Soundtrack in my Tata Indica

posted by on 2007.11.12, under India, Travel

I had just finished a tough work out at my gym after traveling all night on a 10 hour 3rd class AC train from Tirupati back to Hyderabad. The weekend was something I had yet to experience here in a city that 50,000 pilgrims visit each day. Beautiful scenery – the pictures do more justice in summarizing it than my clumsy words.

But back to the drive home….I have had a lot of thoughts going through my mind the past weekend. The weekend was definitely a humbling experience for me, and I have been sentimental about leaving in less than a month. As luck would have it, I happened to be playing music on my computer in the soundsystem-less automobile. While on shuffle, the song “All My Life” by KC and JOJO came on. Satyam and I exchanged eye contact, I am almost certain he has never heard the song that I instantly traced back to my 8th grade crush at St. Monica’s graduation dance. The awkward moment, similar to the car scene with Chris Farley and David Spade from Tommy Boy, prompted us to both break into laughter, and I let the song play. While driving through hustling streets of Hyderabad to this R&B classic, I have to admit I let my emotions get the better of me.

I started to think about the sadness in my host mother’s eyes when the subject of me moving out comes up. She has told me many times she thinks of me like her sons who are now living in the US. The other night, I told her now she has 3 sons to visit next time she comes out.

I became a bit homesick when I saw how close the families in Tirupati were, and how the childhood friends behaved around each other. Their reactions to the Diwali gifts I presented them made the effort completely worth it. (I gave them each cricket jersey’s with the company logo on the front and their names on the back)

All the friends I have made out, Sainik, Sumpath, Kirthi, Nafessa, Ankur, Sharad, Srikant, Aditya, The neighborhood kids who I play cricket with once and awhile, the guys in my gym, my office friends and the various expats and other random friends here have been incredible, but I do miss those closest to me back home. My first friend was my driver, Satyam. We have finally reached an understanding with each other. He is more loyal to me than ever before.

He was driving with more ferocity today than I have ever seen him, and nearly got us into a fight at one point with a much larger SUV. I asked him what the problem was and he explained to me that tomorrow is a big day for him, and he is stressed out. He will be in court tomorrow fighting a case for his pension money. As I said before, he once had a decent government job for 12 years, until the division was shut down 5 years ago. He had saved 300 rupees a month in a retirement fund, and when the layoff happened, the money was never paid out to him and 8 other government employees.

They have been fighting the case for 4 years now, in and out of court every six months, just to get transferred to a new court the next time. The money he is owed is 1/3 the capital he needs to buy a car so that he can build his own business. He has had a tough time getting bank loans here, and if he is able to purchase his own car then he will be able to earn 2000 more rupees per month in profit after his loan payment and all other expenses. (He only earns 5000/month currently). Within three years, he will be making at least 15,000 rupees per month on the car, three times his currently salary. With a second child on the way, this is a move he needs to make soon.

I saw his face change, and light up when I told him that will not be giving him money, but will do what I can to help him obtain funding for his own business through a micro financial market. We are going to try to get Satyam his own car, so that he can pay off the loan in 3 years, make nearly 2x as much profit per month than his currently salary in the meantime until he can retain up to 4x his current salary once the car is paid for. He is a good man, and it saddens me to see a good man broken by a lack of education, misfortune, government inefficiencies, and endless court battles.

And, during the climax of the late 90’s hit, I started to regret the fact that I only came here for 4 months. If I knew what sort of position I would be in out here at this time 3 months ago, I would have surely planned to stay here at least a year. The people make India the place it is. Not the beautiful scenery, the spicy food, the tropical climate, the exotic wildlife, the historical wealth and treasure-filled palace. It is inside the homes of the simple Indians where you find the beauty this country in unique for. And thanks to a bit of luck, a lack of planning, and a hyderabadass attitude I have been fortunate to get a glimpse of this amazing country….only to be left hungry for more, perhaps my next tenure here. I hope that my next trip here will be for a more noble cause, as I have truly been inspired by people like Nafessa and Leigh Anne who have a genuine passion for social change.

The song ended, as we over took and auto rickshaw aggressively, running a red light, and Satyam slamming on the horn to the mysterious soundtrack that plays in his mind while driving. I thought about the past 3 minutes, felt embarrassed that the song had such an effect on me this Monday evening. But much to my surprise, KC and JOJO were followed up by Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.” A much more appropriate song for the occasion, and Satyam started comically bouncing his head in unison to the rhythm of the Experience. I reached home in no time.


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