I was taking Mom to an appointment on a bright and sunny day of this year's early summer before heading off to work. We were in the standard clattery yellow Amby cab of Calcutta, inside which it is forever hot irrespective of the season outside and the mood was anything but bright and sunny on the inside. The Park Circus n-way crossing with its bewildering assortment of one ways, two ways, signals and improbable intersections was the real culprit but here I was putting up with the after-effects of underestimating its complexity. Afflicted with the usual male disease of not asking for directions and an unfounded confidence in finding a way through, I had issued the cab driver a full complement of incomprehensible instructions leading him to join a lane which was headed in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go and then make a U-turn into a lane which was chock-a-block with traffic seething at a red light which appeared to exhibit a strong will to stay that way... forever. As a result, while I sat next to the newly licensed cab driver (hence unfamiliar with the roads) who carried the hint of a smile on his lips, from the back seat Mom was flying off the handle fully intent on nuclear bombing me.
An interminable tirade played away on how irresponsible I was; how much of an incurable ego-maniac I had turned into for not asking my uncle about the route to take before leaving the house; how unbearably hot it was getting stuck in the jam (that it was, even I admit); how being 15-20 minutes late was the difference between saving the world or ending it (this an outcome of my short lived fightback) and how all of this was in my genes (not from her half of the gene pool, of course). As the taxi inched its way towards the red light, there came a screeching sound of hard braking from behind. An auto-rickshaw was trying to wiggle its way down the right side of our taxi when it got accidentally blocked by our cabbie. Eyes glowering with very well faked anger; faked because even getting past our cab wouldn't have been too much help as far breaking free of the backed-up traffic was concerned and there was still a couple of inches of space between our cab & the auto-rickshaw; the auto driver started a quarrel to massage his almost bruised ego.
The auto driver from his tone and attitude seemed to be a local tough or at least someone very high up on the Park Circus auto union hierarchy, the way he instantly jumped to leg-breaking, taxi-burning threats for a relatively mild provocation. Our cab driver, a young fellow, obviously unaware of the pecking order in these parts of town launched into a verbal defense of his own, sometimes a very wrong move to make. I was tempted to let the battle take a physical manifestation considering the secret laughs the cabbie was having at my expense just a minute ago but any further escalation of the face-off meant the spine chilling possibility of further delay to getting to where we were headed and the consequent nagging. So I waited for my cue. I could sense that it would be only be a matter of few more seconds before the warring parties dragged character flaws of their opposite number's mothers and sisters into the conversation.
Luckily for me, it was the auto-rickshaw driver who teed off first announcing something about our taxi-driver's mom that should not be quoted in print. I reacted in a flash, reprimanding the auto driver in my deepest voice possible "How can you even speak in such an uncivilized manner? Can't you see that there are 'ladies' in the cab, you uncultured oaf!"
There. I had said the magic word. Everyone else stuck in the traffic who were just casual bystanders at best and smirking expectant audiences at worst now universally wore a frown of disapproval. The flag of chivalry had been raised and the knights were closing in from all sides to put any miscreants in their place. With a small gulp, the fire in his eyes dimming to a tenth of what it was, the auto-driver had to swallow up a whole lot of his pride. Being publicly accused of any kind of mis-behaviour in front of a woman is good enough to make even the worst specimens of the male species turn tail, let alone a lone feuding auto driver with not even damage to his auto to show for it.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the signal finally turned green as I am sure the cab driver too did in retrospect. I don't know how things are going to turn out in the Parliament and for the future of the nation as a whole, but out there on the everyday streets of every half decent place in India, the "ladies" quota definitely works wonders.