He is not the regular cabbie who ferries me to work. That day, he was standing-in for his friend, the cabbie who drops me to work every morning. When he greeted me, his words tumbled out all together, and as his body sank into the driver’s seat, his stomach almost touching the steering wheel, I swear the cab shook. His hair stood up, as if pulled against gravity by a magnet. His thick glasses added an owl-like expression to his face, as he looked into the rear-view mirror while conversing with me. I don’t remember asking him anything. I wanted to be left alone. But, when a reckless biker intercepted us dangerously from the left, I heard a volley of abuses spewing from the cabbie’s mouth. Embarrassed that his tirade may have revolted me, he was quick to apologise: “I’m a decent man, Madamji: I’m a Jat. I never speak like this, but didn’t you see how the biker drove? What if I hadn’t applied the brakes on time? He would have died, and I would have been jailed for no fault of mine.” “I understand,” I replied, and started checking my phone. “Actually. Madamji, my sons don’t want me to drive a cab anymore. Both of them want me to sit at home,” he continued. “Then, why don’t you?” I asked. “You see Madamji, it is always better to have your own income. I have had a hard life. When I first came to Bombay, I lived in a shanty in Mazgaon, at my sister’s place. Today, my sons have bought a two-bedroom apartment for us.” “That’s great,” I remarked, curious to know how his fortunes had changed. “What do your sons do?” I asked, moving forward in my seat. “The elder one is in Canada. He’s married. The younger one is in ICICI. He’s single. We have a lot of relatives in Canada. They helped my son immigrate,” he informed me. I smiled. “Madamji, you have no idea how long it has taken for me to reach this stage. God knows how I managed to educate them.” “How did you do it?” I asked. “Madam, my sister’s husband was an alcoholic, who used to beat her up, every single day. I did manual jobs to earn whatever little I could. One day, I was so incensed by my sister’s plight that I beat up my brother-in-law with whatever my hands could find. I beat him to a pulp. I thought he had died and started howling and apologising to my sister. What had I done! But, God saved him and me that day. Of course, I had to leave their house after that, leaving my sister to her fate.” “Oh! What did you do after that?” I asked him, impatient now to know the whole story. “I shifted to another shanty, did some more odd jobs, till, one day, I started driving a cab. To this day, I’m doing it. I have lost count of the years.” I nodded, the cabbie’s life flashing past my mind’s eye.
He paused before telling me, “You know Madamji, I decided that my children would not go through what I did. I decided to educate them. See where they are today. I am proud of them,” he said, in a choked voice. “Naturally Gobindji,” I replied. Midway through the conversation, he had told me his name. “Today, by God’s Grace, we have everything, but I cannot forget the old days. Driving a cab keeps me grounded. I still wear the same clothes, except that my wife now washes them in a washing machine,” he revealed. I saw that his white shirt and trouser were spotless. He wore a steel ‘kada’ on his wrist, which he kept pushing back towards his elbow, whenever it slipped down and hit the steering wheel. “I’m so happy for you,” I said. “Madamji, that is because you are a good human being. It is not so with my relatives. They are very jealous. They keep passing snide remarks. You have no idea how many of them are now lining up outside our house to borrow money. If we refuse, they curse us. I am very scared of their curses. We have earned all this the hard way, Madamji. Nothing has come to us on a platter.” “But, you don’t have to lend money to everyone. Just put your foot down. And Gobindji, stop worrying about people’s curses; they won’t work, ” I suggested. He touched the photograph of a deity, which he had stuck on the dashboard, three times and touched his chest. “Madamji, pray for us. This is all like a dream, you know. Sometimes, I can’t believe it,” he said.
By then, we had reached my destination. As I paid him the fare, he said, “Madamji, my wife and I are going to Canada for two months, next week. Our son has sponsored our trip. I shall tell you all about it when I return.” “That’s so wonderful,” I remarked and as I alighted, wished him a happy vacation. “Hope we meet again, Gobindji,” I said. “God willing, we will, Madamji. Do pray for us,” he implored. “Of course,” I said, as I watched the proud father take a U-turn and drive away. Some day, when I meet Gobindji again, I’m sure he will show me some selfies that he will have taken from the sleek new phone his son will have gifted him. His son was going to buy him one!
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