The door to our little coffee parlor opened and a dusty, weatherbeaten man straggled in, with the haggard look we Mumbai citizens know and dread. The poor unfortunate had spent an hour in The Traffic.
We received him in silence. He was one of our own, usually a Cafe Frappe with Vanilla flavoring, but today he asked for a Double Shot Espresso No Sugar.
Our sensitive and talented barista, Mr. Shenoy, was more than equal to the task, of course. Using his house combination of Robusta and Arabica beans ("enough caffeine to wake up the dead"), he not only revived our haggard friend but got him delivering a tirade.
"They should be shot! They should be shot! They should be shot! They should be shot!", said he, evidently hitting a fluent patch. And had Mrs. Shenoy not interjected, he would surely have continued, shedding more light on his innermost feelings.
"Sit down, dear chap, sit down", said Mrs. S, and her dulcet tones had the amazing effect of calming him. Christian saints must have used a similar technique when faced with the unpleasant prospect of providing the lions' calories in ancient Rome.
You have doubtless suffered in the traffic, (said Mrs. S), exacerbated by the road-digging at the junction.
A petite Columbian Latte wondered if "exacerbated" meant some kind of skin disease.
"No. The skin disease you're thinking about is 'extrema'. Exacerbated means , er , means exacerbated", a Moccachino explained.
"Extrema? Extrema? Extrema is no skin disease. Extrema is...."
Tempers seemed to be running high. It was threatening to become a free-for-all but Mrs. S's calming the lions stuff was potent.
"Ladies! Gentlemen!", she said, "do calm down. What I am about to tell you will make you proud. Let me speak"
And miraculously, all was silence again.
As I was saying, (resumed Mrs. S), the traffic is worse because of the road being dug up at the very junction, interrupting the flow of vehicles and causing the now well known (in Mumbai) immune disorder, Ibefirstitis, in which the unfortunate afflictees rush into any open gap in the traffic, regardless of how impossible it is, leading to wedge locks.
I had told you a few days earlier, as you would doubtless recall, that most roads were dug up to settle bets about what color the soil would be, twenty feet below road surface. While this is true, there is another very select and exclusive organization, one which we, as Indians can be proud of. It's called the International Road Digging Institute.
The IRDI, (continued Mrs. S), provides training in all aspects of road digging.
"Any idiot can dig a road", its Director told me the other day, when we met at the annual dinner of The Indian Society for Public Inconveniences where I consult from time to time, "it needs expertise and diligence to ensure that the inconvenience caused is significant".
"We receive the best talents from Municipal Corporations all over the world. Our alumni are digging up arterial roads in Sydney, Colombo, New York and Montreal, even as we speak. The highlight of our course is how to disrupt traffic without bringing it to a complete halt."
The intersection that so inconvenienced our friend is a lab project for a delegation from Paris, France. And you will be happy to know that the IRDI has a waiting list years long.
Our friend groaned. "Oh Lord! Years of this stuff!"
But the rest of us were more manful. The only emotion we felt was pride.