November 03, 2010

Anjali and Badu

Walking along one of Shillong's back roads one moist morning, it starts to rain in some earnest. Not heavy, but enough that everyone breaks out the umbrellas and the only people who don't are the four of us, caught in the rain without any raingear. We could keep walking, we won't get seriously wet. But we decide to stop for a biscuit break at a tiny stall near the Set Seven School, plenty of mauve-blazered girls and boys pouring in. The stall is run by a wizened woman who has just opened for the day and says tea will take a while to get ready.

I stand in her entrance and watch the world pass. I am entranced by how elegantly dressed all the young women are (the young men are in regulation grunge wear), and by the sheer variety of umbrellas that parade past. There are polka-dotted ones, frilled ones, one that's got a fanciful leopard print, checked ones, flowered ones … You see quite a variety in Bombay, but this exhibition seems on a different scale.

A Sumo stops in front of me and a young lady emerges: skin-tight jeans and open shoes, just enough shades shy of hot pink to be suave. She seems lost. First she steps toward the store on my left, then the store on the right, then back to the Sumo, then onto the road, then back to the Sumo again. I'm not sure what she's up to with this little gavotte, but eventually she prances off in her pink shoes.

When the rain eases, we press on. We have to find a taxi to take us to a place called Mawlynnong later in the morning. I stop beside a yellow Sumo, marked "All Meghalaya Tourist Permit" or some such. I notice there is already a passenger and am about to move on, but the driver stops me and nods his head to ask where I'm going. "Mawlynnong", I say. This occasions a spurt of chatter in a language that must be English because I can identify several words, but overall I don't understand him at all. Seeing my incomprehension, he whips out a cellphone and punches its buttons. "Calling Anjali", he says, and this I understand. Maybe Anjali is the boss who will take the fateful decision about taking us to Mawlynnong.

A rapidfire conversation in Khasi ensues. Then he disconnects and tells me, "you call Anjali and ask."

"OK," I say, "what's her number?"

"6-0-8-2", he says.

"That's all?" I ask.

"Yes yes, you call Anjali!" He makes to turn his ignition key.

"But this is not a phone number!" I exclaim.

"No no, not phone number, car number."

"Car number? But what do I need her car number for?" I'm perplexed. "Does Anjali have a phone number?"

"Yes yes," he says, and rattles off a ten digit number which I write into my little diary. Why didn't he give me that in the first place?

"And this is Anjali's number?"

"No no, Badu's number! Badu, Badu!"

He turns his ignition key and roars off.

Somehow I don't want to give my business to this Badu/Anjali conglomerate, if that's what it is. So I find another means of transport to take us to Mawlynnong.

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