Even though I've just gotten off a flight from Toronto, I don't qualify as a 'Saab' for several reasons. One, I look no different from the teeming crowds, Two, there's an age factor intertwined with the concept of Saab. You need to look 35+ before the epithet is accorded. Three, I didn't feel the part. I wasn't going to play tourist here. I was here on a gritty, nose-to-the-ground mission. Saabs beget obsequence, the non-saabs do not. So the taxi drivers did not fawn, and in the wet steam-heat of the mumbai afternoon, I turned to the rickshaws.
I'd made reservations at a guest-house in Andheri before I left Canada. I'd found them earlier while googling for places to stay in Mumbai. The guesthouse's website had a link - "Reserve online now!". I was duly impressed. I clicked the link and was shown a picture of a man with a mousy moustache looking away from the webcam that clicked it. Below the capture was a piece of badly aligned text that said "For room booking, send email letter to ranjitrulez@....com". The short of it is that I received a reply within minutes, and a room had been reserved for me simply on good faith. There was no talk of credit cards.
The auto ride was eventful, but not a new experience. I was used to the concept of stop lights being treated as driving suggestions rather than law. I was accustomed to policemen flagging down my auto to 'urgently' get to a chai stall. And lastly, I had mastered the art of small talk with autowalas. You want to shoot the breeze for the most part, but every once in a while, garnish the conversation with a common frustration and round it off with a small, personal vulnerability.
The conversations go like this - "Nahin, bas gharwalon se milne. Bangalore ka train pakadna hai kal. Aap kahan rehte ho? Oh Borivli?....Haan, India ko cricket chhoDni chahiye. Hockey mein toh kuchh hona nahi, ab cricket mein bhi zero. Sirf shatranj raha.....Nahin, shaadi toot gayi, usey meri tankhwa kam lagti thhi."
This one-two-three strategy ensures that the autowala empathises with you and doesn't take you for too much of a ride. Has worked well for me.
I found the guesthouse desk empty. It was dusk, and there was no sign of ranjitrulez. I was about to ring a bell placed on the desk when I spotted an envelope beside it. There was a letter in it, enclosing a key. It asked for me to head upstairs to Room 202, and that money matters would be handled in the morning.