Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shuklaji's Story

Shuklaji says
A taxi revolution is required
A proper hartal
To emancipate cab drivers, who are victims
Of all that one can be victims of
All this paraphrased without a shadow of doubt from the Hakim Panel Report
Shuklaji and I share a taxi
From Vakola Bridge
He wants a lift to the Union office on Kennedy Bridge
No one can say no to him
Not I
Nor the juniors
I tell him so
Yes, at the first go
A rarity
He says, cab drivers are rude if they don't - and whores if they do
It's as simple as that, sahab
Shuklaji points to the Latin origin of number-plates
The British created their empire
Without a script
That's why we're probably more protective of them
And their language
We love the minorities of history
I meet Shuklaji after 18 months
A brain tumor
Diagnosed by Doctor Jaheel from Tata Hospital
Radiation for Rs 1,800/-
30 sessions in all
Mere liye Jaheel bhagwaan hain
Even though he is Musalmaan
What is that supposed to mean
Our social circumstances, are really two
Our cultures and our gods are utterly different

Our illnesses are the same, though
Years ago
Shuklaji told me
I can do Vakola to Nariman Point in 25 minutes
Via Sea Link
He did
In his Ecco
At 7 am
While praying
His agarbatties make me sneeze
My nose is an atheist
He says, not possible
Everybody believes in god
A god is supposed to be for our own good
Why do you pray?
Habit he says
Plus I am a Pandit
He shows me his Janehu
Both hands off the steering wheel
Shuklaji saw hell
He says, hell is a hospital
Yama Raja strolls through the corridors
Prescriptions equal to Yama mantra
Shuklaji is going to the Union office to sort out a default loan
Sab dalaali hain, sahab
They have pressed the mute button
I am going to un-mute it
Once I was flying in from Lucknow
I informed Shuklaji
Pick me up from the airport
Ok saheb, he said
Flight landed
Baggage didn't
He circumambulated outside the airport, thrice
Was accosted by two traffic officers
Punched on the ears
These days in this city, you get boxed, that is it
The charge: Shuklaji is a Pandit from Jaunpur
That's it? I asked
It is about me breathing their air
A lot of angry people in this city
They want my air, too
I told them, it will be high tide
A fresh round of sea breeze will enter the city
I was punched on the nose again
They asked: who teaches you such things
Your ancestor's Vedas?
That's when
Shuklaji's brain started to grapple with taboos
We drive home
Through the city
I stare at Shuklaji's skull
You wouldn't believe how taxi drivers are treated
Every taxi driver living in his own mind
Shuklaji's mind, plays games
He de-codes number plates, non-stop
He quotes rules from the Central Motor Vehicles Act, 1989
This is the new Veda, sahab
Near the flower market
We don't move
There's a traffic jam
For 30 minutes
Shuklaji sighs
It would appear that this city is unwell
Or in the ICU
Shuklaji says, I was not operated
Due to six badaams
Soaked in the evenings
Consumed with the badaam-skin
Before sun rise
Some daadiwallah hakim needs to prescribe six badaams for this city, too
Shuklaji wants to return home
To Jaunpur
Especially after his examination by Dr Jaeleel and his colleagues
Quickest recovery, ever
A pat on the back
From the specialists
For that one morning
Shuklaji felt he was an equal
He forgot about the postcard
His son sent
Yet, no admission in Benares Hindu University
Shuklaji does not want his son to be a taxi driver
For cab drivers there is one nation
It is discrimination
Shuklaji says: Driving a taxi for 30 years caused my brain tumour
What will Shuklaji do now?
What will his brain ever do?
I know not
Elphinstone Road arrives
He exits
Swivels his six-foot frame over the iron frame
Walks to the railway platform

I won't see him again

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