26 August 2012

Driving to success - Part II

Because of the vagaries of blogspot I am unable to post part II, after part I. So if you have the time, please read part I below before starting on this story.

"Manjula, would you like to learn how to drive? Then you can become a driver." From the silence that ensued, Rukmini guessed that her idea pitch was awful. A driver hardly conjured up a respectable profession for a woman, especially from her background. In the milieu that Manjula had grown up in, women either tended homes or worked to tend other people's home, or indulged in homely pursuits like preparing meals or selling food items. A job that involved dealing with strangers and working unusual timings was probably considered dangerous and a man's job. She tried again.

"Look, I know that this is not a career that many girls have. But you wanted to become independent and having your own taxi service is a business that you can do by yourself, and it is flexible in terms of time." More silence. Rukmini counted to ten, so she wouldn't lose her patience.

"Think about it. There are some nights that the girls are not sober enough to go back by themselves. We can offer them a taxi service from the bar. You could be the driver. Your being a woman would make them feel safer. Also, since we will run it from the bar you too will have a clientele you are comfortable with, and business is assured, at least on Saturday night. It will not be easy to get a license but if you make up your mind I am willing to loan you the money to learn driving and the bar can give you a car. Taxi service for women, by a woman."

They had reached Manjula's home. Rukmini brought the car to a stop and when Manjula did not make motions of alighting she reached over to help her out. That's when she noticed that Manjula was crying. What did she say to upset her? Rukmini tried to ask gently, even though she was very exasperated at this point, "What happened? I don't like women crying, so you better stop now and tell me what is going on in your mind."

Manjula was a leaking tap by now and unable to say a word. After five minutes she calmed down and simply said, "Thanks Rukmini-akka. You are a saviour." She opened the door and left Rukmini stunned. On the way back to her house Rukmini tried to analyze the situation but failed.

Next day Manjula arrived and asked for her first driving lesson. An official hurdle they would have to cross is getting her a license. But having limited literacy prevented Manjula from acquiring a learning permit through the legal route. From the start Rukmini had determined that she would only assist Manjula, not spoon-feed her. So she told her about the requirement for a learning license before she could get her first driving lesson and pointed her towards the regional transport office for the paperwork. Manjula began with the nasal whining that she would typically use on her mother when she wouldn't get her way. Rukmini put a stop to it immediately and bluntly told her that if she wanted to be an independent businesswoman she needed to start acting like one right away. Manjula first tried hanging around aimlessly around the bar but when she figured that Rukmini would not budge she tottered off. What Rukmini knew, and Manjula did not, is that around many such offices, dozens of touts hang about who would complete the paperwork for extra cash; literacy was no barrier. But this was a lesson that Manjula had to learn by herself. Rukmini did not see Manjula again for a week.

When she came next, Rukmini asked her what progress she made. Manjula was not sure how to respond - she was uncertain of Rukmini's response for admitting the use of underhand methods. What she didn't know is that to run a business, Rukmini had on several occasions needed to be sly. They played a game; each unsure of how to treat the other. Manjula asked for money to apply for a learning license. Rukmini agreed, but she told her it was a loan and as in all such transactions she required a guarantee. Manjula became downcast but returned with what she thought was obvious, "Akka, if I had money would I be standing in front of you with an outstretched palm?" Rukmini secretly liked that Manjula was not a pushover. But she knew that only if she too stood her ground, was there a possibility of success in this case. She replied tartly then, "I don't care. Ask your mother. Any time an employee borrows money I take a guarantee. It can be jewelry, kitchen utensils, wedding saree, anything, but it must be equal in value or more of what is borrowed. The total cost for the license and training you to drive will be five thousand rupees. If you want to do your Taxi service from my bar, we will negotiate the rates once you finish your training. I will loan you this money for a period of six months. If you do not return the money, I will sell whatever you leave as a guarantee and close the debt. Are you agreeable?"

On one hand Rukmini felt awful for being so tight-fisted and demanding, but on the other, having lost on several social investments, she knew she had to adopt a stern and non-negotiable countenance.

Manjula tried to plead with her, but to no avail. Finally, she looked scornfully at Rukmini and said loudly, "Here, take my gold bangle. This is the only jewelry I have." Rukmini tried not to look satisfied. She took the bangle and gave her the money.

Soon Manjula procured a learner's license and then began Rukmini's ordeal. Unable to trust the quality of teaching provided by the neighborhood driving school, Rukmini took it upon herself to teach Manjula. Each trip was an adrenalin rush, of the wrong sort. Rukmini would on numerous occasions step on her imaginary break, she would exhale loudly at near misses and after each lesson, her throat would be parched from all the shouting. However, they made progress and soon Manjula was able to drive Rukmini around on her errands. It impressed everyone at the bar that Manjula passed her driver's license test in one shot.

Three months after Manjula left her husband, she began her own taxi service. Rukmini mused that perhaps, this was the only social investment she had made, which actually had economic returns. That golden bangle on Manjula's hand glowed softly.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully conceived, yet again! I read through parts I and II in one sitting... Manjula's taxi service is sure to be a big hit, though I can't imagine poor Rukmini's state at having to teach her driving :(

    Keep writing Meg. The stories are poignant, as all good short stories should be....

    Shoots :)