The Autorickshaw Driver and I

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I reckon there are three types of people: Those who complain about rising costs and count money till they seem like misers, those who worry about rising costs but take in their strides and those who don’t have to worry about risings costs because they are content and at peace with what they have.
Krishan Kumar Kohli seemed to fit right into the last category of people. Mr. Kohli drove the auto I took home this evening. I sat in his auto after the mandatory warning I give to every auto driver – “Uncle, the approach road to my house is bumpy and bad.” He didn’t seem too worried and I didn’t get the expected “Madam, that’ll be Rs. 20 extra.”
I had just settled in for the ride back home when he took the road I usually don’t take when I am driving back home. I repeated where I wanted to go. He said Route B (his route) is shorter and bahut sunder (“very beautiful”). I knew the route he was talking about. It was longer and regardless of how pretty it might be, we’d still become an unwanted part of the evening traffic. He said Route A (my route) was very long and there was going to be a lot of traffic, which was also true. I knew that if I forced him to take A, I’d have to listen to him complain about it the rest of the way. On the other hand, route B was new and out of the way.
After some discussion, Mr. Kohli chose to humour me and took route A. He reached a cross road that forbade him from getting onto the road home. Eventually I decided it best to let him take his route. He was a respectable gentleman, and by having to guide him out of that maze, I didn’t want to sound like I was ordering him around. Besides, the evening was young; there was still some light in the sky and a lovely chill in the air that I wanted to take in. I think he felt my resistance in taking route B because he said in Hindi, “I will not take you round and round. I have retired from the army where I have earned money only the right way.”
He laughed. I laughed. And we were on our way. Even the auto sounded relaxed and confident! As we headed home, I wondered why a retired army personnel would have to ride an auto in Bangalore. Could it be a huge debt? A reckless investment in the past, maybe? A large family to support? Turned out it wasn’t a forced ‘have to’, but an unbinding and careless ‘want to’ for the man on the driver’s seat.
After some gentle questioning and harmless sharing, I learnt that he had retired from the EME branch of the Indian Army. He bought his auto from the retirement bonus. It was only ten days new and he had retired no more than a month ago. He said if he’d had to stay home and do nothing, he’d have become sick. “Hum armywalon ko chain se bethna aata hi nahin hai” (Us Army fellas can’t sit idle). With the remainder of the bonus he bought a flat on lease. Basically he was all set, and driving the auto around the city was a way for him to pass time. “Barah hazaar rupaiye toh pension milta hain” (My monthly pension is Rs. 12,000/-). There I heard it, that contentment most go crazy for.
He told me about his three sons. He remembered where each one was born (Pathankot, Delhi and Jodhpur). He told me he started his duty in Bangalore and retired from Bhatinda in Punjab. As he maneuvered his auto through lanes bordering Command Hospital and the Army base in Viveknagar, I understood why Route B was bahut sunder. He showed me where he lived with his wife and two sons. He told me the eldest stays with his family in Marthahalli. The wife had called before to check where he was. “Bas idhar paas mein hi hoon… aa riya hoon” (I am close by… will be home soon). Sheepishly he said, “Missus ka phone tha. Poore din karti rehti hain! (That was the missus. Keeps calling the whole day!)
This soft spoken gentleman was giving me all the reasons to be trusting when a city teaches you nothing but to doubt everything and everyone around you. Again and again, I was shamefully looking for loopholes, something where I can say “Aha, I told you so!” Again and again, his kind conduct and gentle manners seemed to tell me wisely, “You are looking in the wrong place.”. He told me to store his number on my phone and to call him whenever I needed an auto and asked me to give him a missed call so that he can store my number. I lied and said I didn’t have enough balance to make a call. I gave him the money, paid my respects and went my way.

Obviously, I don’t remember the loud beeps and blares that surrounded us; only the cool breeze, lush trees, a light drizzle and a story. Everybody has one to tell… if everybody is willing to lend an ear.

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