On a sultry Bangalore evening at 6pm, I waited at the end of a tiring work day to go home. However, even after 40 minutes, I wasn’t able to either grab an Ola or get any benevolent auto driver to agree to take me to my destination, my home. I wasn’t alone. There were other women unsuccessfully trying to do the same.
Suddenly the lady beside me caught one auto and took pity on me. She suggested that I share her ride and after dropping off, I could go further to my destination. It was only a minor detour and I accepted. Honestly, there wasn’t much choice; I had been waiting there for long now.
Anyway, inside auto, I realised that the lady, like me, was from Delhi. Our conversation inevitably covered over-chagrining auto drivers, Delhi men, rapes, Delhi vs Bangalore so on. (I still bat for Delhi though less passionately; I may be growing to like Bangalore.)
As soon as the other lady got off the cab, the auto driver, silent all this while, turned to me and asked: ‘Madam, what were you both talking about auto drivers? I am not so educated but I do understand a little bit.’ I felt a chill go down in my heart and tried to remember what had I said about auto drivers.
I kept my cool, smiled at him in the rear view mirror and said: ‘We weren’t talking anything complex and educational anyway. Of course, you understood everything we said. And we did praise you, didn’t we? For not taking advantage of the situation by overcharging us?’ He was mollified.
‘Oh yes! That’s why I didn’t say anything to you. There is no reason why any auto driver should refuse or overcharge’. We had perhaps run into one conscientious auto driver in all of Bangalore. Thank God for that. Crisis averted. But our conversation did not end.
I can’t quite recall how conversation veered to religion, NaMo and Gujarat. He told me he was Muslim, and I asked him if he was Shia/Sunni. (He was a Sunni. I rarely find Shias in Bangalore) He told me how he hated NaMo but had now reconciled to him and preferred him much over Congress. (This was in October 2014) I had heard propaganda about Gujarat Muslims preferring NaMo. But he was not a Gujarati but from UP. Incredulous, I asked him why. He told me that NaMo had spoken for Indian Muslims – ‘Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India’. Who would have thought, something I put aside as tokenism, means something to some others. This auto driver was quoting NaMo verbatim.
I quietly play the devil’s advocate: What if ‘haathi ke daant dikhane ke kuch aur, aur khane ke kuch aur?’ (Translation: Elephant has two set of teeth-one to show off and the other to chew with. Meaning: What you see is not necessarily true?)
He is silent for a minute. I almost think he has not heard me properly over the din of the Bangalore traffic.
But he responds. ‘It is possible. But I have to believe. I have to start with belief’. Fair enough. Don’t I say that too, I thought.
We talk bit more religion before I swiftly change subject; I have learnt my lesson not to discuss deeper theological/religious issues with strangers. We meander and talk about Ramses, Tutan Khamen and other pharaohs of Egypt. He used Hindi terms such as mistra and I had no difficulty in following it. He asserted in his belief in the end of the world (!) and referred to Bhagwat Geeta – something I believe was an inaccurate reference. I didn’t correct him. I was about to reach home.
When I am embarking off the auto, he tells me bit obligingly, you have good knowledge. I smile and return the compliment.
It was certainly most memorable auto ride in Bangalore solely because of the conversation. (Only other memorable auto ride would be the one in Pune when I had an accident.) Strangely, the auto driver’s optimistic position on NaMo (more optimistic than mine) was a cheerful thought.
P.S: I am saving the juicy part of the conversation for the next post. This is what I had tweeted that day after reaching home:
Just had a conversation with Muslim auto driver: him telling me about Hindu mythology, how he prefers Modi (!) , stories of Egypt Pharaohs.
— Poonam Sharma (@_alps) October 30, 2014