Place: Near the Civil Lines Metro Station
Purpose: Finding an auto to take us to college so we can write a pathetic exam paper.
Mood: Exhausted (lack of sleep), woebegone (obvious reasons), impatient (getting late).
An auto finally trundles up. The auto driver is a relatively old man. We ask him to take us to college. He is willing to oblige for the sum of forty rupees. After (not much) haggling, we agree that he will take us there for thirty. As I climb in, I make the mistake of telling him to take us over The Ridge. The Ridge is a road that kind of looks like a mountain road. It's hilly and it curves and it's surrounded by forests on either end. Real forests. I kid you not.
The driver realises that I'm evidently not North Indian because my Hindi is less than perfect and as we start. he asks me whether I'm Japanese. This is something I've heard before in Delhi and it reinforces my belief that Delhi people are, on average, complete morons.
No, I say, I'm not Japanese but I don't elaborate further. I'm too concerned trying to recall what some obscure critic had to say about the use of fantasy in Christina Rossetti's poetry. As is my custom, I light a cigarette.
The autowallah is evidently fascinated by me and Mawii. He asks us whether we're sisters. I'm about to say no, when Mawii says, we sort of are.
What does that mean, asks the autowallah.
We have the same mother but two different fathers, Mawii tells him. I look at her carefully- I see no sign of humour anywhere. She sounds completely serious. She's obviously been unhinged by the exam stress.
TWO fathers! The autowallah exclaims.
Yes, Mawii says.
I decide to enter into the conversation and I agree with her, nodding gravely.
One mother? The auto driver cannot get over the shock. Who's older, he demands.
She is. Mawii points to me and I instantly sit up a little straighter and try to create an expression of patience and suffering that all responsible older sisters must feel, on my face.
Your mother must be a very bad woman. The autowallah is sad for us.
I feel compelled to defend my mother and I inform him that she's a wonderful person who was compelled to find peace and happiness with another man since my father was incapable of giving it to her.
The autowallah wants to know why my father was incapable of giving my mother the peace and happiness that he (the autowallah) evidently seemed to think she didn't deserve.
He drank, I say.
Do you drink?
I'm about to say yes but I don't want him to abduct me and take me to a bar so I shake my head virtuously. Besides, I have to set a good example for my younger sister Mawii.
She smokes ganja, my younger sister tells him.
He gasps but eyeing my cigarette, evidently doesn't find this too surprising.
Who taught you?
I blame my father. He introduced me to the intoxicating substance and then abandoned me and went off to Thailand where he made a lot of money.
The autowallah shakes his head but once again informs us that it's our mother who must be a bad woman.
I insist she isn't bad and I once again point out what an unsatisfactory character my father is. Mawii agrees- for it is with her father, after all, that both my mother and I found a stable home.
If she had two men, it means she is bad. The autowallah is unmovable on this point. A good woman has only one man.
Realising that we won't be able to change his mind, Mawii and I fall silent. We're close to college now and I can hear the exam calling me.
The autowallah is examining me in the rearview mirror and suddenly, as if he's tried to suppress it but can't any longer, he tells me that I shouldn't smoke. When he sees me smoke, he says, he feels like he would if he saw his daughter smoking. Smoking is bad.
I throw my cigarette away in a gesture of conciliation. It's practically burned down to the end anyway. The autowallah nods in approval and warns me again I mustn't smoke. It leads to sex.
This last sentence mortifies me. Talking about my personal family life is amusing but if it's going to lead to a moral lecture on sex, I won't be able to bear it.
Luckily we've reached college. Mawii hastily pays the autowallah who warns us once more to stay away from bad bad things. It is evident that he feels we are good girls, despite having such a mother. I thank him for his advice.
Then he drives off, probably to sit with his friends and tell them over a cup of hot steaming tea, about the unfortunate girls he drove to college that morning and the unfortunate girls walk to the room where they're going to give their exam.
It's nice when strangers come together, even if its for a few moments, to share the story of their lives. As Mawii said, if they want to know your story, you might as well give them a good one.