Auto Chat

I seldom travel by autos, preferring the cycle – and when out of town, public transport. The other day I landed up at Delhi airport and awaited my usual bus to Darya Ganj, for my second hand book shopping. When it did not turn up for half an hour, I checked out the autos – one said 300, the second 230. Did some green bargaining – will give you a 100, and get you one more passenger for 50 – and take as many more passengers along the way as you want. Deal was done. We picked up two more passengers on the way (after dropping the co-passenger from the airport).

After the two had also alighted at the Delhi railway station, our auto driver friend started chatting. In India, the male’s sole identity is his profession. So the inevitable first question directed at me was – ‘Kaa karte hon, Babu?’. On learning that I was a teacher, he immediately wanted some mufta ka advice on the Indian male’s biggest concern – his son(s). I insisted that we first discuss his daughters, interestingly he had 3 of them. All of them staying back in Motihari, Bihar. The son had been transported to Delhi – as the mother found it difficult to handle the adolescent genes which set in when he got into grade 9.

At this very preliminary stage of chatting, we reached our destination, and I went off to my book browsing. 15 minutes later, with the first three books added to my kitty, I was accosted once again by my friend. ‘Babu, my son is not good in English, what books should I buy for him?’ My stock reply to such questions is don’t bother with reading, switch over to listening. ‘Ghar pe TV pe English walla channel dekhe ko bolo.’ He confessed, to my great pleasure, that he does not have a TV at home. Not that he could not afford it, but because he was afraid about the effect it may have on his son. You see, he came home drunk one day. And Khaini, he is addicted to that..

So we moved on to the son’s future. Ek cheez pukka Babu, he is not going to become a rickshaw driver. ‘Many years ago I had overcharged a customer – asked him for Rs. 70, when the meter showed only 50. Got slapped by that customer. That’s the day I started spending on my kids’ education. You know, all my daughters also go to English medium schools. What happened to me, should not happen to my kids..

Philosophizing about this, I braced myself for the next question – which was ‘Babu, 10th ke baad kya?’, I surprised him by recommending that he get a job immediately as soon as he finishes school. If he likes the job, then educate him in that field. If he doesn’t, find him another job. ‘Babu, son’s not too great at studies. But he is very interested in computers – poora din mobile pe rehta hain….’ Three hours later I was recounting this incident to Alok Dugar, a friend from IIM C, as we sat in yet another auto taking us to Old Delhi railway station from Darya Ganj. The new auto-driver joined the chat: ‘Phone pe kya karta hoga? Facebook, Whatsapp? Uske Baap ko kya maloom hain?’

Suitably impressed with our new friend, we asked him for how long he has been driving autos. 8 years. Before that I was a mechanic. This is my last year of driving. My kids have been after me to stop. My daughter is a teacher. The son works with British Airways!