the five-rupee showdown

Birender stared at the tollbooth operator.

The operator stared into the distance.

Behind us, cars began to honk.

I normally pay attention when we approach the toll, and pass money to the driver before we reach the window. I also normally ride home in a beat-up Tata Indicar. I’m also normally driven by one of the employees of the taxi stand. But on this day, I found myself sitting in the back of a hulkingly new Toyota Innova, driven by the owner of the taxi stand himself, who had pulled out a massive wad of cash and was already handing the tollbooth operator forty rupees before I even realized it was time to pay.

The tollbooth operator handed Birender nothing back.

You can’t blame the guy for trying. Birender doesn’t dress like a driver — he dresses like a businessman. The tollbooth operator, seeing the wad and the finery and me in the backseat letting my driver pay for me, must have assumed that a rich driver driving around a rich passenger isn’t going to care about five measly rupees.

So the tollbooth operator said he had no change.

Birender looked at him and waited.

Behind us, traffic began to pile up.

There was no anger on Birender’s part. Nor did the tollbooth operator pantomime an elaborate hunt for change. One simply stared at the other; the other simply stared straight ahead. Behind us, cars packed into gridlock and leaned on their horns. Would this turn into one of those riots you read about in the paper, where the Indian mob exacts swift and bloody revenge on whomever it decides is responsible for whatever travesty they’ve beheld? Would they surround our Innova, rock it, overturn it, ignite it, and dance in the light of our flaming bodies? Or would Birender’s silver tongue convince them that we were the victims, turning the mob to pelt the tollbooth operator with stones the size of five-rupee pieces while the khaki-clad cops leaned on their beating sticks and watched him suffer?

As it turned out, the tollbooth operator broke first. Five long minutes later, five rupees magically materialized, and we were on our way.

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7 responses to “the five-rupee showdown

  1. ” the Indian mob exacts swift and bloody revenge on whomever it decides is responsible for whatever travesty they’ve beheld? ”

    That ain’t true! harsh critical opinion I would say!

  2. Hahahaha! Awesome – but yeah, usually I would have thought it would be the toll booth operator who would have ‘broken’ first.

    My Dad’s a retired army man and the govt. allows them concession on the tolls – they don’t have to pay the toll – now when he was in the army, it was fairly easy not to even make eye-contact with the toll booth operator because my Dad would be in an army vehicle and in uniform and the operator would just let them pass.

    After retirement though, in his plain Maruti Wagon R, he is ALWAYS asked for the toll even though he has a huge ‘ARMY’ pasted on the car and always carries a couple of govt. permission letter and NHAI authority letters [ Indians want to save money no matter what – Rs. 17 twice a day is too much when you do a Gurgaon Delhi trip everyday ].

    Worst was when even after seeing these documents, the operator said my Dad had to pay. Same thing as above. Cars piled up, shouting ensued and honking was providing gap-fillers. My Dad was furious that even the National Highway Authority of India letter was being summarily disregarded and decided to stand his ground. Unfortunately, this operator wasn’t the silent “I’ll only stare” kind of guy – he was shouting and being rude. Even though the thought of cracking the operators skull passed through my Dad’s head, he decided Rs. 17 was not worth popping a vein and paid and left.

    Apparently there is only this one guy at one booth on the whole toll who refuses to acknowledge the authority letters. My Dad encounters him maybe one or twice a month – recognizes him and just pays the friggin money. Otherwise he drives through with a respectful nod received from the other operators. What a colorful tale!

    I am moving to Gurgaon soon and it would be a pleasure to meet up with you.

  3. This is not right. You are behaving if Indians are are nomads, I accept some things are not right but you can’t be so harsh to assume that Indians would kill you over 5 rupee, what you read in the papers is just one side of the coin, Please be don’t be harsh to the whole society for something which happened in past because of illegal religious conversions.

  4. sheesh…the author is using a very well known literary technique called exaggeration to spice up the article, and there are idiots who dont even understand that….

    guess one should never underestimate human stupidity.

  5. LOL. Siddarth is PRECISLEY one of the folks that the author is talking about ,who would be part of an Indian mob, that lacks a sense of humour, and also is unable to distinguish SARCASM from TRUTH

  6. Hi,
    You have very interesting accounts of Delhi.
    Do you know delhi is the Mud wrestling hub of India. It is a form of wrestling which is done on an eaarth pit, specially toned, cultivated for the purpose , called akhara. An akhara is run by a Guru , who teaches for free, and his pupil compete with other guru’s pupils, in wrestling competition called Dangal, you can watch this in my channel. In Delhi There are many wrestling Akharas, ( Wrestling clans). It is the oldest martial art of India, and most of the martial arts are descended from it. This form of wrestling ( Mud Pit wrestling) is fading. I am a wrestler and want this form of wrestling to continue. for this I have made this channel, and one of my freind greg is also working on it pls visit his blog

    http://kushtiwrestling.blogspot.com/

    If you want to make an story , i would be freely awailable.

  7. Normally I don’t read article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me
    to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thank you, quite great article.

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