[8 PM. The skies over Mumbai are dark. The roads are bright, busy, noisy. Your average Wednesday night.]
Haan, Baitho na sahab.
[Shuffles in his seat, reaches out the window on the far side, turns the meter down. Clink. Silence.]
Achha sahab, ye bank me kya naukri top best hota hai?
[‘What is the best kind of job in a bank?’ – in Mumbai Hinglish, his language of choice for the rest of the ride.]
Marketing? What is that? Ah, I understand. But there is some other kind of job too, isn’t there? Sounds like danger. Yes, risk management – that is what it is. See, that is what my elder son does. Risk management. In a bank in France.
Three children sahab, I have three. Two sons and a daughter. The eldest is in France now. The second one, he is studying sahab. Learning MBA. And the daughter I just admitted in college. Good kids, sahab. Sab theek nikle.
God has given me everything sahab. Do you know, I have three flats now. In Vasai, Tardeo and Mira Road. One is 500 square feet, another is 600 square feet and the large one is 800 square feet. That is where I live sir. Have given one for bhada, and the last one I am going to give to my daughter. Everything I have sahab, everything.
I am from Bihar sahab, Sitamarhi district. Ran away from home when I could. Why? Arrey sahab, what could I do there? No food, no job. Father would beat me every day. So I ran away. My father was mad, real mad. HA HA HA!
[Sudden, loud laugh. Face breaks open. Hands thump the steering wheel.]
It was a tough life sahab. Mumbai nagri. Tough. I did three jobs a day. Went to a factory in the morning. Worked at the sahab’s house in the evening, and drove a taxi at night. What all I saw in those taxi rides, you wouldn’t believe. Ajab shahar!
I had only one pair of clothes then sahab. Same shirt and pant, every day. I would wear them during the day, wash them when I got home at night after my taxi shift, and wear it again the next day. I sent my son went to Wilson college sahab. He always wore his shirt tucked out. You see, the seat of his pants was all worn out, and he didn’t want anyone to see it. And his shoes! You should have seen his shoes. The sole was almost gone. We would stuff a rag into the shoe before he put them on. I still have those sahab. My son’s worn out pant, and the shoes with no sole. Every time he comes to India my son sees them. Never ever throw them, he tells me. They are a reminder of old days.
AREY THEEK SE CHALA NA BE CHOO …
[Obscene gestures at another taxi driver who had cut into his path. Broad smile. No hard feelings, it says.]
You see this street sahab – Haji Mastan’s trucks used to come here, all those years back. The police would be standing here waiting. And when the trucks came, all of a sudden the lights would go off. Poof! In a minute sahab, in a minute. Every street light would be off. Every building light would be off. The men would unload the trucks in the dark, and they would be gone. The police? Bah! Tamasha tha sahab.
Achha sahab, aa gaya Parel. What, you want to continue riding the cab or what? Bas. Story khallas. HA HA HA!
[Sudden, loud laugh.]