Those First Days
Art and words: Bhavika Govil
It began as all stories often do—with a protagonist (me), a motive (to stay safe) and a conflict (being new to Bombay).
Having just packed my bags and moved to the city, I was instructed a few things by my mother: one, eat your greens, two, don’t forget to oil your hair and three, much like Mad-Eye Moody, be constantly vigilant.
I may have forgotten the first two on more than one occasion, but the third stuck around as persistently as an unwanted piece of oregano-in-teeth on the first date.
Constant vigilance. I showed it everywhere I went, casting those around me with a shower of suspicion: at the crow-like cook (bai), who came in the morning with her sweet washing assistant, at the lady at the supermarket helping me translate Marathi to Hindi, and most of all, at cab and auto drivers.My biggest fear was that of being uncovered as an outsider, and so I remembered not to say ‘bhaiya’ but call out ‘boss’, to look confident and to fake it till I made it.
My first day to go to work, was also one of my first cab rides alone in the city. Trained by the Mommy Corps not to trust easily, I had one eye on the road, and one on Google Maps. Disregarding my case of nerves, the trip began smoothly.
All I wanted was to get to my office fine, not be late on the first day (never mind the ones to follow), have an accommodating boss and fall in love with my first writing job—not much to ask for, really. But somewhere in the middle of these thoughts, I came back to reality when I noticed we were going a little off track. Instincts now on alert, I asked the cabbie where we’re going.
“No worries, madam. Just reaching,” he said.
After that we took several wrong right turns, and many right wrong turns. We went past the flower market and almost crashed into a street food stall. We went up a highway (or as they call it in Bombay, a ‘bridge’) and promptly took a u-turn like we’d meant it all along.
After a while, even my trustworthy Google Maps decided that it was time to turn a little wonky and it directed us to go into the water. Thankfully, my cabbie agreed that staying on land would be the wiser option, and we steered clear of that suggestion.
Eventually, on my asking him the third or tenth time, the driver turned around a little sheepishly and shrugged.
“So sorry, madam, actually it is my first day as a taxi-driver in Mumbai. Can you guide me?”