I must be a very determined person. Twice over. But let’s start at the very beginning.
About three months ago, this digital agency group head who I have done a project for and done initial consultation on one other project called me for another initial consultation on another project. For a food brand. As he knows I’m vegan and therefore know quite a bit about food and also blog about it, but of course from a vegan perspective. One idea he shared was organizing a food bloggers’ meet. I didn’t know much about this then, and didn’t know any food bloggers either (in my network), but intrigued, decided to find out more, over time. For you can only do this gradually, plus the client put this and the other ideas we discussed in cold storage soon after.
Now, when I was attending another meet-up recently, organized by another digital agency, Social Beat (specifically, social media agency), I came to know of a food bloggers’ meet they were organizing for one of their brands, On1y (note the spelling). They were looking for influencers, and although I don’t consider myself one (except maybe in my vegan group, and only with regard to communication), and I’m guessing neither did they, but perhaps because I expressed a lot of interest and perhaps out of some goodwill (this was the second meet-up of theirs I was attending, plus I follow them on social media), they decided to put me on the roster. I confirmed my attendance by mail, and awaited the event. It disappointingly got postponed once, but elatingly enough, got scheduled for the next week (last Friday). I started getting my branding and vegan senses ready.
It was scheduled for 12 – 3 pm. And exactly at 9.30 am on Friday, an hour before I had planned to leave, I started getting… the runs. Talk of ironies of life. During my second visit to the washroom, I wondered what the culprit was – yes, the stale pizza bread I had the previous day – and once that was nabbed, started putting my mind to the other worry: should I go?
I don’t think they would have missed my presence tremendously – they were not really looking for a vegan perspective. Also, I could attend some other food bloggers’ meet in the future to know how these work. But I’ve been trying to make myself more positive for sometime now – pity my stomach wasn’t aligned – so, came out, dug into my emergency medicine pouch, and pulled out and popped two pills for the loosies.
I then had to play the waiting and resting games. As the clock kept ticking and approached the mark at which I had planned to leave, things finally seemed to clear: no rumbles, no tumbles. I stepped back in for my shower – things continued to hold up – dried up, got ready, and things were still looking good. I looked at the clock: 11 am. I could make it, but not with the bus/share auto, as I had initially planned, but with the new-age/tech boon, Uber.
I launched the app, and… it refused to launch. I got a screen that I don’t remember ever getting. Asking me to log in or register. Now, who remembers their ID/passwords for these things? I mean, don’t we just keep them on, with location turned off? Anyway, so, I set about trying to recall my password, managed to, but it still refused to launch, going into an eternal spin. I did the next thing you’re supposed to do with gadgets in India: switch on and off. I repeated the whole process, and was still met with the whirling wheel. Again the process. Again the same result. It was then time to do what every Uber does in an emergency: use Ola.
But it just wasn’t going to be my day. (Of course not, it was Friday the 13th, it just struck me.) Ola too wouldn’t work: it couldn’t identify my location. I checked my location settings, they were fine, so went back. But again, the same result. Ah, yes, maybe it was because I had loaded some extra apps the previous day. Went and uninstalled them. Same result.
Next move: use my tab. But on launching it, I remembered I had recently had it cleaned of viruses and therefore all apps, so would need to install the app/s all over again, but then also remembered that the tech guy at the service centre had told me my tab doesn’t have the memory. My mind was whirring like that Uber wheel.
When stuck, do the same thing the fifth time, only with more care/vigour. This time, there was some response from Uber, but not a good one: my account had been disabled and I could contact their support for more info. No time for this. (That saga is turning out very distasteful: Uber has disabled my account without giving me a reason and also gobbled up the money I had therein.)
No Uber, no Ola. Was I a goner? Not quite. Time to pull out my next weapon: call my sometime-regular cab and auto drivers. Called the cab guy. It was his day of leave, someone else answering his phone told me. But of course. Called the auto guy. In the Tamil I could understand, he was somewhere far off, perhaps running some candidate’s election campaign. I wished the candidate ill. The time: almost 12. Should I really go? A still-determined yes. I was way too committed by now. But for this, I would have to resort to my most unfavoured experience in Chennai or anywhere on the planet: hail a regular auto guy and bargain with him.
In case you don’t know, auto-drivers in Chennai don’t ply by the meter, although they are supposed to, and there are enough notices around, even on their autos themselves, urging the public to report against non-compliant drivers. But you can’t win against the Chennai autokaaran. And definitely not if you aren’t 100% comfortable with the language and look like an NRI (their words). I believe he’s up there with politicians and movie-stars as among the most powerful people in Chennai.
But I have a strategy for this. (Apart from being determined, I am also very resourceful, I guess.) It’s not sure-shot, but it’s the only one that can guarantee someone like me (the Tamil-uncomfortable NRI) a fair chance. Unlike most people, when the auto guy approaches me after I’ve hailed him, I don’t first tell him where I want to go. No, that would put the power in his auto-wielding hands. He would engage me for a while asking where exactly I wanted to go, checking whether that indeed is the place, which route and all, all the while sizing up how much he could fleece off me. I first and immediately ask him, in my best Tamil, whether he’ll ply by the meter. That does two things. It weans out the thieving folks, the ones who wouldn’t ply by the meter, and I have no interest in engaging them or with them. It also anchors the conversation, giving me some power in the discussion/negotiation: they understand immediately that someone who’s asked for the meter will not pay much more above the meter. (I have other strategies, but those are more for ‘A Survival Guide in Chennai’.)
So, this driver I had ignored because he was outside his auto (another strategy: that guy would not be interested, as he’s outside and not in a running vehicle, and would demand more money for the simple act of moving his lazy ass), when he got back into his vehicle asked me where I wanted to go. I did my number: “Will you put the meter?” He insisted (his strategy): “Where do you want to go?” Me: “I want to go by the meter. Will you go by the meter?” He was adamant too: “Where do you want to go?” I relented (it was too hot): “<Destination>” He: “No, too far, I don’t have the gas.” (Basically, an excuse for: ‘I don’t want to go because you have insisted so much that you want the meter and now I know I can’t fleece you.’)
A second driver approached. (He wasn’t wearing the uniform. Another strategy: never take an auto from someone who’s not following the uniform rule – if he won’t follow the uniform rule, he won’t follow any other rule, definitely not that of pricing.) However, desperation (or some instinct) got the better of me. He and I ran through the same conversation above. Only, he demanded 20 bucks above the meter. Nothing doing; I’ll give only 10 more. He insisted. I maintained my position. He relented. As I got in, he… put on the uniform. I told you I had an instinct about him.
As he started off, he checked with me which route to take. We discussed a bit, but finally decided to go with his suggestion. He seemed to be one of the rare decent Chennai autowaalas. As we made our way, the clock of course kept ticking. It was 12.08 by the time we started. 12.15, 12.20, 12.25… 12.27, we were at the entrance of the hotel. But today had to be the 360o test of my determination. He didn’t have change. And I wasn’t going to let him have 55 bucks as “keep the change”.
He asked me to check with the hotel guys. That would take too much time. He decided to check with nearby auto guys. I knew that wouldn’t work either: no one helps in these situations. Sure enough, they didn’t. Time to pull out my final weapon: it’s for times like these I keep two wallets, a smaller one for change. I pulled it out, rolled out all the coins, pulled out all the coins and small notes from the main wallet, counted, double-counted, and realised I had his money. However, he would need to count, double-count, and be sure. As he did, the clock kept ticking: 12.30. He was finally satisfied. But would I be?
Had I reached too late? How much had I missed? Had I missed the key part/s? Would my determination have gone waste?
All those answers in the next and final part of this two-part piece…
And where does all this determination come from? Of course, from being vegan.