Last time I was in Delhi, the best part of the hectic one-day trip was the cab drive from airport to my office and back. In true Dhi Only One tradition, I struck up a conversation with the cabbie that left a lasting impression on me.
Once settled comfortably in the rear seat of the car, and making the necessary phone calls to all those who insist I do, I decided to pick the most mundane but sure-shot way of starting a camaraderie – the weather! Fortunately it was extremely pleasant that day for Delhi. Then we moved to the next most (ab)used topic – infrastructure issues. Nothing gets a person more charged up than someone suggesting that the infrastructure in their city looks pretty good. He will cite all the proof that he can think of to refute this claim. However, after hearing about Bangalore’s condition, he did concede that Delhi seems to be way better.
Now I thought it was time to move to more interesting topics. I told him that I have been to Delhi on very short trips, and do not know much about the city and its attractions. He immediately warmed to the subject. With a lot of animation, he said, “Madam, a day is not enough to see this city. You need at least a week. There are so many places to see here. Of course there’s the India Gate and other monuments which are beautiful. But have you been to the Buddha Gardens? The kind of flowers you see there you won’t see anywhere. It is so vast and varied that you can spend hours in there amidst nature and not get bored. I wish I could spend a lot of time there.”
I told him that I had seen the Lotus Temple from the flight and it looked stunning. He was startled. “How can you see from the plane? Is it open?” I laughed and explained about the windows. He nodded and said, “Oh, so you can see outside. But I think I would feel afraid to look down from that height!”
When I asked him whether he was from Delhi, he got nostalgic and replied, “No, my village is about 40 kms from here. It’s a small place where we grow a lot of sugarcane. Have you ever had sugarcane? It tastes great when you have it hot with rotis. I will take you to my village madam. You will really like it.”
By then my office arrived and it was time to say good-bye. But when I was leaving he said he could wait downstairs to drop me back if I wanted. We also decided that we would explore some of Delhi before heading to the airport if I had time. However that was not to be, as I got delayed in office. There was just enough time to make it back for the flight.
On the return journey, we spoke about more serious topics related to family and life. I learnt that his wife and kid are in the village, and he sleeps in a shed here. He reasoned, “What is the point of renting a place to sleep? I don’t get much of that anyway. By the time I finish duty it’s mostly midnight, and I have to be up again by 5.”
When I asked him about his kids, he replied with fondness. ”They are going to school in the village”, he said. “I wish I could afford an English school for them. But there aren’t any in the village. You know, I was a teacher before I took up this job. I taught Maths and Hindi at the local government school.”
I was amazed. “Then why did you quit teaching? Isn’t it a much more respectable job? And don’t you feel proud when students you teach go out into the world and do well?” I asked him.
“Yes there is a lot of Respect in that, Madam. And I feel very happy when I see students that I teach doing extremely well. This one year, I took extra classes for two students, and they both topped the exams. I really enjoyed my work and was a very good teacher. But that is not enough these days. I would work all day long and then also take tuitions after school hours to make ends meet, and at the end of the day not be able to earn more than Rs.2000-2500. For the same kind of hard work I can earn twice as much here. I am not afraid of hard work, Madam. I can work anywhere and under any conditions. So I might as well earn more for my family. Thinking this, I came to Delhi and learnt how to drive in this past year.”
This made me think about my work hours and how much I earn from them. I felt ashamed about all the times that I had cribbed. I asked him, “Are you happy?”
He smiled, “That is a tough question to answer. If I think about it, I was managing pretty well with my teacher’s salary as well. I saved almost nothing with that and it remains the same now. I think we learn to live with however much we have.”
“This is a tough job but I’m earning more. The problem is I don’t get to see my family as often. I try to go every weekend. But my life still seems better than yours. With all the travelling you do, I suppose you don’t get to spend much time with your family. It must be difficult when both you and your husband are working.”
I was touched. Here was a person who barely got time with his family, who worked long back-breaking hours and scraped just enough to support his family, and he was concerned about someone who earns enough to afford luxuries he doesn’t even know about!
He then asked me about Bangalore and whether he could get a job here. I asked him what he would like to do. He said, “I can do anything madam. I can learn anything very quickly. As long as I can support my family. If possible, I can bring them with me as well.” I promised to look up something for him. He smiled sadly, “I know you’ll forget about me the minute you board your flight. Suddenly you’ll realize you’ve lost Raja Sharma’s number.”
So here’s my request. If any of you guys have a need for a hard-working, honest and decent human being who can learn quickly and teach you a lot about life, do let me know. I would like to call Raja Sharma and tell him I still have his number and have kept my promise.