I don’t really know his name. Never need it I guess. The conversation with him happens because we cannot find a parking spot. It is eight in the night on a road near Commercial Street. The shops are still open and cars fill the tiny road.
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Me and husband are hungry and want to buy a burger from a shop nearby. A rickshaw driver stands parked on the road, blocking the space our car can fit it. I get down, request him to back it a little and direct my car in triumphantly.
While the burgers are being ordered, since I stand just outside the car and have nothing else to do, I ask the auto fellow about whether he has broken his Ramzan fast yet (he wears a skull cap, it is Ramzan month and he looks in his 60s, someone who would keep the fasts. I know I assume many things but in this case it works.). He nods and then begins to tell me his story.
He has been driving an autorickshaw on the roads of Bangalore since fifty years and lives in Shanti Nagar. His driving has paid for his children’s education and he has six of them, four daughters and two sons. A few of them, he informs me, have completed college and are now working at different places in the city.
In fact, he is there at Commercial Street to pick up his eldest daughter who works in a shop nearby. His mornings are busy too. He drops off one daughter to college and the second to this shop at Commercial Street. In the middle, he plies the auto on the streets of Bangalore and earns for his family.
He is happy, loves Bangalore and its people, though he feels that the politicians and the government don’t care two hoots about the city. But Bangalore is made of better people than Chennai, he says. Tamilians, he says are grumpy people who fight a lot. I ask him what language he speaks at home. Urdu, he replies, though his children are much better with Kannada and English.
We have become friends now, though we were strangers ten minutes ago. I tell him my story. How I came to this city and love it here. He asks me whether I want to sit in the auto’s back seat and offers it like he would ask someone to sit on the sofa at his home (in spite of the fact that I am standing next to my car).
When my burgers come, I bid him an unemotional bye. Story has been told and I am hungry enough to be distracted. But the old man cannot let me and husband go. He gets out of the rickshaw and stands next to the driver’s seat.
My surprised husband looks up at this old fellow who keeps on blessing both of us and our relationship. He’s emotional, he’s happy; he waves and calls me his sister and then perhaps remembering his age, calls me his daughter.
I wonder what makes him so happy. Is it because I heard his story? Or because I from the privileged lot (who owns a car and wears ‘modern’ clothes) stood there and chatted with him like an equal? Was it my age or my social standing as he perceived it? For me, he’s an eye-opener. Someone who has taken care of six children in Bangalore and made them study hard, all while driving an auto rickshaw. I know I could have never done it myself.