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dennis batchelder

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Punjabi Problem Solving
By dennis batchelder
Sunday, October 26, 2008

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A trip to Punjab, and how the problems were solved along the way.

Last weekend we went to Gursev's wedding. It would be the first Punjabi wedding any of us ever attended, so we were pretty excited. We left Hyderabad early so we could spend a day taking a detour to a hill station in the Himalayas, and that was a lot of fun, too.

We left Saturday morning, and it was pouring in Hyderabad. The roads were flooded and impassable to motorcycles, so Hussain, our very thoughtful driver, called up Arunabh, and picked him up on the way to our place. Sree was unable to get an autotaxi (when she called, they lied and said, "we're all booked"), so we drove like crazy through the rivers in the streets to get to her place, pick her up, and get to the airport in time for the flight.

This was Arunabh's first and Sree's fifth flight, and after we left the clouds behind us, they ended up spending the rest of the way to Delhi with their noses smashed against the windows, peering down at the rivers and cities and roads. Arunabh was trying to pinpoint our location on the map, but the Indian map quality here is pretty poor (most of them are labeled "map not to scale"), so it was hard to be sure. Not that it really mattered.

I had reserved a Qualis and driver the night before. When we arrived at Delhi, the agent and the driver were waiting for us with a sign " Dennis Eldur". Close enough but the problem was that the agent wanted the money and didn't want to give us a receipt. Worse, the agent had no identification tying him to the rental company. In fact, he had no identification at all no license, passport, or any other paper. It turns out the agency was just a brokerage the web front-end who made money matching tourists to other car companies who didn't have web sites. This was quite a dilemma: we did not want to pay without any receipt, as we did not want to pay again when we returned. I made the agent fill out a receipt, then sign it, and then we took his picture, standing in front of the Qualis, holding the signed receipt. Problem solved.

We drove out of Delhi and headed north. There was a lot of traffic on the outer ring, and we were stuck, lurching forward slowly, along with cars, buses, horse carts, bicycles, and rickshaws. One of the lurches turned out to be a false alarm, and the horse cart next to us bumped into the small Indicar in front of him. We heard the metal give and some plastic crack as the corner of the cart smashed into the brake light. The Indicar driver got out of this car, ran back to the cart, and yelled at the old man driving the cart. The cart driver shrugged his shoulders and gestured at his horse. The traffic lurched again, and the old man got his horse in gear and moved around the Indicar, and the driver went chasing after him, abandoning his car and wife. This blocked the traffic behind and soon everybody was beeping and yelling and cursing and telling the driver to get back in his car and leave the old man alone. The driver grabbed the old man's arm and scolded those yelling at him. Eventually the driver dropped the old man's arm, went to the front of the cart, lectured the horse for a couple minutes, and then smacked the horse on its rump. Problem solved.

We eventually made it up the winding mountain roads to Kufri, which is just a few kilometers above Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. Well, not all the food made it: Sree's stomach wasn't happy with the driver's rough handling of the turns. Sree tried lying down, then sitting up, stopping and waiting, taking some medicine, but nothing worked until her food was forcibly emptied out the windows and splattered on the side of the roads. Problem solved.

In the morning I woke at dawn to find we were sitting in a cabin perched on the side of a mountain, 9500 feet up, overlooking one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. The sun peeped over the hills, and its rays revealed more and more layers of ridges and mist-filled valleys between us and the snow covered peaks on the horizon. Each valley's mist was colored a different shade of pink or orange. I have seen paintings of the Himalayas with all these colors, but I always assumed that the artist was using some impressionistic license. Not so: it was absolutely breathtaking.

I couldn't enjoy this alone, so I roused everybody out of their bed to share the moment with me. It was our only day in Kufri, and I didn't want them to miss this magical moment. So Irina, then Sree, then Arunabh stumbled out of bed, rubbed the sleep out of their bleary eyes, and gazed awestruck at the view. Hope it was worth it for them!

The magic dissolved with the mist as we were given the bill. The hand written receipt showed the cost to be 500 rupees more than the quote from the night before. I asked why, and was told by our driver "tax, sir". No way. This was a hand written receipt, and I was paying in cash. The chances of the tax man getting his share ranged from slim to none. Besides, the tax rate was ten percent. It smelled more like a kickback than a tax. We glared at each other for a couple minutes, neither of us backing down. "Tell you what", I said, "give me a computer printout, and I'll give you the tax." Oops. "Ok, sir", the driver said. "Pay them what you will". Problem solved.

We drove down to Chandigarh, took some pictures of a house where Sree might have lived, and, headed on to Ludhiana for Gursev's wedding. After the early morning ceremony, we took a nap, and then went to the Punjabi wedding reception, which had some very cool dancing. Punjabi men dance with their hands in the air and their feet moving faster than Irish line dancers. The music had strong, complex rhythms, and the dancers were beautiful.

Gursev's sister pulled the four of us onto the dance floor. Doing Punjabi dancing is a lot tougher than watching Punjabi dancing. But I tried, pumping my arms, moving my feet. Then one of Gursev's batch mates shuffled his way over to me, and made me self conscious with my stumbling foot moves. I said that I thought you had to be born in Punjab to dance Punjabi. He watched a little bit longer, and then shouted over the music, "Do you speak Punjabi?" I shook my head no. He smiled and hollered, "it will look better if you dance in your own language!" Problem solved.

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