“Wait here, I will tell you which vehicle you need to take,” a marigold garland seller tells me. It is an early morning and I am at cross road. I am supposed to reach my son’s school for the PTM (Parents Teacher Meeting). The road that leads to Suraj Kund and then further up to Aravali Hills bordering Delhi and Haryana is frequented more by private cars and trucks that transport boulders and building materials. Public conveyance is near to nil. I see women going somewhere to work asking for a lift to the truck drivers. The trucks look ominous and the drivers and helpers look like nether world creatures. Sleepless, work worn, dishevelled and dirty they pick up passengers from the wayside to earn some extra bucks. Delhi is the rape capital of the country and crime rate here is too high. Still, goaded by the pressures of survival women risk their dignity and security by asking for lift in these vehicles. The marigold garland seller chases the same trucks for selling the flowers. He does brisk business. In India, however unwashed they are, the vehicle drivers believe in gods and buying a garland is mandatory. It assures the god that they are paying their due respect. God, if such a power exists, is the only saviour these rickety vehicles that ply often at nights overloaded with materials and even contraband.
The school is around six kilometres away from where I stand. Things have changed for me for a month by now. I travel often by public transports which I used to dread but now I find it easier and more humane. My pockets have never been picked, yet I am over conscious about it. I take care of my pocket even when I am absolutely lost in thoughts. Picking pocket in Delhi’s buses and trains is an outcome of the imbalance seen in the society. Economic liberalization has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. While the rich make more money at each passing moment the poor struggle to meet the ends meet. Picking pocket and other petty crimes are the art that the dodgers have developed to survive in a ruthless big city. But I cannot let my pockets open for them to be picked out of a sheer sense of generosity and human love. But today I am ready to travel even by a truck or a packed vehicle because I have to reach the school by seven thirty in the morning.
A car pulls up and I walk up to the driver and ask for a lift. He is willing to take me for ten rupees. But he needed more passengers. Some at the wayside are ready for the ride but they haggle with him for a lesser rate. He is adamant. I look at the faces of the people. Many of them seem to have spent the night there itself. Their clothes are dirty and sleep still hangs over their eyes. Soon the car is packed and the driver is happy. He is going to make eighty rupees extra today. This is how many drivers make some extra money even if they are the drivers of private vehicles. Given a chance, they pick up people from the wayside and make some money. They do not feel remorse because they know that they also need to survive. At the face of survival ethics often does not work. I get down at the gate of the school. Other parents and kids are already there. Many of them are just getting out of their cars. Happy families come in different kinds of cars. The security man stops me at the gate. He has seen me coming out of a ‘shared’ car. He asks me where I was going. He too believes in hierarchy. For him the parent/s of a student in that school cannot come for the PTM by a shared vehicle. They should come in their own cars. His suspicion is genuine because he measures me up with his own devices. Recently I went to a shop to buy rice. I was wearing a saffron kurta. The shop owner patronizingly asked me, “What do you want, Baba?” He took me for a mendicant. I did not judge him because had measured me up with the devices of experience he had.
After the PTM, I come out of the school wondering how I would travel back the same six kilometres with no ‘shared’ vehicles seen on the road. The complexion of the traffic has changed. Now the road has more private cars with single occupancy. Women and men drive the cars and most of them are on phones. I wait there for a few minutes hoping that a driver-survivor would appear before me from nowhere. Finally, I decide to walk back. After a few yards, a red Indigo Sedan pulls up by the road. I move further to the side to give space to that car, not out of modesty but out of fear for my life. I look at the car. The man who drives the car looks like a senior executive. White full sleeved shirt and a dignified look. He gestures me from the car as I go near. “Where are you going?” he asks. “I want to go to the main road,” I answer. “Get in,” he says. I get in the car. He obviously is a gentleman in his late fifties. I keep his briefcase on my lap and sit at the front seat. “I think you are not from this area,” he says while driving. “I belong to Kerala but I have been in Delhi for the last 20 years,” I tell him. He looks at me. “What do you do?” he asks. I do not want to tell him that I am an art critic or a curator which, from my experience I have learnt, would bring more questions. So I took the easy route. “I am a journalist,” I say. “I thought so. When I saw you walking I thought you are either a journalist or a professor. And I knew that you ‘happen’ to be here with no conveyance,” he says. He has measured me up with his own devices.
Out of courtesy I ask him what he does. He says that he is an IIT Bombay educated Engineer. He has his own office. This gives me a little confidence to tell him a bit more truth about myself. I tell him that I too am on my own. I used to work with newspapers but I now I spend more time in reading and writing. He is enthused. He insists where I want to be dropped. I tell him not to bother and wherever he wants to go drop me there and I would find a way out. He tells me that he would drop me at Mathura Road. It is the main road that connects Delhi and Haryana that as the name suggests goes to Mathura and then Agra. He drives slowly, perhaps ten kilometres per hour. I realise that he wants to talk. “You should have written some book on the current political developments,” he says. Such books get read a lot these days, he adds. “Yes, I have recently written one book on Arvind Kejriwal,” I tell him. He slows the car further down. “What is your take on him?” he probes. “In the book I treated his political career so far and the situations that brought a person like him out in our political scenario,” I tell him. “Now, what do you think about him?” he asks. I hesitate because I know that is a sort of trap. If he happens to be a Modi supporter he will lecture me down. If he happens to be an Kejriwal supporter he will come up with more stories about him which I have missed out in my book on him and eventually it would make me small in front of this person.
“See, as an IIT-ian I too was a staunch supporter of Kejriwal. But he turned out to be a disaster. He is a Haryana bania. He knows his business. Now he is doing his political business,” he says. I listen. He comes up with his direct and indirect experiences with Kejriwal. He is a disappointed man as he feels that Kejriwal has ditched people like him. “See, if he loses this election, he will not get time to sit for a moment. Hundreds of cases have been already on him and he will spend his rest of his life running between courts. Other politicians will make it happen,” he asserts. I do not ask him which political outfit that he supports now. The car after fifteen minutes (a stretch that could have been covered in seven to eight minutes in normal speed) reaches Mathura Road. He stops the car at the red light. Though he had asked my name the moment I got into the car, I had not done the same. Now before I get down I ask his name. He tells, J.S.Chaoudhary. I ask him whether he is facebook. He says yes, but adds that he is very ‘rare’ out there. I once again thank him and go to my way and he to his.
I do not know how to explain it. I obviously do not want to deem it as a miracle. It could be a chance. A person in a car sees me walking, stops it for me and invites me in. He knows for sure that the particular stretch of the road does not have public conveyance. So he was just showing his humanity. And from my looks- long hair, salt and pepper beard and moustache, gamti walah shirt, black jeans and leather sandals- he might have taken me for someone educated and belongs to the tribe that thought like him. But whatever it is, his is an act of goodness. In a city where people suspect each other and even kill each other for parking spaces these acts of kindness are rare and valuable like a very precious gem. Then, as usual I ask myself whether I deserve such kind of goodness from other people. Then I think that may be some past deeds of mine (in this life only) may be paying me back through this. I remember one incident suddenly.
I was driving back from Old Faridabad with my son. On the way, I saw an old woman standing at the way side. For a moment I looked into her eyes and realized that she needed help. I pulled the car over to the side and walked up to her, and asked whether she needed help. She said yes. She wanted to go to Badarpur Border (Delhi-Haryana border at south east). I asked her to get in the car. In the car, she told me that she was living in North Delhi and every weekend she went to Old Faridabad to attend some religious congregation. She was profusely thanking me for the help. I just smiled. I drove half a kilometre further from where I had to take a turn towards home, to drop her at the border. She came out of the car, folded her hands at me and said, “God, in whose form, have you come before me?” I was embarrassed but she was not. In fact, she was not seeing me in me but her deity who apparently had manifested before her in the form of JohnyML in his car. I told her how to get the bus or metro and drove back to home. May be that incident was paying back to me. Who knows?
But I do not completely believe in that. If you do good you receive good. Yes, that is a scientific thing. The good deeds that you do are a physical force. Once exerted, they are bound to come back to you in another from. It is an energy that cannot be created or destroyed. It exists. So it is bound to come back to you. But what about those people who despite of their good deeds suffer in living hells? Why people, despite their good deeds do not get justice. Why the rick with all their avarice and all other deadly sins get away with their atrocities? So if someone tells me that the deeds of your past life bring you suffering or flourishing in this life, I am not ready to take it. Past life cannot determine the quality of the present life; that would be a cruel justification for poverty, deprivation and disease. What I could say is this much; keep doing good things, as they are the forms of energy its repercussions are bound to come back but always not in the expected forms. People will measure you up, the way you do it to them, but it all depends on the kind of benchmark you have created for yourself. The security man’s understanding about the world is black and white. For him, poor people travel by shared vehicles and the rich come by their cars. The poor should not be let in a big school. If you have long hair and beard, and you are wearing a kurta, the shop keeper will call you baba or the metro security man will frisk you a bit a extra. They have their pre-fixed ideas about life and people. The man in the car who gave me lift had a different benchmark about the people. I am not judging, who is better and who is worse. But goodness is your benchmark; the readiness to see the pain in other’s eyes and help.
PS: A pious man was abused by a rogue opponent. The latter called him all sort of filthy things. But the pious man retorted with most pious words. A witness to the fight wondered at the pious man, “Look man, he called you shit eater and dirt eater, you call him but sweet eater and fruit eater. Why so?” The pious man told the witness, “He abused me with the things that he eats and I abused him with the things that I eat.”