Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

My driver for the week had winkled me out of a crowded platform at Gangapur City railway station in Rajasthan and manhandled my heavy suitcase out to his spotless Toyota.

I'd liked him immediately. He was stick-thin under his uniform, not very tall, and he had a spivvy little moustache and sideburns and neatly barbered jet-black hair. But it was the smile that first arrested me. It had a shriven, fatalistic quality that made him seem vulnerable yet supremely at peace with himself and the world.

'I am simple man, sir, ' he told me when I'd tried to fathom his smile with personal questions. 'I pray and I like my vegetables. And every day, chapati. I love my wife and childrens. I don't drink alcohol. I don't smoke. I don't take meat. Sometimes I take opium in the evening. Is very good for sex, sir, and for sleeping.'

His name was Babu, which is an affectionate Hindi word, he said, meaning 'small boy'. 'A bit like our English "sonny", then, ' I observed from my stately position on the back seat. 'Oh, yes, sir, thank you, sir!' he said, keeping his eyes steadfastly fixed on what remained of the road after the recent flash floods. Every day for a week, Babu drove me across Rajasthan, from one remote hill fort hotel to another. After the drab conformity of Britain, it felt like being driven across Narnia after Aslan's triumph. The roads were terrible in places, however, and at times our daily journey was a bit of an ordeal. But Babu was the best possible driver and permanently anxious about my mental and physical wellbeing. 'In Rajasthan, sir, our guest is our god, ' he said, and his concern for my comfort indeed appeared to border on adulation.

But if I was his god for the week, I turned out to be a god with an earthy and eccentric nature, which greatly amused him. It didn't take me very long, for example, to realise that the women in the rural areas of Rajasthan must be among the most beautiful in the world. (If you think this a ridiculously sweeping statement, go and see for yourself;

it's actually shocking. ) Babu, I think, had rarely had anyone in the back of his car who was such an immediate and vocal devotee of the local women, but he rose to the occasion and did his best to pander to my enthusiasm. …

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