The taxi glided to a stop beside me as if by magic, just when I was about to hail it. I got into it smugly, having decided to skip the wait for the bus that once on seeing the evening crowd. I did notice that the cabbie looked a bit unsure, but decided to ignore it – my money was as good as anybody else’s, I told myself, though it wasn’t going to be much – considering the distance. It was after I shut the door and sat back that I saw a young man bending his head to the cab window, gesturing ‘how could you do this to me’ with his right hand while holding his phone to his ear with his left. The cabbie was still stalling.
Then it struck me that the reason the cab had stopped before I had even hailed it properly had been the young man, not me. Guiltily I rolled the window down, and ready to get off if he insisted, I apologized. He mellowed and asked where I was going. “Al Nahda 2,” I replied. “I’m going to Al Nahda 1, but can I come along till the signal? I’ll walk from there,” he asked, a thorough gentleman. That was the least I could do, considering. All the while he was deep in conversation with someone at the other end. Talk about multi-tasking! Somewhere at the back of my mind was the doubt that sharing a cab was against the RTA rules, but I was feeling guilty enough to flout the law, if there was one.
He got in, and in the next few minutes while we were waiting for the traffic to move, I understood that it was either a girlfriend or a potential wife at the other end, and he was trying hard to convince her of something. I guess by the time the traffic started moving, he had convinced her, for he took the phone away from his ear and put it away.
He half-turned his head towards me, and in a reconciliatory tone, asked, “So you live in Al Nahda?”
“Yes, near Dubai Carmel School,” I answered obligingly.
“You’re from India?” Of course I was.
“I’m also from India,” he said, “from Mumbai.”
“Good!” As always, I looked at anybody from Bombay with benevolent eyes.
“And you? Which part of India are you from?”
“Kerala,” I answered, expecting the inevitable.
He turned completely around in his seat, to face me. “But you don’t -”
“I know,” I interrupted resignedly. I have lost count of the thousands of times I had heard this statement over the past more than two decades, ever since I had boarded the Kanyakumari Express to Bombay from Palakkad Junction in 1989.
There are two things that I have come to terms with, about myself.
One – the One above has made me from a very basic mould, which he has since used on at least a hundred-and-ninety-eight other people. Almost every other person I come across knows somebody who looks just like me, “face, smile, shape, everything!”
Two – just as I have the most Indian face around, I have the most non-Malayali-looking one as well. My poor face would never launch a thousand ships, but it’s invariably a good conversation starter/stopper.
Back to the cab. The young man’s face showed disbelief, but the information considerably lightened the cabbie’s mood – he was obviously a Malayali, and seemed happy to know that his prodigal customer was a compatriot. We started a conversation to beat the traffic blues, and I asked the young man where he lived, and whether he lived alone there.
“No, with my family, unfortunately,” he answered, the ‘unfortunately’ was loaded.
“Why unfortunately? It’s good to live with the family, right? So many people live here alone.” The cabbie nodded vigorously. He knows the ‘alone’ bit all too well, I guess.
“No, ma’am. My father doesn’t allow me to do anything by myself. He cooks, does housework – everything, before he goes to work.”
I marveled at his luck. “So why do you complain? You’re blessed!”
“Yes, but I would like to experience life on my own. My father had come here even before he was my age, and he had done everything by himself. But he wouldn’t allow me to do that!” His tone was aggrieved.
“Which is precisely why he tries to protect you… He must have known so many hardships – he wants to shield you from all that.” The cabbie nodded again, completely in agreement.
“But I want to be independent! I want to do things, I want to show him what I’m capable of!”
I could hear the desperate need in him to prove himself – maybe the recently culminated conversation with his girlfriend/potential wife had something to do with it.
But it was my bounden duty to speak for all the parents in the world.
“Well, you could try pitching in at home, taking up responsibilities from your father…That would convince him. He means well, you know. All parents do.” I sounded lame to myself. Fortunately for the young man, the cab reached the signal and he hurried out of the cab, putting as much distance from my impending lecture as he could. We waved and parted.
Going ahead, I thought about my own sons, especially my elder one who is twenty now. He is in India, and it takes all I have to stop myself from constantly worrying about him. The EtisaIat bills ensure that I don’t call him more than once a day, but when he is here, I do tend to try his independent spirit a little too much at times.
But then, I too mean well, you know.