“Babe di Mehar”
Seated in the rear seat of a war-weary, rickety city taxy, I am witnessing the traffic exploits of my Michael Schumacher inspired taxy driver Surinder who has migrated from the Ludhiana race tracks to the Delhi bye lanes in search of greener pastures. Within less than seven minutes of our ordained interaction, he has narrated to me his entire life history in superb precis form including his brief stint in Canada as a lorry driver.
After his introductory monologue, our conversation has now veered towards politics and the general state of affairs in the country. Like most of us, not only does he have a strong opinion about the govt but also displays an uncanny and amazing understanding about the local politics in his parent state.
Five traffic lights have gone past and Surinder has unabashedly jumped three of them without guilt after just a cursory glance to either side. Not only that, he has this habit of turning back towards the rear passenger seat whenever he wants to make an emphatic point, which he has of course quite a few. His cognitive skills are remarkable although he creates an ecosystem around himself which requires their full use.
At this early stage of the ride itself, my cerebral hemisphere is vertically splitting into two neat parts. One full of admiration at Surinder’s awareness levels and intelligence and the other full of nervousness regarding his over-confident driving and survival skills.
“Surinder, do you mind driving a bit slow? I am in no hurry to reach my destination”, I try to sound casual so as not to offend him although I am actually in a tearing hurry to make it for my appointment.
“Sir tusee fikar na karo, sade utte babe di mehar hamesha rehndi hai,” he assures me in chaste Punjabi.
“Sir, you don’t worry at all. God’s blessings have always been there with me”,
I wonder which osmotic route will his blessings follow to reach me for my protection. I sigh as I am stuck with him like a co-joined twin. I am surprised that my fingers have crossed each other without a conscious thought. Ah! God has answered instantly! Is it a sign? Must be, as I resolve not to uncross my fingers till the end of this journey.
With all my attention focused on the many near-misses by now, my close attention has somehow so far not gone to the dashboard which has an array of pictures, stickers and stick-on portraits of Gods from all conceivable and contemporary religions. I can now somewhat fathom Surinder’s logic. This multi-ethnic display of Godliness is clearly his low-cost, high-returns insurance policy and I am of course just a third party.
I try to mentally insulate myself from the high-speed exciting happenings outside by forcibly shutting my eyes. From nowhere, a line from the Hanuman Chalisa learnt half a century back come to my lips which appear to have missed a quiver or two:
“Sab such lai tumhai sarna; Tum rakshak kahu ko darna”
“When you are the protector, what do I have to fear?”
“Sir, aajkal es dhande which bachda kuch nahi. Ude ute, e seatbelt da naya syapa shuru kar dita hai! Pehle 100 rupay laker chadd denda si, hun 500 mangde hain,” he complains.
“Sir, nowadays you don’t really earn much in this profession. On top of it, they have created a new shindy about these seatbelts. Earlier, the (the traffic cop) would leave me after I used to give him 100 rupees. Now he asks for 500.”
“Surinder, this seat belt rule is for your own safety and so also for the good of your passengers. You should not resent it. You must have surely heard about Cyrus Mistry’s unfortunate crash”, I try to infuse some gyan (wisdom) into him.
“Sir, pichle saal ded lakh aadmi sadkan te mar gaya, kisu nu seatbelt di yaad nayi aayi. Hun ki nava ho gaya?” he questions me, “Whor ae majan te toya daan ki karoge?”
“Sir, last year one and a half lakh people died in road accidents and no one thought of seatbelts. What has happened new now? Besides, who will sort out these cattle and potholes?”
I mumble some unconvincing words in defence of governmental efforts.
Surinder continues,“Sirji, Minister kaenda hai ki company airbag kyun nahi fit kardi? Har koi paise bachandan hai. Maen puchda hoon, tusi compulsory kanoon banaya ki?”
“Sir, the Minister is complaining that the car companies are not fitting air bags. Everyone wants to save money. I am asking whether you have made it legally compulsory for them to do so?”
I can make out that I have probably touched a raw nerve.
“Sir, aaj tak tusi kissi Minister, MP ya MLA nuun picche baeke seatbelt paye vakhya hai? Main te nahin vakhya. Canada which te Prime Minister vi seatbelt paanda hai,” he claims loftily while continuing his tirade.
“Sir, have you ever seen a minister, MP or MLA wearing a seatbelt in the rear seat? I have not, for sure. In Canada, even the Prime Minister wears a seat belt.”
I am sure he has never had the opportunity to chauffer Trudeau around, but I let it pass. His observation is not entirely invalid.
Next traffic light is green but Surinder inexplicably slows down before the crossing.
“What happened Surinder?” a puzzled me asks him.
“Oh nothing Sir! Mera warga koi dooji side to red light cross kar raya si,” a bemused Surinder explains.
“Oh nothing Sir! Someone like me coming from the other side was jumping the red light.”
Connaught Place outer circle is fast approaching and in a way, I am feeling relieved that this sojourn of mine is going to end in another couple of minutes. However, I am still not quite convinced about his Canadian claims which appear to me more of an aspirational fib. I ask him jokingly, “Surinder, how did you manage your lorry driving in Canada? Don’t they drive on the other side of the road?”
“Oh Sirji, aapan aithe vi road de centre wich chalande si, tey othe vi centre wich!” he retorts with a big jocular guffaw.
“Oh Sir! I used to drive my lorry in the centre of the road (in India) and used to do the same in Canada”.
I laugh along with him as I guide him to my drop-point. I get down mercifully relieved and pay off Surinder with a rather hefty tip for finally bringing me safe and sound. He of course has become fond of me by now and bids me goodbye with a broad smile.
“Sirji, tussi mere pehle customer ho, jinne seatbelt pai. Per tussi tension bot lende ho” Surinder reminds me grinningly, “Bas, Babe di mehar hamesh honi chaide.”
“Sir, you are my very first customer who has ever worn a seatbelt. But you take too much of tension. However, just remember you must always have Divine blessings with you.”
I nod in quiet acquiescence.
My faith reinforced, I cross the road with a newly-discovered confident stride.
Postscript: Although a student of geopolitics for many years, I finally understood the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative today.
First published at seekmediation.com on 10/09/22
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