It is the monsoon and through some momentary impetuousness I have made the brave decision to get out to break the Sunday fast. Not having the courage to drive myself in the deluge that is Bombay during these months, I decide to cab it. The daughter and I bundle ourselves and our dripping umbrellas into a rickety black-and-yellow, much past its youth, and I wonder whether it has learned how to swim. The cabbie is incongruously cheerful and the prattle pours out from him quite in tune with the pattering on his roof. He rolls the passenger window down to turn the meter to 'start' and puts pedal to the floor. Not that the effect can be perceived, mind you - back when this car was built, Rajesh Khanna was the new kid on the Bollywood block, and 30 kmph made you dizzy. So let's just say that we are away at speeds moderately higher than a brisk walk. We are about to venture climbing up the flyover that will take us to Matunga and delicious vada sambhar when an SUV, horn blazing, flies past us. I hear the full Doppler effect as the monster car comes from afar, catches up, and soon goes past. Right at the point of going past though, it steps right into a large puddle of rainwater. Before I could scream in surprise at the effect, the water is being sprayed - through the still open passenger side window, and all over my 'casual but chic' sunday clothes. I am drenched in stinking rain water from a puddle. And as I start yelling at the SUV, I realize it is a government vehicle, as I read the inscription on its back - Jan Kalyan Vahini - Namaste. (Public Good Vehicle - greetings!).
You are never too far from a good laugh here in India. Most of it is at the expense of unintentional comedians roaming our streets every day.
Just this other day, I am at an airport with a senior banker who has kindly offered to take me to the lounge based on his gold card, or some such. I am happy for the partial quiet and peace the lounge offers, so take him up on it pronto. My benefactor, after making sure I am comfortably 'lounging' away, makes a beeline to the coffee machine. He looks bemused at the many options on the machine and finally, decisively presses 'cappuccino'. The machine sputters for a few moments, pours out the drink and is done. My benefactor looks at his cup, grunts, and starts scanning around for an attendant. "What is this" he scolds the confused employee - "is this all you give in the name of a coffee? Why don't you guys get your machine fixed?" - And promptly sends the man looking for 'some real coffee'.
My favorite laughs are on signboards. Take the library I went to the other day, for instance. This is one of those places that rents out books 'two at a time for two weeks'. The books look like they were printed the weekend after Gutenberg got done with his thing. A musty smell is everywhere, and the odd yellowing page is fluttering away in the dead breeze of the fan. A borrower, probably not a regular, is looking at the section on 'English literature and poetry'. He doesn't look the type, so the snob in me is instantly on guard. Aha, I tell myself, unintentional comedy alert! Our friend looks at Tolstoy, Dickens and Faulkner, and finally decides on a James Hadley Chase. Funny enough, but the setup has more potential. So wait for it, I tell myself. 'Bhai sahab ...' he begins loudly as he addresses the librarian. 'Yeh kitaab kitne ...'. 'Shhhh!' goes the librarian, rolling his eyes at the uncouth customers he has to deal with. 'Shhhhh!', and points to a board hanging on one of the bookshelves. 'PLEASE MAKE SILENCE'. Ka-Chinnnnggggg!
Then there are signs that truly intend to be funny. But somehow their writers seem to have gone just a little offbeat with their message. Take this one for instance. Driving down Bandra, my favorite Bombay suburb, the other day, I notice a firm that is engaged in the unfortunate but quite necessary services of post mortem arrangements. 'XYZ', the board proudly proclaims, and for those who were fortunate enough not to have had a past acquaintance with them, it boldly states what it offers - 'FUNEREAL SERVICES!' (Yes, no typo there. And the exclamation mark is decidedly not mine.) Now, the owner probably bought too large a board, and saw that there was still a lot of space that he could fill out. Why waste good real estate, I say. Let us just convert these into advertisement billboards for our funny slogans. But how can you write a funny slogan to attract people to a 'funereal' services company, you ask. See, that is why you weren't hired for this job. Here is how - "GRAVE PROBLEMS - NOW RESURRECTED!"
I was at a furniture shop yesterday. We looked at some piece, the guy gave us a price, we ignored him, gave him a completely made-up price from the top of our head, and told him about three other competitors who were ready to give us the product for said made-up price. He is more than happy to jump into the conversation, and gives us five reasons why this product is just not comparable to anything else on the market. "That teak is only for termites sir! This here is top quality material. I made it myself, with my own hands." We go good-naturedly back and forth for a half hour before it is time for us to leave. "I will let you know" says my wife to him, as she gathers her stuff. We are on our way out when I notice this gem right behind the"own hands" guy - "Customer is a KING" the sign grandly, if somewhat ungrammatically, states. "And a KING never bargains!"
Incredible !ndia - Come for the casket, stay for the jokes.