The bus to Rajasthan left Bikaner House at 10am, and was a comfortable air-conditioned Volvo. Tilting the seat back and unscrewing the cap of my complementary drinking water (having checked the seal), I settled in for the trip, anticipating a series of naps interspersed with a bit of scenery out of the window. The brief reverie lasted exactly 30 seconds until the first emergency braking manoeuvre and blare on what sounded like the foghorn of an oil tanker. This continued more or less constantly every 30 seconds for the next five hours. The driver used traffic jams to berate other motorists out of his open window and on one occasion actually got out of the cab to remonstrate with an auto-rickshaw driver at some length. It put me in mind of the article in the Hindustan Times that morning which announced that “Motorists who fail to obey traffic rules should be repeatedly punched by police.” This rather pugilistic form of enforcement was only clarified in sentence two, when it went on: “Should a motorists licence be punched thrice he should be prohibited from motoring.” Of course the great issue here is that people give false names and addresses when registering vehicles, and sometimes don’t take the driving test at all, preferring instead to make a ‘donation’ to the examiner.
The series of frantic lurches preceded by screeching tyres was alleviated only by the distraction of a Bollywood movie that was big in the 1970s. Called ‘Devotion’ or similar (I have it transliterated as “Atchoo”, which may not be entirely accurate), it was a complicated story about a woman whose beloved fighter pilot is killed in a plane crash, she gives birth to his son, son kills potential rapist of mother, she goes to jail for 20 years – an effect achieved by putting talcum powder on her hair – and then becomes ‘aunty’ to her own son upon her release, who has himself become a “Ving Commander”. Marvellous stuff. Combat footage was loosely mixed together from WW2 and Vietnam, there was ketchup instead of blood, and the rape scene looked more like frisky tickling, but at 3 hours long and with plenty of singing and dancing it was a real blockbuster back in the day.
Eventually we reached the outskirts of Jaipur, and there occurred a minor incident which bears repeating. Old Asia hands will no doubt nod knowingly and smile; those who have yet to travel in that part of the world might bear this in mind as a heads-up. Upon reaching Jaipur, I intended to descend at the Jaipur City Bus Station. I had been told this was the third stop once into the city. At the second stop, a man wearing a badge got on and, on seeing me, loudly announced “Jaipur City Bus Station!”. Although I’d been forewarned, my European conditioning almost made me rise. Well, this must be the bus station. Otherwise why would he announce it. But wait – that was only two stops. In fact this official-looking man is a tuk-tuk driver (called auto-rickshaws here), and what he is announcing is not where we are, but where he intends to take you, for a vastly inflated fare and after extensive detours to shops where he gets commission. He actually came and addressed me directly: “You want bus station? Come!” I just said “no thanks” and shook my head, and he shrugged and wandered off.
Sure enough, our next stop was the real bus station, and here I encountered a new tactic. I was waiting for my driver, who I had been told would have a sign with my name on it. After 15 minutes of standing around and clutching my backpack, a man wanders up and says “Hallo sar good afternoon I am hotel driver.”
I look him up and down and say, “Where is your sign?”
“No sign sar, I am driver from hotel for you.”
“No sign, no driver.”
He wandered off, scowling.
Five minutes later a small, slightly furtive-looking man approached me with some trepidation. I glared at him and he grinned nervously, then unfolded a huge piece of paper, at least A3 in size, on which was written “Daoud Jammy Mr”. This was Mr Mukesh, and he was to be my driver for the next two weeks. In this regard I consider myself extremely fortunate, as I found him to be utterly honest, if only speaking rather broken English, and not really appreciating the merits of intermediate gears. But honesty goes a long way in my book. All the way round Rajasthan, in fact.