They have been a subject of enormous interest and intense enchantment. For me, that is. Are you rubbing your eyes and wondering if my lunacy has had a fresh bout of energy infusement, well, indulge in me as you always do. Oh, I shudder at the plight of the world without kind readers like you who have progressed to the 4th line on such a topic of egregiously earth shattering importance like the toll booth.
For it is at a toll booth you catch glimpse of the moron who overtook you with such blinding speed that you really thought he was taxiing to take off to the Mars or someplace beyond. You catch the elderly grand mom kiss her sleeping grand daughter. And the grand dad looking away. I know what you are thinking here. No, I didn’t mean it that way. Whatever you were thinking.
It is also the place, where you see some strange acts performed with an intensity that bellies the seeming innocuousness of a toll booth. Like, picking their nose, brows furrowed in concentration that would befit a nuclear scientist on the verge of a mankind changing discovery.
Ofcourse, you would not be surprised to see those that would honk like there were virgins waiting in heaven for the loudest and most fervent honker ! If you are still not awakened completely, the attendants manning the toll booth wake you up in a jiffy.
Usually they talk to you from that elevated booth that somehow seems to you as though they are speaking from a distant star. Sometimes, there is paan stowed away and showing up as a lump in the cheek. By the time you comprehend and respond you realize that the line behind has grown at a pace that is faster than the birth rate in China and the honkers were having urgent apparitions of the virgins in heaven !
Ofcourse, then, that is the beginning. For the chap doesn’t have change for Rs.500 and you have nothing else but Rs.500/-. So there you are. Villain to a population on the highway with even the heavens hearing the noises !
All in all, the toll booth is such an interesting place !
In Kerala though, things are slightly different. First of all, Rs.7.50/- for a return journey is a fare that seems unbelievable. Especially to the wallet that grows lighter by Rs.150/- and more on trips to Pune. Rs.7.50/- ? That’s like a discount store selling off unsold stuff for free.
There are no high pedestals. The toll booth operators stand on the road. Ofcourse, it would take two lifetimes for you to pull out Rs.7.50 exactly. He comes in to help you.’ Give me Rs.10’ he says, not even bothering to look at you. As you hesitatingly fish out the Rs.10, wondering if you will get change in return, you get a small package in return!
The small package essentially is the balance of Rs.2.50/- packaged with the Toll Booth receipt !
“Move on”. “Move on”.
In a jiffy the toll booth moves to your rear view mirror!
Ofcourse, you despair the opportunity of missing the other promised sights at the toll booth. But then, just to see that surprised smirk in the toll booth operator’s face, as he sees your expression change upon receiving the ‘packet’ from him….well, that’s priceless !