Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Driver

“My father was from Punjab and my mother is from Himachal Pradesh”, he said in surprisingly good English. “I respect people from Kerala,” he continued, when he found that I was from there. “They are very united; they and the people of Goa and the Bengalis. You know? In Kerala there is 100% graduation,” he said, and I was too tired to correct him …… on all counts. I had nothing to offer to return the compliment. I mused that the only good I knew about contemporary Pakistan was the cricketers and Mr. Sania Mirza – both whose virtues are dubious, come to think of it.

The previous night’s lateness and the comfort of the AC made me drowsy. But the frequent warning e mail forwards about taxi drivers drugging women commuters with chemicals in the air freshener kept me awake. And this guy was a Pakistani. Copies of his work permit, ID card and pages of his passport were displayed down the back of the front seat. ‘Feroze’, I read and the photo of a much better dressed, much younger Feroze stared back at me.

“Our teacher insisted on our writing within the four lines and my writing was very neat. Aaj to bacche log sab computer mein hi likhte hain,” this he said when he learned that I taught English. “You know these British people don’t know English grammar they speak English like a Mumbai fellow speaks Hindi. One my customer, a British fellow, said Whoshe – no verb ‘is’!” - That really impressed me, I mean how many people remember that is is a verb? And how many notice its absence? I had kept my responses to the minimum, he being Pakistani and all.

A month ago I had asked everyone I knew to arrange an Indian driver to take me halfway across the country to my new work place. I remember with shudders the two previous drivers, both Malayalees, who left me stranded in no-taxi-land. Yet when I got this new driver, my nerves shrieked on learning he was a Paki. It took days for me to not feel uneasy in his vehicle.

Now I rely on his promptness, appreciate his silence when he knows I prefer it and listen to his occasional opinions in the haven of his taxi as we speed across the desert heat - an Indian and a Pakistani, shelving a history of mistrust and animosity.

Before I got out at my door, Feroze gave me an AC mechanic’s card – “My friend,” he explained, “ Sab cheez – AC, fridge, washing machine - sab repair karega. Madam, aapko chaahiye tho telephone karo.” And then he added, “Pakistani hein, lekin achha aadmi hein.”