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Straight From The Heart

Taxi Driver

 SharjahTaxi-drivers are a unique source of information. Sometimes they give you the kind of info that no  news channel or a search engine or an encyclopaedia can ever offer.  I don’t know why I feel this affinity toward cabbies. I always find myself engaging in a general conversation whenever I am travelling in a cab. It can be cabbies from anywhere in the world. Yes, I’ve  had conversation with stiff upper lipped cabbies in London and the heavily accented English –speaking ones in Egypt. Some of them have made a place in my memory. I remember a Scottish cabbie telling us stories of his highlands in Scotland and a French cabbie indignantly pointing out that the name Paris doesn’t suit Paris Hilton. A sardar cabbie in Mumbai once actually made me, a true Mumbaikar, believe that Sion Koliwada is the best neighbourhood in entire Mumbai. No matter how insignificant these might sound, I find these incidents incredibly amusing overlayed with genuine humour. The point is my relationship with taxi drivers goes a long way.

One such incident I vividly recollect is from Sharjah. We were in Sharjah for a short stay somewhere in 1998 -99. Instead of renting out a car, we chose taxi as a means of regular transport. I used to go all over the place with my one year old son by taxi. On one such occasion, I was travelling to some destination. It was a long drive from my home to that place. My driver was a young pathan, Amir Khan look-alike. He must be all but 20-21 years old. It was a sultry afternoon in Dubai. I was perspiring all over waiting for a cab. Imagine my relief when I settled down in an air conditioned comfort of a car finally. Asha Bhosale was crooning a melodious number from sixties on the radio.  That time HUM Fm was very popular among south –east Asian community  – probably it still is. For those who don’t know what Hum is, it is an abbreviation for, Hindi, Urdu and Malyalam channel. Soon the motion of the car lulled my son to sleep. I rested my head against the back of the seat and closed my eyes.  Myriad thoughts invaded my mind.

Suddenly the driver’s voice brought me back from reverie. He was saying, `` I like this song very much.’’ I tried to listen. The incoherent sounds around me have become coherent. It was `Chiththi aayi hain ‘from the 80’s movie Naam. Well, I understood. The boy must be feeling lonely in this new city without his folks.  ``Yes, it brings back the memories of your hometown and particularly your parents. ‘’I sympathised though I myself had never particularly thought very highly about this song. ``Every time I listen to this song, it brings back memories of my village, my playmates and my mother.’’ His voice was emotional. The boy was in a talking mood. I showed interest,` `Who all are in your house?’’ ```My mother and my younger brother.’’ ``So you are the eldest one?’’ I probed. ``No no, I have two older brothers. They live here in Dubai. We stay together.’’ The song continued.

A new stanza started with something like gaaonki galiyan etc.  He again started nodding his head, ``Ahhh! What words! What meaning! It transports me to my village.’’ Now having lived all my life in Mumbai my idea of a village is based on the filmy villages depicted in Yash Chopra type of movies.  With green fields dancing in the breeze, a brook flowing through rocks and village belles swaying their hips on the winding paths with pots on their heads. I could imagine the boy missing such lovely surroundings for the concrete jungle that is Dubai. `` Your village must be very beautiful.’’ I said instantly. `` It is verry verry verry beautiful. It is in the mountains.’’ I could imagine Raj Kapoor’s Heena and the lovely mountains. `` Where exactly is it?’’ the voyeur in me would not let me keep my mouth shut.

``It is on the Pakistan – Afghanistan border. Ohhhho..... it is away from all cities, nestled in the mountains. We can walk down to Afghanistan.’’
Afganistan Mountains
` Do you go to Afghanistan?’’ he looked at me through his rear view mirror and smiled as if he was sharing a big secret of his life. ``We always go to Afghanistan. Everything is so cheap there. When we try to cross the border the soldiers from both the armies start firing. We dodge them and run.’’

 I looked at him through rear view mirror to check if I can spot any sign of lunacy in him. Which sane person can put his life in danger for some cheap thrill?

What? Aren’t you scared of bullets hitting you?’’ My middle-class mind finds these things adrenaline pumping no doubt, but even listening to them makes me feel as if I am committing some kind of crime.

 ``We are seasoned at it. We used to play it as a game when we were young.’’ I stifled my laughter at his word `young’. `` What about your mother? She must be getting worried?’’ I wanted to know more.

``My mother is such a loving person. She loves me a lot. She feels so happy when I go home. She is such a kind woman.’’ The boy’s train had changed its track.  I did not want to interrupt him.

``She must be treating you like a king when you go home.’’ I prompted.

``When I am at home I wake up when my eyes open. Then my mother gives me a glass of goat’s milk. After that I go for hunting.’’ I was finding this story tough to believe. This delicately built boy chasing and killing wild animals.

 `` What do you hunt?’’ I asked challengingly.

`` We hunt murgi, a wild cockerel.’’ I was about to burst out laughing. ``And how do you kill this chicken......errr...murgi?’’ I  was showing my ignorance. He was offended.

``With a gun.”  He told in a matter of fact way.

 ```Do you have a gun?’’  I was finding it increasingly difficult to imagine this 20 -21 year old youth having a gun.

 ``Of course I have one back home. Everyone in my village has got one. In my family only my younger brother who is eight years old doesn’t have one. This time when I go on holidays I am planning to buy one kalash Nikov for him.’’

``What is a kalash Nikov?’’Obviously I had never heard of the Russian gun, as I came to know later.  Mind you those were the days before A K-47 became a household name. ``How do you buy a gun? Can you buy it out open in the market?’’

 `` I get it from Aghanistan . You get a good quality Russian gun at a cheaper price there.’’ He was talking about the gun the way I would have talked about the dress material or may be grocery.

His fascinating story continued. `` My mother makes delicious murgi. Ummmm... my mouth waters at the thought of it. We eat it with roti. Everything grows in our region, except rice. We IMPORT rice from Punjab. How much do you pay for one bori (sack) of rice?’’His train was changing tracks one after other. I quoted an amount that came to my mind. `` We also have to pay the same amount, but we don’t buy rice. We eat it very rarely.’’

Our taxi stopped at a traffic light. He pointed at the cop standing at the signal.  ``See in Dubai these signals,  police are too much of a nuisance. We don’t have all these headaches in our place.’’

`` You mean you don’t have any police in your place.’’

  Afgan tribesmen``Nooo way. We sort out all our problems ourselves. Pakistani government tried to bring police in our place but we did not let them do it. Its a very peaceful area. We all have guns, so everyone has to be careful in his behaviour. Guns are very important for maintaining peace.’’ I admired his philosophy and faith in gun, however right or wrong. Gandhiji would have turned in his grave.

He was unstoppable, ``Here in Dubai you just have to keep on paying....you can’t save....water bill, electricity bill. There in village we don’t have to pay any bills. We get water from the well.’’ `` And what about electricity?’’ I was quite sure that there won’t be any electricity in this god forsaken place.  ``Government has installed electricity in our village, but nobody pays the bill so they have cut it off. If we want power we pay the bill then they start.’’ His village story was taking more twists and turns than Ram Gopal Verma’s movie. The story continued through the roads and lanes of Dubai  as I was nearing my destination.

 It was getting more and more bizarre. He was swiftly jumping from one topic to another. It covered value of Pathani food, Pushtu folk songs, Pushtu language,( which he considered as a sweeter version of Punjabi), but most of all his weird philosophy. The lad actually believed in honour killing. I could see it was pointless to argue with him. I wanted to maintain my sanity. I heaved a sigh of relief at the same time felt a tinge of regret at missing out on more information of this unreal world as I reached my destination. I had received a memorable dose of edutainment, if a word like this exists in media vocabulary, from this driver.

Today when I read the stories of violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan I wonder where this boy would be. In the safe haven of Dubai or amidst the war torn terrain of Pakistan – Afghanistan border. I wonder what would have happened to his idyllic (?) village. Has it survived the constant battle for survival or is it  wiped out from the map by brutal armed forces. And finally, who is responsible for this? A government which neglected this tribal area and let the unrest brew for ages, the fierce tribals ( if I may call them so) who stubbornly refused to progress with times or globalisation which is encroaching their cocooned world. Well, that is a debatable issue.

For my part, I hope if not his but at least the next generation will realise the futility in resorting to gun to solve your problems and restore faith in the importance of law and order. Perhaps some elites from this simple, endearing community will make them understand that disputes can be sorted out in an amicable civil way of discussion. And once again the peace will prevail.

Taxi Driver

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