An Autowallah To Remember

on Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Humne zindagi mein paisa toh nahi kamaya, lekin izzat bahut kamayi hai"

Sounds filmi. Doesn't it? This, was a pet line of the autowallah who dropped me home today, all the way from Lajpat Nagar. And, at the end of a journey costing more than a hundred and fifty rupees on the meter, when he refused to take a paisa from me, I was forced to believe each part of his life's story, narrated lovingly to me, with exquisite detailing- at times making me stop and wonder if everything he said was actually true.

He was a happy man. A very happy man. Driving auto was a pass-time for him. What he actually did was sing sufi bhajans of Sai Baba, professionally.. I have his card, which I received with a smile in return for a forced payment of half the actual amount on the meter. This is the second time an autowallah has refused to take money from me, though both stories belong to extremely different contexts. His', like many of his ilk, was a life of struggle. But, if I go by his version of things, he had emerged more than successful. More curiously, it was not success that intoxicated him, it was devotion to Baba. He was a man, who no doubt still met with troubles, but the image of Baba in his heart took care of all. The story was the same (forgive my nonchalance)- his father expired while he was still young and the onus of running his family fell on him. This drove him towards his current occupation, but the love for Baba kept enticing him. And today, when his whole family is settled- his first sister married in UK, his second sister an air hostess with Jet Airways, his younger brother an aspiring IPS ("I'll do everything to make him one"- he said with a father's tenderness and concern), and his two little daughters secure under a father who, under the evil shadow of skewed sex ratios prevalent in our nation since forever, takes pride in not having any sons, takes pride in having daughters who "at least ask me for water when I reach home fatigued. Didi, its only daughters, sons don't do this."

Yes, he called me didi, and it was refreshing to hear him talk. He was cautious. When I looked too much into the mobile screen for texting my friends, he immediately withdrew from talking. The disappointment in his features, so clearly visible via the rear view mirror, ached my heart. I have not done this for the closest of people, but for him, I abandoned my cell phone, and heard him through. And I do not regret it one bit. He spoke little of his family, a lot of Baba, and how singing for him made him feel like the most fortunate of people alive. It all started at a phone call, perhaps to invite him and his mandali for an evening of Sai bhajans. After inquiring a little more, tho Sufi chord struck. He sings Sai, and I sing Bulleh Shah and Khusrau- both of us have immense and inspiring respect for each others devotion. To call me a novice and him a veteran- both would be understatements.

My mother would scold me if I ever, even inaudibly hummed while travelling in an auto. May be she found it embarrassing; but sometimes, the weather would be so inviting, that I would be led on, beguiled to sing. Today, as the fickle weather played its cards, and transformed the day from a scorching morning into a pleasant, rain washed evening, I was once again forced to hum a sufiyana song, which I usually sing for my little angel, my cousin. Only this time, I had familiar and agreeable company. The autowallah did not join me to sing, but when I stopped humming, gave me a few tips for polishing my singing, which left me both, astonished and thankful.

There is a lot which still comes to mind, and not all of it I can record here. I do distinctly remember him shedding a few tears, given their due time to flow out, and then suppressed and forgotten behind a striking, yet a calm smile. He disclosed philosophies with which he lived his life, and there was an unmistakable truthfulness in them. In today's time and age, where Delhi autowallah are infamous for all their notorious behaviour, people like Deepak Chaddha (oh thats his name, I have his card, remember?), help re-instill faith in the goodness of human existence. Things even out. Even when I met the most annoying autowallah, I endeavored to keep my cool, and be as nice as possible, for fighting, calling names, never helps. Because of the remarkable man I met today, all of the previous ill memories of autowallahs I would hate to travel with except under situations of extreme duress were wiped away effortlessly. I never talk to autowallahs, I am scared of them. Today, when I did talk to one, I felt I met a really noble soul. Not being judgmental about people helps, doesn't it?

My only regret, I wish we spoke more Sufi. Right before I got down, he quoted one couplet, one of the most common ones- "Laali mere laal ki, jit dekhoon ut laal/ Laali dekhan main gayi, te main bhi ho gayi laal." I do not remember the context he uttered it in, but I was convinced this was going to be the line that'll ring in my heart when I sat down to pen my journal at night. Not quite. What remains in my heart is the line below, which he uttered along with his exceptionally simple and humble smile.

"Aadmi bada paise se nahi banta, vyavhaar se banta hai. Main aapke liye baba se dua karoonga."