<%-- Page Title--%> Slice Of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 154 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 14, 2004

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The Pretty Untouchables

Richa Jha

It's not everyday that I get to climb atop a truck. Or, for that matter, inside a four-wheeled vehicle that looks and behaves like the heavy terrestrials. I, moving around in a regular car that looks like the top-covered cars Henry Ford originally set out to make in the late 1920s, have always marvelled at the giraffe-legged men and women (and even kids) who climb up and down the high plinths of the four-wheel drives that choke our roads. They do so with much ease, as if stepping in and out of their baths. They make it look effortless, uncomplicated, and such a fun thing to do.

This morning I had to hitch a ride to my son's school with one of my acquaintances who drives around in one such vehicle whose number plates bear the model name and number of her car-brand, instead of the rather too-commonplace practice of putting painted registered numbers. She was behind the wheels when she honked outside my apartment. An excited security guard connected immediately on the intercom and said, "Madam, a big Pajero lady madam has come for you", 'Pajero' now being a generic name for all SUVs. I'm sure he got a bit mixed up, but I'm not surprised. Spotting women drivers is a rarity on Dhaka roads, and to see a brown woman in black sunshades with pinned up hair, manoeuvring a 300+ horsepower engine stop right in front of you takes more than an impulse to get to terms with.

I'll be lying if I say that there wasn't that one moment of hesitation in getting in the vehicle. The high plinth gave me a fright, but once having finally taken the awkward skip, I suddenly leapt into the lap of luxury. Sensuous lamb wool (Australian, she later pointed out) covers on the seat, some endangered mink fur rug to trod upon, a bottle of Clive Christian No1 left open on the dash board (aroma therapy at its best, if this gets used as a car perfume, I wonder what she sprays on herself), and a Swarosky cuckoo hanging from the rear-view mirror. Wealthy, or not so wealthy, the mind of humans, after all, works alike. Your means determine whether that avoidable distraction up there is a CD, a bunch of artificial grapes, a squeaky soft toy, or, diamonds.

She misconstrued my steady gaze, perhaps, as my gawking at the slick interiors of this big beast, so she offered, rather politely, "Do you want to drive?”

"No no, not this hunk. And I don't have a license I can use in this country"
"Oh c'mmon. You don't need one. You think I am carrying one on me right now?" I ought to have guessed, I thought.

But then, I felt uncomfortable sitting in an unregistered vehicle that has no business galavanting outside the showroom, being driven by a driver who had no business sitting in the driver's seat.

"It seems you have applied for registration…but I didn't notice the A/F sign on the plate…", I suggested, tentatively.

"This is not all that new, actually I have been driving it for quite some time. Who wants to put a number up there, don't you think this BMWx5 model name and number carries loads of attitude?"

"But still, it is irres…", but she cut me short saying, "And it is really all right in Dhaka. I wouldn't dream of doing something like this in Canada, my second home, but here, nothing matters. See, usually I am the one using this car- the driver drives it once every fortnight to the gas station and back- and I make sure I remove these covers when he takes the car out, do you think any cop will stop me ever? Here I am above the law, and it suits me fine.

It sure does, I thought. Just then something darted across the road and she slammed the brakes, swirling to one side of the road muttering, "That b*****d. Why does it want to get killed under my car?". I turned around with my first reaction of, "Thank God, it wasn't some person", not that it would have made much difference to her. I spotted the terrified blotchy black and white dog trying to get lost among the crowd of vegetable vendors and rickshaw pullers. Even animals know when they've had a close brush with finality.

The rest of the ride to our destination was uneventful, though I remained contemplative for most part. Having seen enough of the insides, I turned my gaze outwards and felt I was gliding several feet above the ground. I could look down inside the other small cars the size of my car, and saw what the passengers were up to (no picking my nose in the car from now on, I'll have to be more careful). I felt it was easier for me to run over any big or small obstacle on the road, because the big wheels wouldn't feel much. I also somehow thought I knew the answer to how these vehicles could drag the defenceless men or machines several kilometres without once realising what was happening. You see, from those heights, you naturally look up and beyond, not down and around. And at those heights, as she said, you are above the law. The pretty untouchables, there are plenty of them around.




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