He was asked to report at 3, but he came at 4.20. Upon enquiry, he said he mistook my name for a Mr Solanki! He sounded apologetic over phone, but I was miffed.
He couldn’t have chosen a worse waiting spot, for I had to go ankle deep in puddle to reach his car. I was ready to give him a piece of my mind when he turned to me. Instinctively, I smiled. And decided to like him.
He reminded me of my grandmother (all old people do). Only, he’d be a decade younger than her. Aaji is 94. Let’s call him Oliver, a kind of portmanteau for Old Driver. In his prim blue suit and cap, dear Oliver looked rather cute. His driving, though, was a complete disaster. He held the steering with unsure, fidgety hands, peering ahead with blinking eyes. The machine, least to say, was as old as the man himself. Every part of the Santro shuddered; it had the talent of sputtering to a total halt in most difficult traffic situation. Every time that happened, dear Oliver took a good one minute to restart the contraption, after several nervous attempts of igniting it on petrol and switching over to CNG. Angry passers-by swore at him and gave me shame-on-you looks for employing an octogenarian.
When the vehicle did move, dear Oliver drove without a care in the world, at 40 km per hour, even when the road ahead was smooth as makkhan. I had to constantly check my urge to trade seats with him. The car gave the word ‘rickety’ a new dimension. Seasoned drivers would flinch from touching it, but dear Oliver? He under and over geared the vehicle to wheezing and tectonic proportions respectively. Worse still, a hopeless sleeper like me had to force my eyes open, because I feared he would doze off seconds after I did.
A zany journey it was. Even though my heart was in my mouth all the time, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Skin like parchment paper, clouded eyes, obsequious loquacity and apologetic mannerism…I kept comparing his image to my aaji’s.
What was it that I felt for him? That I feel for all old people? For my aaji? It’s a feeling between pity and kindness, and a cry for that part of humanity that leaves behind their old.
|Aaji, my granny|
While signing him off, he asked if I needed the car the next day. I nodded. Everything given, I really did (him, not the car, I wanted to add). He took the slip, gave me a sunny smile and a short salaam. ‘Meherbaani’, he said in parting.