| 1.5 MINUTE READ | A tryst with an auto driver
My work life began with extensive travel. At airports, railway stations and bus stands – across big cities and mofussil towns – auto and taxi drivers often refused to turn on their meters. They instead sized you up – local/visitor, composed/uncertain – and accordingly arrived at a suitable price for their services. It hardwired into me an instinct to sense an inflated fare and negotiate it down.
Early one morning, I rode to my grandmother’s home from the airport at Baroda. On arrival I stepped out of the rickshaw and engaged in this ritual of conflict with the driver. As this continued, disturbed by my self-righteous insistence, the driver left without wanting any of my money. As I stepped in and related this tryst with an unusual end to my grandmother, she empathised with the karma of unjust indignities faced by the auto driver. It was a gentle slap on my face. I felt a wave of penitence.
I got into her car and drove in the direction of the airport, glancing into each passing auto, propelled by a hopeful certainty. The significance of the moment slowed it down. I could feel my heart breathing as my eyes roamed the streets. Ten minutes and twelve autos later, I was driving alongside him. We looked at each other and I hailed him to a stop. His face was a mix of tightened anguish and surprise. I apologized and handed him his fare. He touched the currency, his bohni or first earning of the day, at the altar on his dashboard, then on his forehead and placed it in his pocket. His eyes filled up in the face of this confluence of faith and redemption. I watched him with relief and sadness. There was nothing more to be said.
From my grandmother I learnt that a cloud can be dispersed with grace by evoking the seed of introspection instead of swinging the hammer of judgement. She taught me through her actions, that some knots in life are untangled by waiting. But on that day she drove me towards swift action and muted my appetite for unwarranted negotiation.