A couple of days ago while playing a round of golf, as is my wont since that helps to get my mind of the fact that I am an awful golfer who manages to spray the ball in every but the aimed for direction, I was gassing around with the other three.  Do that as a regular practice to keep the others from sniggering every time I address and despatch that little dimpled monster into one or the other gorse bushes which the Ooty Golf Course is home to, each bush almost as though waiting to welcome ones misdirected shot into its arms.  During my rambling, I got around to relating to them this particular episode from my past, when it struck me that ‘Hello!  This would be a nice one to put down on paper!’   Kept thinking about it on my bike ride back home so that no sooner than settling my behind down on my office chair, I got down to banging away on my keyboard.

For a change, barring this one of the Ooty golf course bunged in to add some colour to what would otherwise have been a drab page sans any visual support, since I have no photographs of the main tale with which to liven up the blog, trust you won’t get bored before reaching the end of the story.  So do hang in there.IMG-20240123-WA0021

The story goes back to 2000, the year we relocated from Dubai to Colombo.  Not being sure about how long we’d stay put in SL before the itch in my soles of my feet would have me scouting around for other, possibly greener pastures, I had taken a considered decision that I would not buy a car for ourselves and would instead take one on lease so that, should we decide to up and away at short notice (which incidentally is what did eventually happen) we would not have the millstone of a car to dispose off, hanging around our neck.  Having arranged a car on a long term lease and since both Kitty and Muskan had to leave every morning for school, one to study and the other to teach and since I had no desire to be stuck in the crazy Colombo traffic during what are the most productive hours in my working day, decided to employ a driver.

Having asked around, a friend of mine had this gentleman come across to meet me.  Took an immediate liking to a person who, it was obvious from the 15 minutes I spent talking to him, was an extremely mild, well-mannered bloke who had the added advantage of being able to converse in English.  In a nutshell, a classic Sri Lankan.  Not that it matters, but just so that the reader has a complete picture of the fellow, Bala was a Sri Lankan Tamil.

As a person cast from what is obviously the classic and quintessential SL mould, when driving, he would follow EVERY single rule in the book.  Not just every rule IN the book, but also a few which were obviously a figment of his imagination since it had probably never crossed the minds of the framers of that book, to include those in what was already a rather long and tedious waste-of-time list.  In short, a gentleman whose driving, at polar opposite to how we Indians (read that as we simple folk from the Punjab) behave when we get behind a steering wheel and treat the vehicle we are driving as the ultimate killing machine, had me convinced that Bala had been tele-transported into our lives from some remote planet somewhere in another galaxy.

Every now and then whenever I had to head out for any meeting, shunning the irritation of weaving in and out of hordes of vehicles on the narrow roads of Colombo, I’d get Bala to do the honours.  Moving at a snail’s pace, he’d suddenly jam on the brakes, coming to an immediate and grinding halt.
– Bala, why have you stopped?
– Sir, pedestrians crossing the road.
– Yes, but they are 50 yards away so why are you stopping here?
– Sir, have to respect pedestrians.

On other occasions:
– Bala, why are you at the end of this queue of cars?
– Sir, coloured lights (the rather poetic term for road signals in SL)
– Yes, I can see that, but there are two queues so why don’t you move to the parallel one where there are only a couple of cars in front of us?
– Can’t Sir. Not allowed.  Drivers have to stay in one line.

While that lovely fellow and his interpretation of road rules would have my Punjabi blood boiling and would leave me seething, the last thing on my mind was to offend Bala.  So I continued to swallow my bile and learnt to simply grin and bear up with the situation.

With habits at polar opposites to mine, my dear wife loved Bala and his road manners.  To the extent, which incidentally is ongoing to the present day with even my driving, that any time Bala would get close to a car in front or attempt to overtake any vehicle (a rarity) the back seat would be reverberating with ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Ahaas’ almost as though she was/is in acute agony.  To his credit, Bala handled both of our idiosyncrasies with poise and an alacrity which one had to admit, was very commendable.

Clipboard03Life went on in this manner, till came a day when in the car going through the heart of the city, sitting in the front passenger seat, inching along at what I had come to accept as this being his usual sedate pace, I lost my cool.  With Bala, at irritatingly regular intervals, stopping dead for pedestrians way off in the distance, besides getting in at the end of ANY queue of cars we came across, I finally blew my top:
– Bala, where are we coming from?
– From home Sir.
– Where are we going? – To Mr Lalin Fernando office.

Bala now listen very carefully. The house is point ‘A’, Mr Fernando’s office is point ‘B’.  When I am at point ‘A’ or at point ‘B’, I am working and trying to earn money to pay your salary.  If you waste any more time between those two points I will sack you!!!

A temper tantrum which had an almost magical affect on this calm, cool and mild gentleman.  Because after that day, whenever Bala was driving me around, it was almost as though he had been transomed into some sort of a monster ever ready to mow down anyone or anything that dared to cross his path.

Which was fine by me, but definitely not so with the wife.  Whenever driving her around, Bala would revert to his original avatar.

It was when the two of us happened to be together in the car that poor Bala would have this totally perplexed and quizzical look on his face with me looking for question marks hanging over his head, looking at both of us in turn wondering whether he was to be his original self or take on the mantle of the manic I had transformed him into?

When I look back on it now, all I can do is to fondly remember Mr Bala and admire his sense of balance.

Thankfully it does take all kinds to make the world!