A Commute From Hell

So it took a quick 20mins to get from work back to my posh hotel yesterday, but today it took a good 2.5 hours to get to work. In the morning, the usually desperate attempt to explain to either anyone from the hotel’s car pool management army and/or the cab driver where I want to get to. This morning, everybody seemed to be in clear agreement: Yes, Sir, no problem. So I guess I can read the Times of India and relax. Unfortunately, when I look out of the window, we are in a huge traffic jam at the end of the Western Express Highway, going into the opposite direction of where we need to go (i.e. south instead of north). 40mins later we finally get off the so-called highway and I am trying to explain to my driver that he needs to turn around and get back onto the highway going north. It turns out that the driver doesn’t understand a single word of what I am saying and my body language also appears to mystify him completely. Well, the sentiment is mutual, so eventually I just make him stop somewhere in the middle of traffic.

Stop he actually understood, but he wasn’t one to give up easily. As I try to hire a different cab going into the opposite direction, he catches up with me and literally begs me to get back in with him. He is a very very old man with a very bad cough. Luckily, I find a translator, so, surrounded by a whole collection of spectators, I try again to point out where I want to go. She translates and after many gestures, laughs and smiles, she confirms: Don’t worry, Sir, he got it now.

Happily, we are back on the highway. The Western Express Highway is literally a race track that is in pretty bad shape, has no markings whatsoever, is filled with two-, three-, four- and more-wheelers passing left right and in zig zag. There’s the odd traffic light then and again (it seems these are one of the few traffic lights anyone actually pays attention to in this town), and here and there you get pedestrians on the side of it, and of course, a number of seriously suicidal ones who will either sprint, or, equally frequently, who will extremely slowly, entirely unfazed by anything at all, walk to cross the highway. It is serious madness.

Even better, 20mins or so later, I realize that I am not recognizing the landscape. There’s a few hills in the distance, but they are on the left of the road, when they should be on the right. Then again, I might be wrong and not remember correctly, but I get the sneaking feeling that we are totally wrong and I make the driver pull over, right next to a long line of auto rickshaw drivers on their second breakfast break (on the highway). Ooops, it turns out we are on the Eastern Express Highway, not the Western. Well, that’s just entirely wrong. I think I need a cigarette.

So, I guess we’ll need to cut through the suburbs of Powai to get over to the west side. We pass an impressive roadbridge construction site where an army of women carry cement from one corner of the site to the other. They carry big buckets of that stuff on their heads, wearing incredibly shoddy clothes and flip flips, in the middle of dust and dirt and traffic at 36 degrees celsius. All of the construction workers are wearing flip-flops, actually. Forget about hard hats, gloves, or anything like that. It’s quite unreal.

Eventually I get to work and decide that I better get a car plus driver on a daily basis, at least untill I have bought my own car, which I am planning to do. By the evening, I got that sorted out, and get driven back to my hotel in a fridge of a car. The driver sort of understands me and I sort of understand him, but he insists on having the AC turned to subzero temperatures. He also drives like a complete maniac, but I guess that’s the way it goes.