The world cannot offer you what you’re worth.
The lassi swirled through the streets – the flyovers, the bridge, the main roads, the gallis – again and again, around and around. The taxi sped from location to location but the lassi only made its way from madhka to lips, because in the hands of Gurbin Preet Panwar, it was safe.
Today he wore a red turban, it was five forty and he drank his lassi from an unusually tall earthen tumbler rather slowly. Lassi had to be drunk quickly like every other milk concoction but he savoured the whole ceremony for far too long, swirling it in the glass and prolonging his gulps. Every drop was accounted for, even those that creamed his moustache.
The driver manoeuvred the car swiftly over potholes, missing none of them. Both, passenger and driver ungracefully swayed. Gurbin kept his eye on the green plastic grapes that hung from the rear view mirror by a thick thread. It bounced around violently trying to break free. But no milk escaped the madhka because each bump was compensated by a skilled undulating hand. To have that level of control over liquid while traversing a city in India, takes experience and skill. It’s about knowing your car, its driver and your glass; the road it takes, his occupation and what it holds. An old Premier Padmini is only too different from a new anything. The highway is not a galli. A doctor cruises, a student speeds and a taxi driver doesn’t care. And lassi has it’s own consistency.
Gurbin was in an old Padmini, its driver didn’t care, the cab was about to enter into another galli and milk does not get wasted.
He sipped the lassi. Ma’s lassi was thicker and richer, and you’d be capable drinking it without difficulty through any potholed street. He sipped again. Masum Panwar had a technique no one knew about. Once when he was eleven, he had watched her make lassi in the kitchen. She added a pinch of something. Cardamom? Saffron? No one knew. When Gurbin asked her, she replied, “Love”. He never believed her even for a second though he loved her. He accepted her secret pinch of something to be a secret left unshared forever. He took a sip. He wished he had pressed for it then, now that getting good lassi isn’t as easy as tugging the border of your Ma’s salwar and complaining about how hot the day was. Getting to Saab Sindh was a task because it was off his usual route to and from work. He sipped and compared. Ma’s lassi was good. Saab Sindh came close. Heck, it was good too. He couldn’t be that biased. Gurbin looked down into the madhka. Ma filled his childhood with this drink. One glass every day was what toughened his body and kneaded his heart. One glass every day was what made him.
It swirled again in an over inhabited lane. Gurbin concentrated hard on the coldness of the liquid as it moved down his throat. This displaced focus almost made him miss his stop. But the driver had not a sip. The cab halted and snapped Gurbin back to mindfulness.
“Saab, yaha theek hoga?”
He got off and picked his pockets for cash, but there wasn’t any. Still holding his drink, with his free hand he dug around in his dark brown leather shoulder bag looking for money.
Sana, on the other hand, had plenty in both her pockets but wanted to save her money and time in a five forty-nine Bandra Local. She stepped out of the building mentally planning her course before she routed herself. An evening pleasantry was exchanged between her and the watchman and he proceeded to ask her if he could halt a cab for her, to which she kindly declined. This piqued him because there was an emptying taxi right in front of him. These opportunities to appear great sitting and escaping from right under his nose; his smile disappeared. Sana noticed the cab too. It was the bright red turban wrapped tightly around Gurbin’s head that caught her attention and the madhka in his hand that kept it there. Lassi poured almost instantly through her mind and deluged her map to the train station. Her mind changed courses. How did she know it was lassi in the earthenware? Because there was only one place in South Bombay that sold lassi like that and there is always a prohibited U-turn everywhere in the city. To the annoyance of the watchman, she approached the taxi.
“Bandra?” she asked the driver.
“Baito”, he replied without looking at her. He was looking for change to break the heavy note Gurbin gave him.
Gurbin stepped aside to allow Sana into the taxi, but she didn’t move. Sana had her feet planted on the ground and her eyes glued to the lassi. She couldn’t help but peek into the madhka in search of true love. So she did. This, Gurbin noticed and followed her eyes. For one brief moment two pairs of eyes focused on Punjab’s pride – one violated the milk, the other tried to protect it. Gurbin tightened his grip around the madhka and slowly retreated his arm in safety. Not that it was extended in the first place. Sana looked up at him, he was already looking at her. His stare accused her guilty gaze.
You think two people who have so much in common would be caught in a moment so awkward. But sharing information about food is very different from actually sharing the food. People don’t do that, just order two.
Through this ordeal, the driver looked on, amused and confused. Sana quickly opened the door and seated herself inside the cab. The driver had only one party to scrutinise now. Gurbin didn’t allow him that privilege. He took his change from the driver’s hand, resting lazily on the door through the window, and was on his way.
The taxi driver ignited the engine. What he didn’t realise was that quite a few (most) people in India can be easily distracted by lassi. He wasn’t one of them.
“Bandra kaha?” he enquired without looking behind.
“Bandra ke phele, aage U-turn lena aur do minute ke liye Saab Sindh ke pas rok dena”, her tone asked more than instructed.
The same thought flitted past their minds. After a concerting moment through the rear view mirror, the taxi driver took his taxi and Sana back to where he had just been. After he parked outside Saab Sindh, he stepped out and bought himself a full lassi also. He drank his lassi leaning against the door of his cab; Sana, in the comfort of its dark interiors.
As he drank the lassi without allowing the rim to touch his lips, he understood; lassi never calls, but you answer anyway.