AS THE CABBIE SAW IT…
He was going home.
Today had been a surprisingly busy one. National holidays weren’t all idle, he decided. Towing hundreds of children to their schools and back was worth it though. Those primly-clad, smart little kids in their military attire, caps and miniature flags et al were endearing to see. Our little soldiers! He couldn’t suppress a smile. Marching forth in time to the tune of proud, independent India. Exactly like those brave patriots 50 years ago. What fervour! What stature! That innocent aura! No wonder national spirit, patriotism gave a high unattainable even by tequila. :D
He’d even doen his own bit by carving a crude national flag on the bonnet of his cab. And his little ten-year old had his own military uniform! A smile danced on his lips as he relived the boy whooping in delight at the sight of the costume. He’d been pestering him for years together…and he’d taken part in the rally earlier that day and daddy’s thin chest had swelled with pride.
And now, he was cold, and tired to the bone, and all he could think of was the warmth of his tiny shack and the softness of his son’s fingers as he cuddled into his lap. Wonder what Sangeeta would’ve prepared…
A soft whimper broke his reminiscences. He could see movement ahead. Why would anyone be loitering around at this time of night, he wondered. Must be the local rowdies, drunk probably.
When he neared, he actually got convinced for a moment that he was looking at his own wife and kid.
Come off it! He told himself off. Strange I felt that way.
She was just a harmless little lady. Poor soul. Looked lost. He hesitated. His stomach rumbled. Dunno where the woman would ask him to convey her. He didn’t want to land up miles away from home. And anyways, he’d done many times more than what he was required to that day.
But then no choice again, he thought drily. He couldn’t just leave her to her fate at such an unearthly timing.
He hailed her off.
Now, in the flickering cab-light, he studied her more clearly in the rear-view mirror. She’d looked as hesitant to climb in as he was initially of taking her in. Funnily enough, she’d wanted to give him half-return. And more funnily, he’d had a sudden, inexplicable spurt of inspiration to act King Harishchandra and had refused. His friends would get an excellent reason to boo him off. Shooing off the Goddess of Wealth at his doorstep!
Half-return manaa kar diya?!? Abey gadhe dimaag kahaan chhod aaya??
Talkative as he was, he couldn’t help noticing how silent the lady was. And clutching at her kids all the time. She didn’t even look as if she belonged here. Her dark, young face was heavily lined, perhaps with worry, and an immense sadness, as if she carried a heavy burden on her soul.
All the time, he talked.
And she sat and listened.
Or maybe, simply sat.
She even dozed off for a while, he reckoned. He’d just remembered another interesting anecdote and was starting to narrate it, when he hit a dead end. The Highway had closed down. 12.15 am. He swore. Now he would’ve to take the longer route into town.
The woman looked unperturbed when he furnished this information. Yeah! And why wouldn’t she? They’d already settled the fare, hadn’t they? It’s me who has to burn up money for the toll charges, he cursed himself. His jolly mood had long since evaporated and he was turning surlier by the moment. Why the hell didn’t he take this into account beforehand?? Bada imandar banne chala tha. Ab ho gaya naa ghaate ka sauda!
People who lived hand-to-mouth couldn’t afford to be honest. Then why this sudden streak of soft-heartedness for this woman? For the love of God, I don’t even know her! And anyhow, his mind ploughed on, why are you so afraid of asking her for the extra money? You aren’t asking anything apart from what’s rightfully yours, are you? Cabbies these days pull up for nothing less than full-return! So you’re perfectly justified in asking her half the return fare. And as it is, she’d offered it first. You’ve only got to tell her you want it now.
With a start, he realized they’d already reached their destination. He’d broken into a sweat. Just as he was bracing himself, the unexpected happened.
“Kitnaa hua bhaiyya?”
“Meter ke hisaab se toh pachaas rupaye, madam…lekin…”
“Aap sau le leejiye. Thank you aapne hamein itni door chhoda. Lautne ka problem hogaa. Itni raat gaye graahak nahi milega.”
He thought he hadn’t heard clearly. Did she just offer him a 100 bucks? Double the fare?? Was this a trap? A drive, probably, to catch cabbies extorting passengers red-handed?? Was there a hidden camera in her..purse or somewhere?
He scanned her face closely, looking for signs of betrayal, a slight steeliness, or even a shadow of a triumphant smile.
But the eyes that looked into his were frank. And open. And smiling genuinely. Awash with shining relief. And thankfulness. She was grateful to him that he had reached them home safe and sound.
He could see a long-lost faith in humanity surface in her glistening eyes again.
The emotion which posesses the strength that makes us help others, that pulls us up from materialistic temptation and drives us to sacrifice for others. The ultimate proof that we have evolved, from animals. Else, it would've been termed Animality probably.
But Humanity....was priceless. Invaluable! He had been a creep to misunderstand her so.
“Hum 50 hi lenge madam. Thank you ki koi baat nahi. Aaj humne aapko ghar pahunchaaya. Kal agar aap logon ki jagaah mere biwi-bachche hain, toh unhe bhi meri tarah koi ghar pahunchayega naa. Aakhir insaan hi insaan ke kaam nahi aaya, to jeene ka kya matlab?”
And this time, he truly meant it. He faintly remembered it as a dialogue from some Hindi movie, but the full impact of the statement hit him at that instant.
What’s with the entire wealth of the world at your feet, if you couldn’t help a fellow human-being? One of your own kin? Wouldn't that be a failure of the human race itself?