Just because he drives a cab, it doesn’t mean he can’t dream big
Today is the auspicious festival of Maha Shivarathri. After praying to Lord Shiva in the morning, I had to go out to meet a friend. As usual, I booked a cab.
Did you celebrate the festival?
Got into the cab, and the cabbie asked me how the festival was. I told him I had finished praying. He asked me if I was fasting. On Shivarathri day, one is supposed to fast through the day and night, and break the fast only the next morning. One is also supposed to stay awake through the night.
I told him I don’t follow all that. I just pray in the morning and that’s that. He seemed a little sad. I asked him if he celebrates too.
He perked up a bit, and told me about how it is such an elaborate affair in his hometown of Mandya. Was he going home for the festival then? He said he wasn’t, and seemed really sad about that.
On further prodding, he said that he would have to go again in 2 weeks. He couldn’t afford to take off from work so often.
What was going to happen in two weeks I asked. He had been waiting for the question, almost bursting to tell me.
He said every year, exactly two weeks after Shivarathri, they have a festival for the local God in Mandya. This is a huge celebration, and the whole town participates.
As a run-up to the festival, for two weeks, no one in the town is allowed to use any oil in their cooking. I asked him why. He said he wasn’t sure, but if someone did break the tradition, bad things happened to them.
He was quiet for a bit. Then he produced an explanation. He said it must have been a ruse by folks from the olden days to ensure that people followed a cleansing diet. Not using oil for two weeks probably promoted their health and reduced cholesterol. He said all this himself. Seemed like a well-informed guy capable of independent thought. I was impressed.
Apparently, it was only the beginning of my “being impressed” with him.
We don’t get paid daily. Only weekly
The cabbie was still excited about today being Shivarathri. I asked him if he was fasting too. He said no. But went on to tell me that he ends up fasting almost every day because most commuters pay via PayTM or credit card instead of cash. The cab aggregator pays them their share weekly. So he is left with hardly any cash to buy food on an average day.
But he was a fellow who looked at things positively. He quickly added that it was just as well that he was paid weekly. If he were paid daily, he’d probably squander all the money. Weekly payments ensured that at least some of the money was saved.
I nodded sympathetically. I wasn’t sure what I could do because my payment for the trip was already set to PayTM. No way I could pay him cash.
Driving a cab is a temporary thing
We drove along for a bit in companionable silence. Then he softly said that he was actually a BBM (Bachelor of Business Management) graduate.
I must have looked foolish in his rearview mirror with my mouth hanging open. Or maybe he thought I was hard of hearing. He repeated himself slowly again. BBM. With 81%. He could have knocked me down with a sparrow’s feather.
How biased we are. Because he was a cab driver, I assumed he had probably not completed schooling, let alone have a graduate degree. The fact that he had a degree was mind-blowing, and gave me perspective.
The next obvious question was why he was driving a cab if he was a graduate. He had a story to tell. Apparently he was gainfully employed at a large IT company. But with the rent, cafeteria food, and other expenses, he was not able to save much.
So he decided to take up cab driving with a large cab service as a way to save some money quickly.
But…but…why the pressure
Again, he had an explanation. His parents had brought up his siblings and him without a care in the world. They were not short on any basic necessity in life. And they were given a good education.
And now the parents have taken on some loans to build a house for themselves. The loan sharks were after them.
It is payback time for this responsible son. If he doesn’t take care of them now, what good is he as a son, he reasoned with me. I agreed heartily.
In order to help them pay back the loan soon, he was working extra long hours as a cabbie and saving money. In fact, he told me that he starts driving very early in the morning and goes on till late in the night. This way, he can handle a few extra trips compared to the average cabbie.
I was really touched by his affection for his parents and his determination to help them at such personal cost.
What about his degree and a fancy job
I had all these questions in my head. He was clearly happy to answer all of my questions. I think he was looking for someone who would understand what he was trying to do, and why, without judging him.
He had it all figured out. He is going to drive the cab for a few months, help settle his parents’ loan, and get back to his IT job. A couple of years later, he wants to pursue an MBA so as to achieve greater success in life. I think he mentioned which college he wants to go to as well. I can’t seem to remember.
His clarity of thought and knowledge, in spite of his humble upbringing, was indeed an eye-opener for me. I told myself not to judge a book by its cover.
Fear of being judged
He was doing the right thing. He was working hard. He was earning an honest income.
And yet, he was unable to mention any of this to his parents or close friends. Why?
Nobody would understand why a graduate has to be a cab driver. Nobody will give him the respect and dignity required in spite of the fact that he was earning an honest living.
He made the mistake of telling a couple of ‘friends’ and saw how they suddenly changed their attitude towards him. He cannot risk letting others know. He doesn’t want his parents to hang their heads in shame.
Strange are the ways of the world
Here is a man who is willing to sacrifice the comfort of a cushy IT job to pay off his parents’ loans. He is willing to work long and gruelling hours without food to save up enough. He is willing to put his dreams on the back burner to fulfil his duties as a good son.
None of this matters to the world. The only thing that matters is that they get a chance to ‘judge’ him for doing a job that is ‘seemingly’ lowly in their eyes.
Shiva to the rescue
I was truly moved by his story and how he narrated it to me in such a matter of fact way. I enjoyed the way he talked about his graduate degree with such pride, and how he outlined his dreams and future plans.
I tried to tip him when the trip ended. But he refused. Finally, I had to invoke Lord Shiva. I told him that since it was a festival day, I‘d like to buy him lunch. He accepted the tip.
He drove off. But I continue to think about him and his story and wish him the very best. He deserves no less!