This blog entry is a continuation from a previous post.

Last Thursday, I woke up to work. But instead of slipping into my usual skirts and frilly blouses, I jumped into a pair of jeans and pulled on a fuchsia shirt. My sneakers are still red from the Matheran dust, but I didn’t mind. I was off to do a field trip site visit for grade five, to a place I’ve never heard of. Durshet, a smalltown in Maharashtra. 2 1/2 hour drive from Mumbai, Ayush, the Jungle Lore coordinator explained.

It was rush hour, which meant that it was a challenge for me to get a rick in Goregaon East. They were either full or selective. It was the law of demand and supply that prevailed in the streets of Mumbai, and you better know how to play it. I stood on the street, under the strong rays of the sun for a good ten minutes. I finally gave up and decided to walk to Westin to grab a cab. Then a rick came by.

“Hiranandani Gardens! Powai!” I can’t speak Hindi so I’ve learned the power of key words.

The rickshaw driver nodded his head. I hopped into his rick, and we proceeded down Dust Storm Street. I call it the Dust Storm Street, because first, we have no street signs in our area. Second, construction has been going on since I’ve arrived, and there is always a thick cloud of dust that permeates this familiar trail.

As we turned into Jogeshwari, the traffic started. Buses, cars, rickshaws, pedestrians, they were winding around each other, and a constant puff of smoke from a bus kept blowing into my face. The driver steered to the the leftmost side, which seemed to be the unofficial bus lane. He then proceeded to insert his rick to the left side of the buses, while half of his vehicle tipped on the sidewalk. Pedestrians stepped back to give us way, as our rick winded down the busy highway and sidewalk of Powai.

I yelped a bit here and there, but the driver ignored me. The rick was his space. His territory. His palace. He could do whatever he wanted, when he wanted.

He finally stopped across KFC. “One twenty,” he demanded. His meter read “7.60”.

“Show me your chart,” I retorted. The rick meters don’t change as much as gas prices do. So rather than recalibrate hundreds of thousands of meters every time there’s a fare standard change, the government issues equivalence charts where you can pit the meter reading against what you actually have to pay.

“One ten,” he said as he passed on the chart.

I traced a straight line from “7.60” to “103”. “It’s one hundred three!” I handed him five hundred rupees.

“No change, Madame.”

“Okay wait.” I then proceeded to pull out my tens and twenties. I hadn’t cleaned up my coin purse after my travels, so I still have US dollars and euros. “I am so sorry, I only have until ninety three rupees. Can I pay you in dollars?”

He nodded his head and I handed him the 93 rupees and two quarters.

I crossed to KFC to meet Ayush, the Jungle Lore trip organizer.

More on Durshet, a Happy Accident in future posts!