She was trying to hail an auto to Malad station. She came back from work and at 7:30 pm, was standing on Link Road, looking out for empty autos coming her way. She was standing there till almost 8 o'clock, but no auto-wala was ready to take her to the station.
"These bloody auto walas... one day I will complain to the authorities... what do they think of themselves??"
But she waited and waited and waited. One by one, autos came, asked her destination, nodded disapproval, and rode on. One by one, people around her got rides, till she was the only on left on the road. Rejected, she contemplated giving up and going back home, when she saw a cab.
"Taxi hi sahi... thode extra paise lagenge, but there is a higher chance of getting a ride..."
She waved to the taxiwala, who imediately stopped, and without asking her destination, opened the door with a smile and beckoned her to get in. With a sigh of relief, she sat in the cab and shut the door, and with it, the noisy world outside.
And immediately on an impulse she blurted out "Thanks god bhaiya aap ruk gaye, else I would keep standing forever! I have been waiting for over half an hour now... not a single auto wala wants to go to Malad station. Its so unfair!!"
And he replied "Yes maam, I looked at you and I knew you had been waiting for long. The tired and dejected look on your face... I had to stop and take you wherever you want to go.."
She was grateful... aakhir aajkal aise log kahan milte hain??
"Thank you bhaiya! After a long day at work, I am so tired. Standing on the road waiting..."
"I understand Madam... waise where do you work?"
"Umm.. I am with Airtel."
"Oh Airtel! Even I have Airtel only. 2 connections.."
And he proudly pulled out 2 cellphones out of his front pocket.
"Achchha achchha..." She nodded politely and rested her head on the top of the seat, and closed her eyes for a moment, hoping he doesn't start off with complaints about Airtel. She had had enough during the day at office! Thankfully he did not! He peppily talked about his connections and his calls to all his khandaan, and then started drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to the tune of some song unknown to her.
"Waise madam my name is Ram, and this is my number. Do call me whenever you need to go to the Airport or something. Just call me anytime and Ill be there. There is a couple in your building only who often call me when they need a taxi. Very nice people. South Indians."
With that he rattled off 2 numbers and asked her to save them on her cell. He wanted her number but she refused, saying she will call him. He ensured she saved them... he looked back and patiently dictated the information, and she had no choice but to save them on her phone.
The cab snaked its way thru the tiny gullies which lead to Malad station. She sat there, looking at the streets and the grimy children running around, the throngs of people milling about, the lights and sounds and things all around.
Those days the hottest topic of conversation in all of Mumbai were the anti-North Indian remarks of Raj Thakeray, which led to violence in some parts of the city, especially damaging and burning of taxis and beating up their drivers.
She was thinking about the same, when suddenly out of a whim she asked him "Bhaiya, did you have to face any violence because of all this marathi manoos campaign?"
"No madam, my gaadi is from this area only, the riots were in Dadar area. Anyway thanks to god I have been spared any such violence."
"Waise aap kahan se hain?"
"Hum UP se hain!"
"Achchha.... main bhi UP se hoon.. I mean parents and all wahan se hain, but I have lived all my life in Delhi"
"Woh to madam I heard your sweet voice and language and I knew you had to be from UP".
She smiled, not knowing how else to react.
And he continued.
"Waise hum UP se hain, but I gt married to a Marathi woman. You know that jewellery store on S.V. Road? Well I used to work there, and she also joined. We fell in love and though our parents did not agree, we got married. You see I am a brahmin, and she is not. Now we have a son too..."
She politely nodded towards him, hoping the conversation comes to an end, when he piped up..
"Waise madam how come you are in Mumbai?"
"I got a job here."
"Oh ok, yeah most people come here because of job. Me too."
"So do you like Mumbai??
"Yeah I do. I love the life and spirit of Mumbai. Although travelling is a nightmare, I enjoy travelling in local trains and and glad everyone here goes by meter, even the short distances, mostly. And what I love the most is that women are a lot safer here than in Delhi."
"Yes maam that is true. But you know madam there are 'that type' of people here too. They do not respect women. But then what to do... there are 'bad character women' also na. The foreigners always ask for them, they are usually available in Bandra."
She stared at him in bewilderment... Why was he talking about all this? Anyway..
"And madam, there was this foreigner once who took me to bandra and asked me to get a girl for him. I met this woman, who said her 'budget' was Rs. 10000. I told her I will get her more. I told the guy the price was 20000. He agreed. I dont know why though... she was not even that beauiful, compared to you she was not..."
This statement kinda made her feel weird, but she had no option than to let him finish...
"And then that woman gave me 8000 rupees for getting her a client!"
She had reached Malad station but she needed to get to the other end. And on the way were streets littered with a million sabziwalas and a billion people standing around examining the vegetables and fruits with disdain and haggling angrily with the vendors.
'Oh damn... reaching the mall will take me another 5 minutes... which means another 5 minutes of this bizarre conversation!! God save me!'
She was the kind of girl who could not ask the driver to shut up, she was far too polite to behave like that. Though she knew that soon, if things dont improve, she will have to resort to that kind of behaviour. She hoped she did not have to to.
"Wow" she said, in a bored tone, hoping he gets the hint. He did not.
"Waise madam, how old are you? I mean you look young, but I think you are about 24 or so.."
"Ummm.. yeah whatever. Something like that. Though people think I am a mother of 3 kids.."
" No way, you are far too young and pretty.. with a clear and fair skin like yours, how can someone say that?? You are married?"
'What is it to you?' she thought. She was glad they had reached the other end of the station.
"No I am engaged to be married. Anyway just stop here I need to get out..."
She thought mentioning her engagement will shut him up. It did not.
"Waise madam, do you work on saturdays and sundays as well?"
This question intrigued her... As she started to get out, she answered "No, why?"
"I was thinking, maybe this weekend I could take you out to the movies at Inorbit Mall..."
This was too much!! Asking her out for a movie? How could he, even so after telling her about his wife and son??
"I am sorry I cannot go out anywhere. Now if you would kindly tell me how much is the fare I would like to pay and leave, I am getting late."
This abrupt turn in the conversation did nothing to faze the driver. She handed out a 100 rupee note, saying she had either this or 6 rupees in coins. He told her teh fare was 30 rupees, but for her, the ride was free!
FREE RIDE!! No way... god knows whats is going on in his mind... she thought.
"Nahi bhaiya... aap please 30 rupaye le lo... mujhe free achchha nahi lagta."
"No madam I cannot take money from you, you are special, this time its free for you. Ill take money next time.
Yeah right, like there is going to be a next time... she thought to herself.
After a lot of argument, she finally succeeded in paying him 6 rupees, and rushed out of the cab and ran towards the mall., never once looking back for the fear of the taxi wala saying something more... She had had enough for the day.
She went inside and ran to the shop she wanted to go to... and only when she was alone did she relax. She shopped and when she was done, she peeped outside, happy to see there was no taxi in sight. She quickly hailed an auto, hoping he doesnt turn up again to try to drop her back or anything. And finally she got home, and the first thing she did was erase the entry from her contact list called "Ram taxi driver".