Driver No:1 (A 3-D Horror Film)

Rating: PG-13

Details: Some offensive conduct, some 4-letter words and some action.

A month old car got into the 4th minor accident within 15 days, yesterday, and I fired him then and there. Hopefully my experience will give some inputs to those of you planning to employ longer-term drivers, especially in Bengaluru.

Why does one keep a driver? I would think it is to get free time to work on other important stuff while outsourcing the entire car-related activities to another person and to allow for time to adjust to a new place. As mentioned elsewhere, I am quite confident of my future driving skills on Indian roads. The reasons are simple: I had driven thousands of miles on Indian roads (albiet in BC timeperiod), have Indian license and have not seen anything here to have me thinking “No way can I drive in India”.

After checking out a few so-called drivers, who would have been perfect for a role as Bollywood/Kollywood Goondas, I narrowed down this guy, let us call him Ravi, based on a reference. I was warned that this guy is always after more money. I thought, “Who isnt?” and decided to test him out. He came at the appointed time, took me for a test drive and gave me a spiel on how he is so trustworthy and how everyone is 100% happy with his performance. Also he claimed he knew the city well. This was important to me as I have to move around Bengaluru quite a bit and in the past have been stung by “local drivers” who turned around and asked me (!!!) where we were! He also claimed that he always insist on the vehicle being 100% clean and arrives 30 minutes before the start time, to wash the car. (He insisted that I buy him a bucket etc.). Anyway, I agreed to pay him 40% above the market rate for a period of maximum 2 months. The reason I did this was because his asking rate was (originally) 60% above, to begin with, and he was a much more decent looking and presentable guy than the other uncouth goondas (sorry, drivers) I have been pointed to. We struck a deal for Monday to Saturday, 10AM-8PM, with Sundays off.

All set, right? WRONG!

Let me list the positives first, as the list is pretty concise.

(01) The driver who knows Bengaluru the best:

Not even close, when compared to all the drivers I have tried during my Bengaluru trips. Never once was he lost and he knew all the bylanes and shortcuts. This was a huge help as I have piled on a lot of Kilometers over the past few weeks, running helter and skelter for various things, as a part of the settling down process.

(02) Pious guy and seemed to have his heart in the right place (occasionally):

He showed us quite a few local churches and other places of worship and seemed to know the history and details pretty well. On occasion, I also saw him scold a mother who let her child wander unsupervised on to the road.

(03) Arrived mostly on time:

This is a big deal, considering the traffic in Bengaluru and the bus services (he uses to get to our place) are not 100% reliable.

(04) Adept with quite a few languages:

Speaks Kannada (he is a local guy), Hindi and even Malayalam! He was pretty fluent in English as well.

Moving on to the fun part ….

(01) Talks in 3rd person:

Not that it is a big issue. But I found it just wierd. Let us say you and I go out for lunch and you ask me what I will have. How about me answering, “George likes non-vegitarian”. Then you ask me what I will drink. I can say, “George dont mind a soda”. Now Ravi used this kind of talk to lay down his policies, which were quite few. Every once in a while, we will get a run down of his policies and myself and my wife will look at each other struggling to hide laughter.

(02) Four minor accidents in 15 days:

Every day, I remind him that: (a) I am in no hurry. We have lots of time. (b) Safety of the passengers and the car is important to me. Yet, we had 4 incidents in just over 2 weeks. The last one, where this “expert driver” merged on to a road with hardly a glance at the ongoing traffic and a van came and scraped us good, was the final straw on the camel’s back. If I may say so myself, I put on a Oscar-worthy performance, which involved a plethora of abuse (to no one in particular), a few banging on nearby objects etc. I put on that performance to mainly make it abundantly clear that I am not happy. The way he cowered and hardly said a word for a long time tells me that my goal was met.

I am a very reasonable guy, as my friends know, and I also fully understand that in a bustling city like Bengaluru, scratches and bumps are a way of life. I get that. But for a so-called expert driver, who gets paid way over the normal rate, who “takes 100% care of the car and likes it spotlessy clean” (The irony is that all the scrapes and bumps does not seem to bother him. But by god, if there is a speck of dust …) and who is reminded regularly of what I am looking for (safety!), it was just unacceptable.

I realized one thing during this: It sure feels good to fire incompetent fools.

(03) Curiosity killed Ravi:

Again, I am well aware of how people are in general quite more inquisitive in India. No problem there. A driver, whom I have met a few days before, overhearing sensitive information and observing the family’s habits and likes is unavoidable. But asking questions about stuff that has nothing to do with him? For e.g. “Sir, why do you need Stamp Paper?”. What the heck???

(04) Hints galore on how he deserves more money:

Even after agreeing (verbally) to the terms, instead of focussing on the job at hand, he kept throwing out hints every 13.3 minutes on how he deserves more money. Keep in mind, I was paying him 40% above the freaking market rate! “I was called for a lucrative trip to Tamil Nadu, but couldnt go”, “XYZ sir reguarly gives me bonuses” etc. Bonus? After a week? Even corrupt cops show better grace while panting for money.

He was just too “Hinty” for my taste 🙂

(05) As predictable as a Nadal victory on Clay:

One day, he was all smiles throughout the day, showing my Son HAL helicopters (my Son loves helicopters), stopping the car and making sure my Son got a good look, pointing out all major buildings and landmarks on the way etc. I wonder what happened to him that day? Answer: I had given him an unexpected 5% tip the previous night.

The fool is me in this case. I think I spoilt him. My intention was to make up for the fact that I do not give him specific time slots for evening tea etc. (since we have lots of stuff to do and perfect time management on Indian roads is not easy). But bad choice on my part … Because after that, while handing over the keys to me at night, he kept panting for more moolah.

(06) Should be treated like a Prima Donna:

Now, I totally believe in treating everyone as equals. Be it the numerous janitors, cooks, security personnel, hotel staff etc., I give them respect and whenever possible tip them and speak softly and never address people by “Hey …” etc. Always it is “Bhai Saab”, “Boss” etc. His final words when he got the severance payment and handed over the keys were that, “You eat in 5star places, while you were least bothered about me”. I thanked him for letting me know, though a bit too late, that on top of paying 40% above market rate and a 5% tip and while my car was getting raped (all in 15 days), I was also meant to babysit his eating and make sure he got 5star food.

(07) Very average driver:

I have driven enough to know that we should always aim for some defensive driving. For e.g. it is not a good idea to tailgate a vehicle on Indian roads, which was exactly the reason for the 1st accident. We were so close to the car in front and when it braked, Ravi was forced to sudden brake with such violence that the bike behind us had no choice but to bang on to our back. Amazingly, while driving on the wrong side, while cutting in front of others etc., Ravi used to wave his hands in disgust at the other driver, along with honks galore and headlight switching! What a driver! (All this was not evident during the 1st day test drive I had him give me. That day, he was the Dalai Lama of Bengaluru).

Just knowing how to start a car and get it moving, does not make one a driver. Noticing how most of the people drive in Bengaluru, I wonder what kind of driving tests do these jokers take?

(08) Rabbit ears:

As mentioned above, because of his inquisitive nature, we were very careful about what we discussed in the car. Other than telling the destination, I pretty much used to keep quiet. I have heard enough horror stories about shady drivers and what they do with critical information. Where we stay, what gadgets we have, what assets we have, kids and their habits, banks etc. are all out in the open. How can one be comfortable with all this? Atleast, I am not. Of all my friends, just one person has been using a long-term driver. Good for him. Seems like he got a decent and trustworthy guy. 99% of the drivers are not like that.

We do not know Kannada. Two kids. We do not know Bengaluru well enough. All this is courting disaster with drivers like this.

(09) His car or my car?

If we are on some other floor of a mall and I ask him to take the car and come there, he shows his displeasure by pouting like a Hindi heroine. If we ask him where we can find him (and the car) once we are done with a place, more drama. If I change my mind and ask him to come (or go) to another place rather than the original place, again, more drama. I started wondering: Is it my car? Is it my petrol? Do I get to decide what to do with the car and the petrol (Or should I be submitting a Notarized Application Form each time)?

There was just too much drama and unwanted emotional distractions, especially at a time when the whole family has myriad other things to worry about. Weighing the convenience of a driver against the pains of having one, I definitely feel the latter is just too much. I have observed enough and received enough tips that I feel quite confident that I can manage on my own. Hey, it should be quite easy to beat the current bench-mark of 4 minor accidents in 15 days, right?

Watch out Bengaluru roads, like it or not, here I come …



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