for 500' scenario. Crap. Could we pay the balance with dirham coins? A dirham is thirteen rupees and you know what, we’ll be extra sweet and leave you boys TWO dirhams so that you have a nice fat tip?
No. [translate: HELL NO…and red alert, we have crazy women in the house.]
In our desperation, we dragged the tea boy with us back to the car so that we could gather up any coins stashed away in the corners, near the A/C, near the gearbox, anything, to pay off what my 500 rupee note could not. Mission accomplished. The tea boy walked away with his 26 rupees, and with a few more generous coins to spare.
Perfect. All’s well that end’s well. We reversed the car to leave, until we realized that we had yet to pay the boy manning the sandy little space that he'd claimed as his formal parking lot. 20 rupees sister.
You know the drill by now. No. Effing. Change.
We were beggars holding a blasted worthless 500 rupee note. We stripped the car bare, finally mustering up two precious 5 rupee coins. The rest…just had to be on the house. 10 rupees only...no change...sorry brother.
I pondered over the inverted insanity of the entire situation on the ride home. We had effectively practiced the most advanced [translate: screwed-up] form of begging…payment evasion…that I have personally ever come across. Heck, we both could be politicians.
My thoughts were interrupted by a line of street carts piled high with pyramids of green guavas, the kind you cut open and sprinkle with salt and chilli. I eyed them greedily through the window like a child does through a chocolate cake display. I wanted just one tiny guava, maybe just 3 rupees?... I wanted it bad, and I could afford 166.67 of them in one fell swoop with my 500 rupee heavyweight. But I wanted just one, just one semi-ripe and sweet one.
My cousin shifted her gaze off the road and glanced at my needy stare, grinning. I looked back at her hungry and pathetic…I know. No guava. I got no change.