The Sun blazed down brightly on the city of Delhi...The fruit of man’s unending tryst with nature-“Global Warming”, had blessed the Delhi-ites with yet another warm winter December end morning. From within the four walls of our dwelling, the hustle and bustle of the town seemed to beckon to my mother and me. We were anxious to go enjoy the thrills of the “outdoor”, ready to sacrifice a whole day of sun basking for the benefit of window shopping, book hunting and frolic. Season end sales and discounts on choicest of apparels and articles were summoning us.
Over breakfast we laid down the proposal to my father. From behind the newspaper and between spoonfuls of cornflakes, he firmly dismissed the idea of his taking us around the city in our shopping expedition. His patients and his hospital definitely appealed to him much more than our quest. However, as a consolation he agreed to send over the driver so that we may be chauffeured around town. My mother and I were pleased. A whole morning of adventure...Surely what could be better?
An hour and a half later, we were aboard our faithful vehicle and on way to our morning of adventure. Our first stop was to be the British Library. Locating it, in itself, was an exploit. As the car made its way through the crowded streets of Connaught Place, each turning seemed to be identical and we seemed to be in a maze of uncertain roadways. It wasn’t as if we’d never been to the library before, just that on the occasions that we had, the roads in concern had been negotiated by my father and we hadn’t worried about the numerous rights and lefts that were involved. The Delhi municipality with their boards of diversions and various blockages to make way for the metro too didn’t seem to help...
A dozen maneuvers later our driver managed to finally reach the destination of desire. As the library only involved work of a matter of few minutes we asked the driver to park by the roadside and wait for our return. On entering the main library building however, we were informed that the library was to remain closed for the day. Slightly disheartened we headed back towards the spot where we had left the car waiting.
The road was abuzz with commuters and their diverse means of transport... our particular car seemed to have disappeared.
The sight seemed to be the same, the hawkers still highly proclaiming their respective wares, street food vendors in their endeavours to entice the early morning commutators’ gastric juices. The phoenix red maruti that was OURS was missing from the scene. Initially slight signs of agitation quelled within us. “How could the driver leave the designated spot?”; “Where could he have gone and parked?”
Five minutes later the agitation vaporised and its place was taken by anxiety.
“Surely he couldn’t be taking such a long time to park?” As thoughts often have a habit of intermingling and interconnecting situations, mine seemed to delve upon the latest book that I had read-Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Surely the driver couldn’t have adopted a similar ploy and made away with the car? The more I thought about it the more my ideas seemed to concretise.
After all how much did we know about him? I had a vague idea of his supposed residence and he was related to a certain security guard. Besides that he was a stranger. He had been employed by us for a little over six months. And although his service had been impeccable; there had been instances of slack lately.
His taking leave for the past week, his turning up late on occasions (contrary to his regular behaviour), his plea for an advance in his payments on certain accounts of familial emergency. Surely all that couldn’t be a mere coincidence? My intellect had already conceived the ploy that the plotting cunning driver had set. He had kept all his resources handy. He would leave us at the library and speed back to our home, which he’d forcefully enter, loot and make away with the spoils, all this while we were blissfully within the realms of the library.
As time lapsed, similarities between the protagonist of the White Tiger and our driver passed through my conscious. Both hailed from villages on the Gangetic riverbed; both had scarce formal primary education; both were economically wanting and both harboured dreams of making it big someday. It then dawned to me, the apathy of the poverty stricken many of our nation.
The hunger and thirst which had vanquished morals and ethics. We lived in an age when “All was fair...” in every task. To hurt someone was no longer an ill and to satisfy self was the dominating mantra for sustenance...It now seemed certain to me-The driver had stolen the car.
Ten minutes passed, as beads of perspiration drenched us in a frantic frenzy, we discussed the plan of action suitable for us to proceed upon. Standing alone, mother and daughter in the chill windy pavement, the capital which earlier in the day seemed warm and friendly...the city we had set out to capture, suddenly seemed to be a gigantic haven of distrust, deception and dismay. We introspectively cursed ourselves for wanting to embark alone and unaided in the big bad world. Whom could we turn for help? Each passerby seemed enveloped in his own tribulations and trials. The world suddenly seemed to have a sense of gloom writ all around it. The adventure that the mother daughter duo had sought had morphed into a nightmare, quite unvisualised.
First step was to inform dad, I suggested. The next would probably be his informing a concerned law enforcing authority about the situation. But all that could wait. Amidst all the euphoria of leaving home and embarking on a shopping escapade, I had left my cell phone at home. So now, we were on the streets, with no transport and also no means of communication. We looked around for sight of an open tele booth and luckily there was one right at the corner of the road. We made our way towards it, seeking to inform my father of our plight.
It was then that the magic occurred. Amidst all the chaos of the passerby’s i could distinctly hear the sound of my car rearing up. As my eyes followed the directions of my ear i noticed the car parked at the bend of the road, with the driver waving at us in an attempt to indicate his positioning. The world around seemed to blank out and all i could see was my beloved car. We semi- ran through the crowd, praying for what we saw to indeed be true and not a mere mirage. Perhaps Bollywood harps on moments like these. These moments that we ridicule on screen actually occur in lives without the reel. The jubilation seemed to engulf all around and all seemed happy and normal again.
The driver offered his explanation of the police pestering him to park and we sought not to delve further into the issue. All the trust that had dissolved during the phase of his absence seemed to have resurrected at his appearance. The world was not so bad after all. India, despite its covering gloom of poverty and illiteracy still had a basic core of honour, duty and the quintessential Dharma, held above Artha (material well being). It was not surprising that the world today was being targeted by authors like Adiga who made protagonists of murderers and deceptors. Surely the true India is not so? Crimes exist where society breeds, however I await the time when the Man booker is bagged by a book which upholds Indian values and lives of the rich and poor in this culturally and economically plural nation.
Till then I shall cherish the thoughts of this particular winter morning as the day when I almost met the White Tiger......