So I would like to just start off by saying that I have only very recently started using public transportation (Shameful, I know) so my interactions and experiences with the autowalla’s are fairly limited to ‘Bhaiya ____ jane ka kitna loge?’ and the usual bargaining that ensues after they give you an absurdly high price (“Bhaiya GK jaane ka 100rs? hum toh roz 60 main jaate hain. Theek theek lagao ya meter se chalo”) And the way they either stay silent the whole ride or curse and mutter under their breath about how pathetic traffic is, so the following experience was quite a surprise.
I usually have to walk till the gate of my colony to flag down an auto so I set out 10 minutes earlier than I had to leave for class to do just that, as I usually do, when I found an auto passing my house and flagged it down thanking anything and everything that was up there. I asked how much he would take and the first thing he said to me was “Didi, hum meter se chalte hain” (I go by the meter) which anyone living in Delhi would understand, is not as common as it should be. I got on, expecting another mundane, boring ride and regretting not bringing my earphones along, when he said something that struck me at that moment as a bit funny.
“What road do you want to take?”
This isn’t a direct translation, these are his exact words, although a bit hard to decipher with his this accent.
“That’s not an answer beta, no road is a problem you must have a preference na? You must give one answer, no road is problem for me” He said with the amused lit one has when scolding a naughty child.
“__ road is good, bhaiya”
After which he proceeded to ask me what I was studying, what I was planning on studying (“US beta?”) and on telling him I was planning on studying in Canada, went “Toronto is quite big no? bigger than Delhi?” and went on to ask if I had family there and how mass media generates a lot of money these days. Thoroughly impressed at this point not just because of his English, but also his general knowledge, my curiosity got the best of me as it generally does.
“Your English and General Knowledge is quite good bhaiya..”
I was not prepared for what he said next, and I paraphrase a little:
“I read English newspapers every single day, beta. My community is quite illiterate, most of them haven’t been educated so they disapprove of anyone that tried to pursue a good education. They don’t support me, so I can’t call for the English newspapers to my house. My neighbor is a judge, so everyday at 6 when I get off work I change my clothes and go to his house to read his newspaper. My wife is not educated and is surrounded by women that just want to watch serials on TV, so there’s nothing I can do about her. It all depends on the ‘enbiorment’ (environment) na? But I put my children in school.” He replied, smiling to himself.
“The young baccha’s these days go to college and school but have no interest in it. So many times I try to speak to them in English and they say no, we are comfortable speaking Hindi only.” Cue exasperated head shake and tch tch sounds.
“I want to practice my English, its all about practice na?”
We spoke at length of what he could do to improve, how the youth can improve, corruption and things in general where he would thank me for correcting his dictation and pronunciation . It may not seem like a big deal, but I know those 15 minutes were important for his growth, and our development as a society starts with them. It starts with their growth and their ability to acknowledge and recognize just how important education and being an over all good citizen is.
That day I got off the auto with a new perspective and a renewed sense of hope, and he got off at 6 to head off to read the English newspaper with a few extra bucks and a little more practice.
“I want to be a rich man” He said, “and I’m taking the steps necessary to achieve that goal”.
And I have no doubt that you will, Angrezi Babu, I have no doubt that you will.