|When I travel on business, it is my usual practice to talk to the taxiand auto drivers who take me from the airport and railway stations to my hotel or any other destination. Taxi and auto drivers are often illiterates and high school dropouts with interesting personal histories and unusual thinking and cultural backgrounds. I ask them how long they’ve been in in this profession, how they came to that city to live in,and what they like best about where they live. About politics,traffic,family and in rare cases their income, when I am convinced that they are comfortable with me. Even if I do not get the time to ask any other questions, I always ask them about their children and about their education. Of course, I also ask them for advice on good local restaurants and any special attractions they’d recommend to a visitor. I’ve had some great experiences on my travels, thanks to the advice of taxi and auto drivers!I remember,once an auto driver recommended a pani puri vendor and we travelled five kilometres to reach there to taste it. The taste and flavour of that Pani puri is still in my taste buds. These small pleasures I generally miss, as my status won’t allow me to stand and taste a Pani puri with a local vendor in the city I live.On one of the trips about a year ago, I was making conversation with the taxi driver, asking him my usual questions about how he came to live where he lived.His name was Saravanan and it was in Chennai. I went there to the US consulate for my US visa to go to the University of California.During the conversation in Tamil, he got a call in his mobile phonewhich made me realise that he speaks broken English and also not ashamed about his broken English. He was confidently communicating and I could overhear the person on the other side speaking in English which this driver can understand. After completing the conversation, he casually told me that the person on the other side was a professor of IIT.Then I asked Saravanan my usual question about his children and their education. To my surprise, his elder son is doing his B Tech in IIT and daughter is studying in Stella Mary’s college.’Both studies well with God’s grace” he added.
Reluctantly, I asked him how his children and their friends feel with his broken English and low education level. He laughed and I could hear the vibrations of confidence even in his laughter.
He replied. ” My son washes my taxi every day, without any compulsions and it is the right of my daughter to clean the inside of my car daily. I think, they are proud about this old man who could not go beyond tenth standard”
He continued after looking at my eyes and acknowledging my curiosity “They know very well that it is because of this taxi, they could come to this level”.
“It is because of you and not because of your taxi” I encouraged him to talk and he continued
”Me and the IIT professor, just called me on the phone were classmates in the village school in Thiruvannamala and I have scored more marks than him in tenth.
Without any feeling of regret,he continued “I had to stop my studies to work and support the family whereas he, hailing from a wealthy family continued his studies and even got the engineering admission by paying donation. “Those times, it was not like today and was very difficult to get admissions for engineering” He justified his friend suddenly and continued.
“He loves me like his brother and talks to me in English and also adjusts to my butler English . It is also because of his support, I am able to speak in English to my customers.
“He advises my children telling our past and encourage them to study well”
“He became a professor and you a driver” I said with a smile and Saravanan continued responding to that smile
” But now, our children are classmates in IIT doing the same course in the same class”.
After a pause, he said “I think, I made up the speed I lost in between like Chennai mail and for that, the person more happier than me is him. He is a nice gentleman”
I was spellbound and could not talk further. I was thinking about where Saravanan could have reached if he could have continued his education. Of course, in a better position than the professor.
I have seen some people giving undue respect to the ones who speak English with a good accent. The same people are having no problem when a Japanese or a Chinese speak english in their own accent.
I have even observed people laughing at people when they make small mistakes and speak in an accent influenced by the tone of their mother tongue. In the process of laughing, their heads go down, but they just can’t make the confident Saravanans heads going down.
I felt humbled and saluted him inside. He had reminded me of something I already knew, but had forgotten. If you can’t find happiness inside yourself on what you are doing, you’ll never find it in the outside world, no matter where you move.
I am grateful for the wisdom of that taxi driver. And I’m grateful for all the wisdom others have shared during my travel in India and abroad