Mathan (Madan) oru Kathai...means Madan is a story. In fact I should say, Mathan has a story and Mathan’s life is also a story. Perhaps, everyone has a story and the way it is told makes each life interesting. Some people do not have a story. They die like a story untold. When I sit at the Chennai Airport, I remember Mathan, who has just dropped me and my family here. I have written about this pleasant young man with a disarming style. Mathan drives his family car with a taxi permit. He does it unlike other taxi drivers. He does it unlike other taxi drivers because he has seen the world. He drives a taxi to keep himself occupied, to earn a little, but above all to enjoy himself. Mathan waits for me at the Water Tank bus stop, a fifteen minutes away from Cholamandalam. We had arranged it in that way.
“When you cross Mahabalipuram, give me a call,” Mathan had told me when he dropped me and my family at the Thiruvanmayoor bus stop a few days back. Then we were on our way to Pondicherry. Today we were coming from there. The most important thing was that when I took out my wallet to pay him, Mathan had told me to pay him when we came back to Chennai to go back to Delhi. He had become our friend in that few hours that we had spent together. He behaved as if he were a younger brother who had come to drop his elder brother and family at the bus stop.
(Mathan and Me)
Mathan walks towards the bus with a smile and takes the suitcase from me. He holds my mischievous daughter’s hands and carefully takes her to the car. Maitreya hauls his bag as if he had taken a vow. He drags with so much of disinterestedness that I feel the wheels of the bag are up in the air. Finally we are all in the car. And Mathan asks whether the trip was good. He says that we could have taken him along. I really feel that we should have taken along. I promise him that I would be in touch and whoever comes to Chennai from my side would be contacting Mathan for local hospitality and conveyance. He is happy but humble. With a smile he accepts the offer. For some time we listen to the FM Radio songs. All 1980s Tamil songs. We move our heads together and lip to the lyrics. Outside it is quite hot. But the air conditioned interior gives us some comfort. I tell him that I remember the songs and the scenes. He is very happy.
Delhi is cold. Chennai is hot. I look at my dark skin. After sometime it will become white, I smile to myself. Not all the produce of Fair and Lovely Company for year would not make me white. But in Chennai you can be very black or very yellow. If you are really black in complexion you can add to the hue by adding a little bit of turmeric paste. Then you will look like a black person seen through yellow cellophane. Myself and Mathan are dark in complexion. We don’t use fair and lovely. But market surveys say that it is in Chennai the maximum numberof people use Fair and Lovely as well as Fair and Handsome. Most of the men here are handsome. Mathan too is handsome. I remember Rajnikanth turning himself into a white man in Shivaji the Boss. Vivek in the same film says that in Tamil Nadu you cannot criticize black complexion. Fair heroines sing that black complexion is the best complexion in the world. Delhi’s cold would not turn me white. But it would definitely make me pale.
(Mrinal and me at Chennai Airport)
I tell him how we would change into layers of clothes when we reach Delhi. Mathan informs me that Delhi is very cold. The other day he was watching a One Day cricket match in television. At two o clock in the afternoon it looked like night. And most of the people were wearing jackets and even gloves, he tells me. I could feel the Delhi cold in Chennai’s weather.
Mathan is 1981 born. I do not ask him his year of birth. But I do ask him for his email id. He tells me. And there is mention of the year in his email id. I smile at him. Your birth year, I quiz him. Yes, he tells me. I have saved myself from the embarrassment of asking his age. Mathan belongs to a fisherman’s family. His father goes fishing even now. He has two brothers; an elder and a younger one. They are all educated. Mathan is a diploma holder in Mechanics. He worked three years in Singapore in a ship company as a mechanic. He earned well and came back. I came back to get married, he tells me with a cute smile in his eyes. I got married and now I have four years old daughter, he says. After marriage and daughter’s arrival Mathan did not go back to Singapore.
(at Chennai Airport)
What do you do Mathan when you are not driving the car? I ask him. He smiles. I have a shrimp farm, he says. I am surprised because I know someone who has done shrimp farming and spent a few years in Thailand. He had travelled along Pondicherry to survey the shrimp farms with his friend. He had told me about the shrimp farming. This needed a lot of land and lot of water, and a lot of patience. Yes, it needs patience and it is a six months job in a year, Mathan explains. He has four acres of farm. He spends a few hours every day at farm, feeding and cleaning. By noon I am free, Mathan tells me. And I drive car in the afternoons mostly. I like to go with people once in a while. It is a time pass as well as a means to some earning.
Is Mathan happy about his life? I do not dare to ask this question because I feel that he is really happy about his life. I had noticed him listening to cricket commentary on FM Radio on the first day. He likes to listen to music and especially that music of 1980s which was dominated by the folk melodies created by Ilayaraja. Thrity two years old Mathan has a taste similar to mine when it comes to Tamil film music. Mathan is happy because he is happy to have his family, his car, his shrimp business, his love for music and cricket. He dresses well and behaves well, and drives his car carefully. He could have charged me a bomb as he came to drop, pick me up and drop again at the airport. He does not do it. He smiles. I pay him and he takes it without a word of complaint and with a lot of smile. First time I feel like hugging a person. But I don’t do because I don’t hug people generally.
(Mrinal and kids)
Human beings are such animals who could tell stories. Mathan did not reveal so much about his life. But I have gathered something his life. And my recounting of it is real for me and through that I realize the presence of a friend and a brother. I remember him saying, Sir, my shrimps have never failed me. Once it happened. When it happens it is great loss. But when it is a great harvest, it is all profit, he is full of optimism. Such optimistic people are rare in tourism industry. Everyone tries to make a quick buck here. Mathan stands out because he is here to know people and learn from them. His way of communion is being friendly and serving with a smile. Such people are rare in today’s world. Mathan is a rare example. And he shines like a gem when I know that after a few hours I am going to face a different tribe of taxi drivers in Delhi.