Riding and Reading; The Safe Way to Commute

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Five days a week I, like most other people, go to work. There are potentially dozens of ways for me to get to work: car, bike, segway, helicopter, skate board, or hitch hiking; the options are potentially endless. I have chosen to go the traditional route and commute via the bus. On my way to work I take a TriMet bus (#44, #54, or #56) from stop #925 to stop #7803; on my way home I take a bus from stop #7586 to stop #955. The ride to work takes 13.5 minutes. The ride home takes either 15 or 21 minutes depending on which bus I catch. During this time I read. During most other times I like to babble. This blog combines all three: books, buses and babble.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dead hair and bits of skin; a promotion?

Book: The White Tiger
Bus: #44; 6:12 a.m.
Pages read: 51 - 61

As Balram is begging for a position as a driver at Ashok's home, fate steps in and "The Stork" appears at the gate demanding to know what Balram wants. You see, "the Stork" happens to one of Balram's Village landlords (read mob boss, a la the Godfather) and this connection causes the Stork to actually consider Balram for the position. Adiga uses his descriptive prowess:

Balram, amid wails and tears, kisses the Stork's feet. As he rises to face the Stork, his "big uncut toenails scratched [Balram's] cheek." pg. 51. Absolutely, ugh. Enough in those 6 words to make me cringe in disgust. How often do you encounter that in a book? (the ability to disgust in one short sentence, although the cheeks getting scratched by uncut toenails is pretty rare too)

The Stork does a background check on Balram, which involves confirming that Balram has a good family back in the village. Balram's locatable family ensures that he will be a loyal servant b/c it is standard practice for landlords to kill a servant's entire family for any betrayal. Most servants find this ample motivation to provide good service.

FYI - the stork has two sons, Mukesh Sir (the Mongoose) and Ashok. Balram will primarily serve, and eventually kill, Ashok.

Balram becomes a driver, which is a significant step up from human spider, but not much; After all, Balram still lives in India (not wooed over yet). The job comes with some perks, the most significant being a khaki uniform. This is huge. Let's just say that a UPS driver would be worshipped like one of India's 36,004 gods. Balram has arrived.

As a driver, he makes tea, chases cows out of the compound; and cleans stainless-steel spittoons full of red paan expectorate. But, just in case you were not convinced that Balram and others of his caste have a shitty, shitty life, we learn that one of Balram's regular duties - as a driver - is to massage the Stork's feet in a bucket until the water cools and is full of "dead hair and bits of skin."

This one simple scene; Balram on his knees with his hands submersed in a bucket of dirty water dead skin floating around this arms with a fat disgusting man talking over him as if he was just a dog at his feet provides the reader with so much information. This is a job. Balram could get up and walk away. Anyone with any other prospect in life would get up and walk away from this "job," but he stays. He stays. You now comprehend what Balram/Adiga is trying to convey - you are what you are born into in India and if you choose to enter the world through the wrong birth canal you are screwed. Balram is a subspecies that has evolved over time and that fills a pretty crappy niche. His life is the equivelent of that subspecies of penguin that huddles in a massive group on shit-covered ice in -40 degree weather without any food for three months balancing a single egg on its webbed feet that will eventually hatch and demand regurgitated food that mom will have to hunt for while avoiding the sea lions that lurk just off the iceburg waiting to tear it in half.

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