|Tim tries his first street food (roasted corn) with Rakish, our new Any Time Driver and friend.|
(Last Friday we hired a driver, Rakish (emphasis on the first syllable.) Rakish worked for Tim’s predecessor in the middle school/high school library.
Rakish drives 1 hour 45 minutes for our interview. He enters our apartment, takes off his shoes, and sits at our dining room table. I notice he has a thick tilak on his forehead and three red thread bracelets. Today is Raksha Bandhan. It is the day a sister ties a band of red thread around the wrist of her brother. It is an act of love. She pledges her love for her brother and he promises to love and protect his sister. Two bracelets are intertwined with gold, one bracelet is all thread with swastika designs woven through the threads. (In the Hindu culture, the swastika is a symbol for good luck.) I ask about his bracelets. Rakish has three sisters. They are a distance apart, so he met one sister early this morning and his sister tied all three bracelets on his wrist. I am sad and a little bit jealous. I wish I had a brother that I could say loved me and would protect me.
We cover the contract areas suggested by the school and learn that Rakish is available seven days a week. We learn that the last family that hired Rakish called him “ATD - Any Time Driver” We learn that Rakish will keep his car here, in our apartment building parking spot, and take a one and a half hour train and bus ride here to drive us where ever we want to go.
Rakish offers to take us for a drive in his 2001 Toyota. Rakish has been driving for American School teachers for 13 years. He was the driver for one family for seven years. When they left, they sold him the Toyota that he drives today. Rakish takes us on a drive by Tim’s campus of our school and then towards a “posh” area of Mumbai called Bandra. I understand the geography now. Tim’s campus is located in Bandra Kurla Complex which is between Bandra and where we live, Kurla. Bandra Kurla is a planned, commercial area with new high high rise buildings for companies such as Dow Chemical, Citi Bank, and National Stock Exchange. It is on reclaimed land. The land used to be polluted low-lying land. On our way to Tim’s school we go through a Muslim area where the skeletons of rusted cars, trucks, and SUVs line both sides of the narrow road. These vehicles are stripped and the parts are sold. Rakish tells us the vehicles are abandoned or stolen and the area is really illegal. We see women covered from head to toe picking up wood and metal scraps to sell. We see fruit and vegetable stands selling gorgeous produce. Rakish tells us those stands are on the main road because of Ramadan. They will be gone after Ramadan.
We reach the lovely area of Bandra. Bandra is an older neighborhood but is called the “queen of the suburbs.” It is quite cosmopolitan. On our way home, as we drive back from Bandra to Kurla the people change dramatically. In Bandra, the women are dressed very modern. As we drive towards Kurla we see women in black from head to toe. Some women cover all but their eyes, some women are in black but their faces are open, some women wear the traditional saris but cover their heads.
We reach the area of Kurla where my elementary school is located and where we live. We still see many women in black. Our area is more diverse, about half Hindu and half Muslim with a small community of Christians. I am glad that our superintendent let us know that we are the first foreigners to live in this area. I have a new understanding of the importance of my sensitivity to this culture. This knowledge makes me want to cover my arms and wear longer skirts. I am pleased that Rakish helped us introduce ourselves to Arif, the kind security guard on the ground floor of our apartment building. I’m pleased that Arif introduced us to the gate guard. I am pleased that Tim and I are becoming a part of this neighborhood and country that is welcoming us with bigger, warmer smiles as the week progresses.