Indu Yadav, 35, teaches yoga (IINM) (DYTT), sells paintings and is a photographer. Her business card is handsome, with a nice photo on one side of the Buddha, and, on the other, etchings of ancient masks and flowers. It says that she is the advertising manager for YES OSHO Magazine (meditation insights), which I haven’t seen and which, in any case, she acknowledges to be a gig mostly from the past.
She’s a solid woman, built like a shorter Williams sister and blessed with a wrestler’s temperament. Her boyfriend is a Bombay actor, successful, she says, on TV ads. They lived together for a time, but he stays now in Bombay, while she lives a clanking three train-hours away in Pune.
She scrambles for a living (she has applied for a job in Indonesia, to teach yoga to rich Indians there, though conditions, she hears, are far worse than in Pune; but she would live in a compound and have a high salary) or was curious and agreed to guide me a bit through interesting parts of Pune.
It was worth the Rs 1,000 ($15) I paid her on two excursions, just to hear her tone with the tuk-tuk drivers, with streetside vendors, waiters and shop-keepers. She didn’t ask, as I had been doing. She instructed.
Indian women from the poor side of society bear the children, wash the clothes, clean the streets, walking always behind, or, if they come from the Saudi-inspired villas of the criminally rich in Koregaon Park, simper and flutter cutely; but occasionally one comes across a woman like Indu.
“My arms are very strong,” she responded, as I commented on her fitness, trying to keep up with her fast stride.
She was kind, or kindly, to me, leading me across busy streets by grasping a little finger, “Come, come now….” and despite her background in advertising, she had no talent for equivocation.
Who are these people? I asked, gesturing to streetside vendors.
Traditional, she said.
I raised an eyebrow. I wanted more for my money. “Thik-hai,” she said, Okay.
No, she said, they are not licensed. They each have their place.
It seems the same woman, or same family, uses the same spot on the pavement week after week, year after year, sitting cross-legged on the pavement selling combs and brushes, tooth brushes and razors, ladies’ underwear, or vegetables, toys, bill-folds, flimsy child-sized shirts: “SUPER.”
Must they pay a fee?
“Yes, a tax.”
She made a little face. “An illegal tax. Someone comes around, and they pay.”
“Ah,” I said. “That’s a job I could do.” I held out my hand toward the nearest vendor.
Indu wasn’t amused. “Once a week or in a month, he comes. They know who he is.”
The vendors, she said (mostly women that evening close to Bhule Market), pick up a little extra money, Rs 100 or 200 a night ($2 or $3). They pay their bribe, and they are unmolested in their space.
In India, Indu said, rules and regulations exist by the stack, but enforcement is capricious. “There’s always an alternative,” she told me, speaking as to a small child.
Motorists drive down the wrong side of the street, for example, for their side street, because it takes too long to make a U-turn properly at an intersection. They ignore stop lights. Merchants or manufacturers dump their garbage or toxins wherever. Vendors pay their bribes. Slum-dwellers build their tarp-roofed bustee. Anyone wanting a driver’s license or some other government form pays a gofer, who pays bribes to the proper clerks and returns with the proper forms properly stamped in far less time than it would take the applicant and probably more cheaply. “Always an alternative.”
“This scares you, I think,” she said on our first meeting, over her shoulder, driving me on her scooter down the wrong side of the busy street to the upscale Green House restaurant (where the counterman, greeting me as an old friend with genuine friendliness, volunteered he would return to New Jersey in January. “I love US,” he said. He buys perfumes and soaps wholesale somewhere in the city and sells them in a New Jersey flea market. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Money good, and what is your good name please?”).
Yes, it does scare me, particularly that bus that’s about to hit us head-on…
The next day, unscathed by the bus, we were up east somewhere, past the train station, in another markety area with Beijing-like pollution. I bought her a mango slurpy, bright green, and she ate it as we walked down the edge of the street through a steady flow of carts and rickshaws, matrons under umbrellas, raffish boys with unwashed shirts, piles of morning feces here and there (one walks here head down, eyes open; a manly, heads-up, John Wayne stride guarantees a squish, sooner or later, no matter the neighborhood).
She finished her slurpy (too mangoey for me), looked around, and neatly put the cup and small spoon in the little trash can (an old, cut-down cooking-oil container) in front of a street stall.
India provides, generally, no dust-bins, no trash cans, no curbs, no sidewalks, no sanitation. Most people drop their trash without a thought. I gave Indu a mental pat on the back. She had read the municipal corporation’s signs: Keep Streets Clean, Green!
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The old man in the stall, sitting behind a small, stainless-steel scale selling something unseen, was irritated.
She translated later, but the conversation was clear as it happened. Who’d she think she was, dropping her trash in his can?
It was better to do that, she said, than to just throw it in front of his shop. She was trying to be polite and trying to do her bit to keep trash out of the streets.
The conversation became loud. Passersby stopped. The other men in the stall leaned in, following first Indu then the grumpy old man avidly. The men in adjoining stalls took part. The old man’s glasses slipped, his voice rose, and he made an emphatic thump on the table with one hand.
“I asked him what he did with the trash when his can is filled,” she told me later, her face still reddish with emotion. “He said that wasn’t my business. He just dumps it in the street. He said I should take it back where I bought it, not make it his responsibility.” She shook her head. “India will never change.”
They argued for several minutes, Indu with her head thrust into the stall, over the counter. He was obdurate.
After a time, she sighed, reached down into the can, retrieved her mango cup and spoon and threw it down on the street in front of his stall.
The old man nodded, vindicated.
We walked on.