He was tall, well-built and had a habit of saying “Tension nahi leney ka, araam sey karo!”
I was at the taxi stand near Pune Railway station. I needed to reach Mumbai as early as possible. Luckily for me I found a taxi that was already filled with passengers. Only one seat was remaining next to the driver. He was the driver and owner of the car.
As we started our journey we got talking. “How many times do you do this trip from Mumbai to Pune and back?” “About four times a week” “How much do you earn?” “About thirty thousand a month.” “Where do you stay?” “Borivali” “Who else is there in your family?”
That is when the story began.
“I lost my wife four months back.” he said in his Bambaiya Hindi.
“Oh! I am sorry” I said, with an automatic reflex. There was a pause. “What happened?” I asked.
“She slipped while climbing the stairs of our building. The fear of falling gave her a heart attack.”
“Who is there in your family now?”
“Just me and my son. He is sixteen years old, just got admission to college.”
“Hmmm….it must have been hard on you.”
He extended his left hand. “See these nerves…I have lost a lot of weight. I could not do anything for days. But I couldn’t afford to lose my will power. I had to take care of my son. Repay the home loan.”
“What was your wife doing?”
“She was the Head of HR of a Multinational Company.”
That was surprising. A taxi driver, married to a corporate executive!
“How did you meet?” I asked.
“We met in college. I was from K.J Somiaya, studying commerce. She was in SIES college. A common friend introduced us.”
“I studied commerce in K. J Somaiya too! Which year did you study?” I said excitedly.
“From 1988 to 1994.”
I did a double take. This was exactly the same years I was in the same college! He and I had shared a college campus 30 years ago and were now meeting as passenger and driver! I shared this with him. And checked if we had any common friends without success.
“Was it easy for both of you to get married?” I asked, getting back to his story.
“Not at all. I was never good at studies. The only passion I had was body building. My father was in the police. Whereas she was an extremely bright student. Her father was a scientist in BARC.”
“Then what happened?” I asked, as if watching a suspense movie unfold.
“Her parents were absolutely opposed to our match. They would tell me, if I married their daughter I would always feel inferior to her like in the movie Abhiman.”
“We were in love with each other. I used take Bus No. 380 reach her home, pick her up and go to the beach. Spend the whole day together. Return by late evening. That was my daily schedule in college. After college I took up a job as a bodyguard. We married. Her parents did not attend the wedding.”
“Since she was intelligent, I encouraged her to study further. She did her MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj, then took up a job. She was good at her work. Over time she reached the position of Head of HR.”
“Was it a happy marriage?”
“Yes, we never fought. She never made me feel that I was inferior to her. She was a great cook. After we had our son, her parents came around. But they never accepted me as their son-in-law. Even though they got their younger daughter married to an educated corporate manager in Dubai, that marriage lasted only four months. And ours, in spite of their terrible predictions, was a happy marriage.”
“What do you do when you are not driving? Do you have any friends?”
“I just lie down in bed. Talk to my wife’s picture. There is no one.”
“You can consider me as your friend.” I said.
“You know this is the first time I am talking about my wife after she died. About our life together. I was angry with God for taking her away. But then how long can one be angry with God. Its okay, what had to happen happened.”
“Do you have any regrets?”
“Yes. We had our son quite late. I was wanting us to be financially stable before we take the responsibility of becoming parents. I now wish we had more than one child, so that our son would have some company. It is all useless! We make all these plans and nothing happens according to them.”
“What should we do then?”
“Live in the moment. Don’t think too much. Don’t plan too much. Life is unpredictable. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Anything can happen.”
We had crossed Navi Mumbai and were about to reach Mumbai. It was around 2.30 pm.
“This was the time it happened and I carried her to the hospital on this very road.”
“But you said you stayed in Borivali?”
“We were staying in Chembur. After her death I moved to Borivali, to the flat we had bought on loan. I do not know how I will repay it, since we had bought it keeping her salary in mind. But I want to keep it. It is her nishani.”
“Did she have life insurance?”
“The life insurance company refused to pay anything saying the heart attack happened due to her medical condition.”
“What do you do?” he asked becoming the interviewer for a change.
“I teach Yoga and meditation.” I responded. “Have you ever practiced Yoga?” I asked.
“No, I have always been into body building. I find Yoga too slow. But now I have stopped everything.”
“Tell me how to manage my mind?” he asked
I didn’t know what to say.
I saw the clear blue sky dotted with a few white clouds through the windshield. I noticed the wind grazing my hand resting on the open window. I watched the vehicles passing by against the backdrop of buildings.
“Watch the mind.” I said finally.
“How?” he asked
“Can you see the clouds?”
“Watch your thoughts just like you watch the clouds.”
“How will that help?
“Your thoughts will stop bothering you.”
We had crossed Kalina. My destination was approaching.
“Let’s keep in touch.” he said
“Sure!” I replied.
As he stopped the car for me to get down, he pulled out his wallet and showed me a black and white picture of a woman with two plaits of hair. She had a simple unassuming look.
“That was my wife.”