Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The fogs of Lahore part II

I looked out of the window this morning and felt I was living in the top turret of a fairytale castle in the clouds.
The entire world outside had disappeared behind a thick veil of white.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Thou Shalt Drive

A lady was once asked by a traffic warden,
“Why do women park in front of the ‘No Parking’ sign when they know very well what it means?”
To which the grand lady replied,
“kyon ke jaga hi wahan khali hoti hey bhai”
(Because that is usually the only vacant spot)

If you think the above quoted is a joke then you couldn’t be more wrong.
This was an actual answer given by a lady who had come for her driving test at the NOC Police lines Thokar Niaz Baig.
Incidentally that is where I also went to get my new driving license, or to be more precise, for my driving test which would determine if I was capable enough to be issued one.
Even though I passed the test and was issued the much coveted license months ago, I had promised in one of my previous blogs that I would write about my driving test experience. So here it is.
Despite the fact that there was over a two hour wait, which included one hour of scheduled load shedding in stifling heat, my experience was not altogether a bad one (or maybe after an appalling one at NADRA and a harrowing one at the local passport office, a visit to the police lines seemed almost pleasant. At least they were polite, that is more than what I can say for the official and non officials at both previous establishments).
There was however, one little irregularity that did occur when the names were being announced for the test. My name did not appear to be among the first few.
Since I had arrived first thing in the morning (exactly at eight o clock) to avoid long queues, subsequently becoming the second person to submit my test file and have my name registered, therefore, in the test order also, I should have been placed at number two.
Alas it was not so.
After seven names had been called out including the names of two aspiring drivers at Number 2 and Number 3 who had not even bothered to show up. (How they managed to submit their file with out even turning up would have been a real mystery question in any other country, but in Pakistan, not so. One of the beauties of Pakistani culture is that anything is possible around here).
My objection (though I was careful not to mention the absentee ladies) left the warden speechless for a moment. It also provided the cue for another early arrival whose name had also not been called out till now to lodge her complain as well.
Well, to be more accurate, I was the one who lodged the mere complain, the other lady attacked with a vengeance. Oh boy! I would not have liked to be at the receiving end of her whip lashing tongue. Hearing her go on and on I could not but help feel sorry for the poor wardens who were trying their best to pacify the situation.
All during this commotion both our files were dug up from underneath a pile and the Number 8 hastily scribbled across the top of mine. I am presuming something similar was done to mollify the other fire blazing virago. This did not go well with the guy distributing the files whose entire routine had been upset by two interfering women.
He had defiantly lost most of his charm and some of his temper when he muttered,

“Kutch logon ko shikaiteen lagane ki addat hoti hai”
(Some people have a habit of complaining)

Even though he kept glaring resolutely into the stack of files in his hands as he said this, there was no confusion as to whom he was referring. I guess I should have been offended at that statement. But I wasn't. It was just too darned funny to see a grown man pout like that.
As for the test itself; it was a walk in the park. The traffic warden (who gave us a few pointers before the test was about to start) was not joking when he said that they usually took it easy on women. All women drivers were required to do was to start the car, move forward and backward a few times and that was it. The whole test did not take more than a few minutes at the most. The sign identification test was even simpler.
So much for my three days of parallel parking practices.
I have a confession to make. Even though I have been driving for over a decade, I CAN NOT parallel park.
Whenever I do attempt it, the result is that while every other car in the row stands perfectly aligned, mine is jutting out at an angle of 35 degrees from the curb.
A disgraceful thing for someone who has spent so much time in France.
The French are the best parkers in the world. They can park their cars in spaces that are even smaller than the length of their own cars. They wedge themselves in between the parked cars and nudge the one behind and in front to make enough space for their own. They do it with such expertise and precision that none of the cars receive even the slightest of scratch to show for it. The owners of the cars also accommodate fellow parkers by leaving their parking breaks off. This is something that I have not just heard about but have actually seen done by the experts i.e the French themselves and yet I still do not have the confidence to even try to copy them.
That is why I often leave perfectly good parking spaces (more than length of my car) and go park in a wide and vacant spot miles away and then walk back to the place where I am supposed to go. For this reason solely, (though I have never done it myself) I sympathize with the lady who parks in front of No Parking signs).
All that pre test anxiety and subsequent practicing sessions had been initiated on information provided by a cousin of mine telling me about a friend flunking his driving test thrice in a row despite having a decade of driving experience ( like me) to back him up.
Well there was no danger of happening that to anyone the day I went for my test and the main reason for this was that it was Friday and Friday being reserved for ladies, the rule of the day was leniency.
That is not so for any other day of the week.
The driving test instructor admitted that the whole thing is usually over by midday on Fridays whereas on regular days (men’s) the tests go on till late at night.
So if you are about to appear for a driving test yourself, here’s my advice to you.

Chill if you are a woman and beware if you are not.

So all is well that ends well. I passed the test and was told to collect my ready license from the thana near Zillah katchery coming Monday morning.
Oh! And by the way, guess who went in place of the absentee Number 2 and Number 3 during the test.

Yep …. The very vocal Number 8 and Number God Knows What, who had big mouths and a habit of complaining ;-)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The mystery of the missing store boy

I went grocery shopping yesterday.
An appropriate comment to that statement would be “so what”, people go to buy groceries all the time.
Well as it happens my shopping experience yesterday turned out a little different form the rest.
The store I went to provides carrier service from the cash counter to where ever your car is parked. Though mine was very conveniently parked just out side the store entrance only a few feet away from the cash counter I nonetheless allowed one of the store boys to carry my bags for the sole reason that there being quite a few of them and all put together were rather heavy to carry.
This turned out to be a big mistake.
The brief time span, in which my attention had been focused on paying the bill, the store lad carrying my stuff seemed to have disappeared. A thorough search for him ensued but failed to produce either the lad or my shopping.
Where could he possibly have gone? The remaining store staff and I were equally baffled.
As we were having company for dinner that night, the menu for the evening was lasagna, crisp fried chicken with French fries and Garlic bread followed by Ice cream topped with multicolored jelly and mixed fruit. Most of the stuff I had bought comprised of the ingredients for my evening meal which was aimed to provide us with a scrumptious feast but would have been pretty much useless for someone like the boy carrying my wares.
Even if he had taken them home he would not know what to do with more than half the stuff in those bags.
Another motive could be Reselling it perhaps?
The whole shopping cost me close to two thousand rupees, which in my opinions was not enough money to worth loosing your job over, even one as lowly as that of an “odd jobs boy” at the store. But like I said, that is just my opinion, the lad may have a different point of view altogether.
After nearly twenty or so minutes of exasperated waiting, the embarrassed store management agreed to give my money back since several things that I had bought, like French bread etc, were currently irreplaceable because I had picked up the last available pieces from the shelves. Just as I was being handed the due amount there was a triumphant cry from one of the "look outs" posted outside that the errant boy had been finally spotted hurrying back towards the store.
And indeed he was.
He arrived huffing and puffing from several hundred yards away.
Apparently the poor boy had mistaken the shopping to belong to another lady who also happened to be standing next to the counter while I was paying for my stuff and followed her out.
The lady in question after exiting the shop went about her business in the market and for the next twenty minutes the mute idiot carrying my groceries followed her around with out having the common sense to address her even once. Had he done so the confusion would have cleared up instantly.
It was only when the lady finally reached her car and the boy tried to put the shopping bags inside it, did she exclaim that they were not hers. The highly flustered chokra then rushed back at full speed towards the store and arrived with my grocery bags dangling on either side of him only just in the nick of time.
I was pretty annoyed to have been kept waiting for so long but after looking at the exhausted boy my annoyance changed to pity. They whole of my shopping must have weighed 10 to 12 kgs at the very least and imagine having to carry that around for nearly half an hour in a fruit less chase across the market.
So in the end I did make every thing I had on the menu except ice cream which had to be abandoned in favor of kheer brought in by my father (which though delicious, unfortunately does not keep for long even in the refrigerator).
One little mistake nearly changed our evening plan because frustrated by all that waiting, I had, at one point, decided to take up my father’s offer of taking the guests out to dinner instead of cooking for them at home.
I would have done just that too had the boy arrived even a minute later than when he actually did.
Just goes to show how important a well timed arrival can turn out to be.