Friday, April 11, 2008

Last Word to Sanjay - Golden Triangle 10

Sanjay springs into our lives, as new as the morning milk, with gleaming teeth and a spotless white jacket, buttoned up to the neck. Before we’ve got our seatbelts fastened, he’s told us he’s got two children, his wife speaks five languages (“She very clever. I no very clever.”), his rent’s two thousand rupees a month, and if we want him tomorrow, we need to ask at Reception, his driver number’s 23. It’s good, to get this sorted out so soon. We roll out of the Taj driveway, waving at saluting Maharajahs. By the time the back axle’s across the threshold, Sanjay’s peeling off his white cotton gloves, to stash in a little hidey-hole near the gearbox. “Gloves, is hotel requirement. No good for drive. You want all-Delhi tour? I take.”

In a burst of enthusiasm, he comes round the Qutb Minar with us, explaining in bullet-point English, or sometimes in just point, forget the English. He wrests the camera from Lady Snowdon, and bullies us into a group photo. “Many jobs,” I say in the Monu-speak which I favour of late, “Driver, guide, photographer – can you cook?” “No cook, wife cook.” So much for five languages, then.

Driving along later, with a brace of monuments already under our belts, Mr Roland and Mrs Andrew feel the need to photograph something presidential. “No is parking,” says Sanjay, flatly. We slow down to tickover, so Mr Roland and Mrs Andrew can hop out to be digitally creative. Mr Andrew and I stay put, cruising up and down Government Row at three miles an hour, in front of seventeen boy-soldiers, sprawled on steps leading nowhere in particular. Their heads swivel up and down, following our not-progress, like a Wimbledon crowd in slo-mo. Nepalese, Sanjay informs us, racily hitting second gear. As we kerb-crawl, I ask Sanjay, if his children want to be drivers, too. “My hopes is doctor, or civil engineering, or work in government job,” he says. Why not a driver, I wonder. “No driver,” he says, sadly, “Being driver, no life.” It’s all I can do, not to send him home and slide behind the wheel myself, but I have more chance of flying Apollo 15, than I have of tackling the highways and by-ways of Delhi, bumpers and limbs intact.

Sanjay’s parents didn’t have much, scratching a bare living from poor soil, in the country. He’s their success story. Standing on their shoulders, he’s holding down a steady job, in the big city. In his turn, he makes his children’s education his first priority, working hard, so they can hope to be more than drivers. His daughter doesn’t have medical ambitions, though. She wants to be a pilot. Good for her, already kicking over the traces, and she’s only five years old.
This whole country’s steered into thinking of the future. A proud father beams down from a billboard we pass, advertising insurance. In front of him, his daughter, in cap and gown, brandishes a degree scroll, grinning. “Whatever she needs, you’ll be ready.” Another bill-board, on contraception: “Girl or boy, small family is joy!” It makes you think, all this aspirational propagandist campaigning, and literacy levels are below 50% in some parts of the country.

We see mosques, we see temples, we see churches. Sanjay says, “All religion, same. Blood is blood,” he draws a nail across his wrist, “God is God, same. All God same. Christian sign is plus,” he takes his hands off the wheel to make a cross with his forefingers, “Hindu sign is swastik. Is same. One God.” I take my hat off to Sanjay the philosopher, with a vocabulary of ten words.
If I were Hindu, I would be really fed up with Hitler, for purloining the holiest of symbols, and having the whole of the world associate it with death and inhumanity, for the rest of forever. I see Gandhi’s letter to Hitler, from 1938. “Dear Friend,” it starts, “Are you sure you want to do this? Sorry for interfering. All the best, Gandhi.” I paraphrase, slightly. I also digress....

By the time we’re on our third or fourth bottle of water from Sanjay’s cafe, he’s stopped all pretence of harvesting the rubbish for discreet disposal later. He takes the empties out of our hands, and throws them on the floor. “I pay twenty rupees, man in car park, he clean. He job.” We try lobbing our own bottles on the floor, to save Sanjay the trouble of being the middle man, and it’s almost more than we can bear. Try it. See what I mean? Now, go and pick it up.