Monday, September 6, 2010

The Not So Hidden Motivation of an Indian Rental Car Driver

While in Kerala, the itinerary included flying into Cochin where we stayed a couple days, driving four or five hours south to Kovalam, and ultimately flying out of Trivandrum, which for all you fellow geography buffs, is very near the southern tip of India. As a result of this itinerary, it’s the first trip we’ve taken in our nearly eight months where we’ve needed to rent a car. For those unfamiliar with what comes with the cost of car rental, it’s quite frequently the car, the driver, a local guide, and a number of “suggestions” on where to spend our hard earned money. We had been through the drill before, but it had been a number of years.

The driver was dutifully waiting for us at the airport exit, holding a sign for “Mr. Kristin Grimm.” Far be it from them to expect a woman to actually rent a car. Making the correct assumption that the sign was for us, Kristin, her friend John, Lindsay and myself hopped into our rented Innova. Apparently, Shahul hadn’t received the message that we were in charge of our own itinerary and had every last second planned. He instructed us that he’d drop us at the hotel, give us time to relax, and that he’d be back at 6:00 pm to take us to dinner. Even after we said, “6:30”, he tried to convince us that 6:00 was better.

A few minutes later he started wondering what type of shopping we were interested in, which is Indian driver code for, “what type of emporium would you like me to take you so that I can collect my commission?” After learning that Lindsay, myself, and Kristin were PAN card carrying Indian residents, he quickly turned to John and asked if he’d be interested in Kashmiri shawls. Thankfully, John has been to India enough that he realized that you couldn’t get much further away from Kashmir than Cochin and still be in India.

Later that night, around 7:30 when we actually left the hotel for dinner, we were greeted sullenly by Shahul. He wasn’t disappointed that we were 90 minutes later than his original itinerary had dictated but it seemed that his daughter had taken unwell. As a result, he wouldn’t be with us the next day as he’d be spending time at the hospital and that a replacement driver would be with us for the rest of our trip. While it’s entirely possible that his daughter was sick, it’s even more possible that this was just an exit story to stick a less experienced driver with a low commission fare for the next few days. He still found time to take us to his "preferred" seafood restaurant even though we knew exactly where we wanted to go. Lindsay and Kristin actually humored him to check the menu at "his" place. John and I knew didn't bother. After that not so obvious move, I was pretty much done with Shahul and his sick daughter.

Even though the new driver ultimately took us to a ridiculously overpriced spice market, he at least listened. Score one for the new driver.

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