West Bengal



The other day, Deepak, our driver, went to a big party. He was very tired. The party was in honor of the birth of his friends child, and Deepak drank a lot. Big drinking, he would say, and he felt sick. We never knew that Deepak drinks at all, and sure enough, it turned out that they were drinking two liters of Coca Cola. Very cold, Deepak said. His stomach really didn’t agree with all that coke, and we really can’t blame him for taking a sick day.

A few weeks earlier, he had been very upset and told Ksenia that he couldn’t sleep all night. The evening before, he had picked me up from the office and we dropped off two friends from work. As he was driving, I made some remarks about Deepak being the best driver on the planet, but he completely misunderstood and thought that I had said he’s the worstdriver on the planet. He didn’t say anything until the next morning, but he really could not sleep after that.

Luckily, we managed to assure him that this was a misunderstanding. Ksenia did teach him a number of new English phases, so now Deepak knows that I know doesn’t mean No, and that something something usually better translates as a little bit. These days, whenever yet another rickshaw driver cuts Deepak off, he will happily announce in almost perfect English: Bad man. Very bad man. I am angry.

Sadly enough, I have received plenty of unsolicited phone calls on my mobile from AirTel, pestering me about this that or the other discount offer – and quite frequently the person on the other end speaks even less English than Deepak. But Deepak says he likes his job – he will be very sad not to drive the most beautiful car in Mumbai anymore, which as he often happily remarks is not perfect, but I couldn’t really imagine him being satisfied in a call center.


A few weeks ago, Savatri, our maid, had invited us home for a late lunch, which was very sweet. When we got there, after an hour in traffic, her husband just got out of bed and looked pretty miserable, but her two daughters and one son were pretty excited and shyly curious. Her son is 17 and dropped out of school. He is working as a DJ to hire and wants to become a famous professional DJ, much to the distress of our maid. One daughter is still in school, the other works in a call center.

Savatri lives in an area that our Mumbai map designates as a slum area near the Eastern Expressway. For about $7000, she owns a very small house with a cramped living room and kitchen on the ground floor and another bedroom on the top floor. Her children sleep in the living room – the two daughters on the floor and her son on the little couch. It’s all very cramped, but it’s clean and homey, and the television was on the whole time. Soon, the entire neighborhood is going to get replaced to make room for new constructions, and Savatri thinks that the government will provide them with new housing.

As Ksenia and I we were sitting down having lunch while the rest of the family watched us, some curious neighbors stopped by to say Hello. In between Hindi television commercials, the daughters and her mother kept serving us food and orange juice. After the Hellos were said and the lunch was eaten, the maid took us to a visit at her childhood friend and neighbor. Savatri is originally from Kerala and her friend from Goa, but they had moved to Mumbai for better prospects. Savatri’s friend finds Goa boring now, especially since her husband spends most of the year in Dubai. He used to live in Kuwait and was there during the Gulf War and had sworn never to go back to the Middle East, but then he went to Dubai for the money. One of his sons works for Dell now; he still lives with his parents and was sporting a baseball cap.

Savatri is thinking about going to Dubai, but she doesn’t want to work for a Muslim family, because, she says, their families are too big and they don’t treat Indians very well. After yet another tea with our maid’s friend, we took off to make our way home through the Saturday afternoon insanity called Mumbai traffic. Due to the bird flue panic, chicken prices fell from Rs100 to Rs15, and fish went from Rs300 to Rs1000.