It an unexpectedly pleasant evening. Awash with recent rain, resplendently green. The dust had settled down into smudges and everything seemed to be smiling. My grin of course had been wiped away after all the haggling with the auto rickshaw drivers. Could absolutely no one find it in their hearts to agree to go to Janakpuri? Could no soul be decent enough to agree to go by meter? Since when did 8:30 become so late that fellows would start asking for exhorbitant rates? Just as I was beginning to get Infinitely Irritated, Along Came Polly. No along came a Kindred Spirit (I just wrote Polly on a whim. Ha). So. He agreed to:
- Go to my house,
- Via Mr. Co-Passenger’s house and
- Go by meter.
With a triple whammy like that, he obviously falls into the Kindred Spirit category (for definition, refer to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery). However, flustered with the whole auto search and fail thing, I admit I muttured some “Aap auto waale kabhi bhi meter se nahin jaate” lines. Next I know, we had begun the long journey to the Faraway Land of Janakpuri in absolute silence and a whir of motion – he flew the rickety little triangle right upto Dhaula Kuan, where we hit the much dreaded, transportation nightmare - Perpetual Red Light.
Here, he turned around and nonchalantly said, “Toh kya bol rahe the aap auto waalon ke bare mein?”
“Err…yahi ki aap log meter se nahin jaate…” I squeaked because he after all was a Kindred Soul.
“Aapke haath mein kitni ungaliyaan hain?”
“Ek mein paanch.”
“Aur kya saari ek barabar hain?” (knowledgeable expression on face of a spider who knows the prey is oh-so-surely-entagled)
“Nahin” (foxed expression on face of a person who does not know where the conversation is leading)
“Yahin toh seekh hai. Sab ek barabar nahin hoteen. Ekdum se sab auto waalon ko achha ya bura mat boliye. Har jagah imandaar aur bemaan log hotein hain.”
Here the light decided to stop stopping us and we carried on in our motionic cacophony. I was quite startled by his sudden outburst (outburst is too strong an adjective, he spoke in a very mild, non-patronizing manner). Our next piece of conversation began at the Delhi Cantt light.
“Aap hi ki tarah ek madam mili then mujhe. Jyoti Madam. Rohini jaana tha. Tang ho gayeen theen. Koi bhi meter se jaane ko tayyar hi nahin tha. Phir mein le gaya unhe. Achhi dosti ho gayi hamari.”
(Here, I scoffed inwardly – “Is this a mujhse dosti karoge moment?” It wasn’t.)
“Phir main unhe daily le jaata tha. Ek din Jyoti ji ne mujhe Pakistan mein driver banane ka offer diya. Mein tayyar ho gaya. Unhone mera visa passport sab banwa diya, mujhe ek Mohommaden naam tak de diya. Mein ghabraya hua tha par tankha achhi thi. Chala gaya. Plane mein baithkar. Wahan meri mano, sadak par laashein padi milti hain. Mera kaam embassy mein tha jo achha tha. Par wahan ka khana bahut kharab tha. Gandigi itni ki poocho mat. Aur har jagah maas. Mein thehra Hindu. Kaise khata unka khana? Chhe maheene maine dabal roti khakar kaate. Ek din mujhe teen ladkiyaan sadak par dikhin. Unke gaadi ka tyre puncture ho gaya tha. Maine unhe lift de di. Unka driver bhi Hindu tha, mere Bihar se hi! Sochiye! Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hai andher nahin. Bas phir, roz wahin, unhi ke ghar khana. Baarah sal kaise kate, pata hi nahin chala! Paise kamakar mein aa gaya wapas India.”
Reeling under the sudden turn of conversation and the socio-religious implications of this man’s interesting journey, we moved onto the next red light. For a moment I wondered if he was bluffing, cooking up a tale to make fun of the snooty girl who had defaced his kind. Then I shuddered at my cynicism (or was it suspicion?) and decided that even if it was a tale, it was keeping me hooked, so simply for its entertainment value, I should listen along. At Thimayya Park, he resumed:
“Haan toh vaapas aakar maine auto khareeda. Paanch lakh ki aati hai ek. Pata tha aapko? Kaise pata hoga. (oh you poor richer-than-me kid sigh). Phir bas dekhte dekhte ab mere paas teen auto hain. Ek chalata hoon, baaki chalwata hoon, achhi business hai.”
Towards the end of the journey, he threw caution to the wind. He gave up on red lights and spoke irrespective of our state of motion. “Log ache hote hain, bure bhi. Bur ke bina humein ache ki kimat nahin pata lagti. Ek machli poore talaab ko ganda kar deti hai toh suna hi hoga aapne. Yahi taqleef hai hum auto waalon ki.”
We spoke of bribery and treacherous officials, potholed roads and karma, money and how daughters were a curse (that was his opinion). My dismal Hindi disallowed me from convincing him otherwise, which was thoroughly shameful. The journey ended (as do all journeys, which is rather depressing) and so did our conversation. He left me with a parting shot: “Logon mein burai nikaalna bahut aasaan hai. Achhai bahut hai. Bas use dhoondhna hamara kaam hai.”
He had reached me home in record time, surprisingly decent tariff and sufficiently entertained. I realized, that all journeys, no matter how mundane they could be, become interesting.