So I had my own, unprecedented and rather unexpected “Humans of Mumbai” type encounter today evening when I was on my routine return trip from work to home, like any other weekday. While I am swiping away at my candies, crushing them to get rid of the troublemaking chocolates and jellies in my phone, my auto driver reminds me to tell him the direction I have to go to. “You can just instruct me where to take the turn and then you can go back to your mobile and I can go back to my own”, he mused. I laughed it off like just a random banter an auto driver might have with his passenger and told him to take a right turn. Just when I thought he would miss the hidden turn, I reminded him again and he told me he was only trying to make way around the humongous truck that was also looking to turn.
“I am a private car driver in the daytime and so I know how to navigate carefully. I know how all auto drivers cut through your pathway in this daily rush.” And then he slowly eased into the confession of what we all do but seldom accept, “as an auto driver I complain about the car drivers and as a car driver I do it the other way around”. We all have abused the rash drivers as pedestrians and we have always hated the ‘slow’ walking ‘garden walkers’ or ‘jay walkers’ while we are trying to move in a road with heavy traffic. But then his discussion moved on, in another direction. The ease with which he spoke was really surprising. “My boss doesn’t really know about me driving an autorickshaw. Not that he would say anything, but just for my reasons I have kept it from him. He is a really good man. He has helped my son and paid for his education. I feel really good to work with such a generous man as him. He is big man who always takes good care of me. My son is no less; he has been a topper in his class. He got 92% in his 12th standard and is now looking to take up IIT. I said go ahead.” The pride in his eyes was apparent and the never fading smile on his face beamed even brighter.
By this time I had already reached home, but he wouldn’t stop talking and I didn’t leave the inside of the auto although I did pick my bags several times indicating time to go. In the interim we both had already lied about the lack of money change for the ride and then found enough to settle. “You can check his name on your mobile internet, his name is Mohan Yadav (Name changed) and he was from XYZ college, where he topped his class! He was felicitated, we were called for the function, and he earned good scholarships from everywhere. From Asian Paints, from the school, from his Tuition Classes, he is smart really. The trustees have given him scholarships in big amounts as well and told him that he must not stay back like I did and drive an auto. And my son says he will get IIT or VJTI, the top colleges for sure. He wants to be a Mechanical Engineer. I am sure he will grow big someday.” I could see the clichéd future reeling in fast forward motion in his eyes, not with hope mind you, but with undeterred confidence. I felt happy and proud for the man. He was not ashamed of anything, his work or his situation, he was more than happy to show me the photograph on his phone of his wife and the smart son. I don’t believe in sugarcoating or glamourizing, however, this boy did seem like one of the few intelligent students that we see at work – the likes of, with technical paper publications, intensive research work or innovative designs. That aura of knowledge and still simplicity in behavior is what I would describe it as.
“He did not want to go in a big college where his friends were children of rich people; he decided to go to a humble college where he could really focus on his education.” Not one moment went when the smile from the proud father’s face faded. He did not once indicate that he was looking for more donations. I, in fact did mention to him about where I work and our overseas education consultancy, he however did not once mention the possibility of scholarship to go to a pricey university in another country. The photograph of the mother and son with a backdrop of a modest kitchen just completed the picture that he had started to paint, of simple happiness in ambition with satisfaction in one’s livelihood and life to be the key needs of everyone today. Greed never touched his pride adorned face. I was humbled, pulled down even, by the gravity of the needs and wants that we crave.
As I wished him and his son the best of luck for his seemingly brilliant future, I started to bid goodbye and tried memorizing the face of the student, you know, in case he won a Nobel Prize or something, letting my need for vanity take over. I asked him for a picture, he obliged, without any qualms or questions, gave me his number, and said if anyone is looking for a driver please do not hesitate to give them my reference, but do not go below Rs. XXXXX, or it’s not worth it. He didn’t compromise on value, and did reveal a rather similar ambition to grow as his son did, and without reservation. A big car, a big house, branded clothing and our constant bickering toward our working hours and apparent stress are what govern our daily lives today. Our ambitions are shadowed I believe by greed. I do not discourage or claim such demands to be wrong, we all have our own definitions for success, but we as humans tend to not know when to stop demanding and when to start enjoying the satisfaction of what we have. This man had none of it, but was still able to instill in me the evil head of jealousy for his happiness to be more untainted than mine. I walked away thinking to myself this is one book I would like to get to the epilogue of, to see whether he really makes it big.