I am reproducing a short story I had written a few years ago and circulated to some friends over email. Those were not the days of blogging!
"What do you think? Will he do?" Ravi asked me.
"Yeah. I suppose so." I said
"But, he is quite rude!"
"Who isn’t these days?" Ravi asked.
"He is good at his work. He drives safely and is always on time."
"Ok." I said "No harm in trying him in any case.
I have asked him to start tomorrow."
I had been looking around for a driver at a reasonable rate after sadly coming to the conclusion that driving in Bombay was just not my cup of tea. An incident the previous week led to this decision. I slowed at a traffic signal as I saw the light switch to red. I felt a sudden harsh jolt. I turned back angrily and saw that another car had banged into mine.
In a trice the other driver reversed his car, pulled up beside me and yelled:
"Why do people like you drive? Did you inform people at home you would not be returning?" he snarled.
Stunned, I tried to gather my wits. Suddenly I realized the other driver had already sped away. The injustice of it struck me and a rage worked up in me. God, somebody bangs into me from the rear when the light is red and still proceeds to dump the blame on me. What is the world getting to ?! The realization slowly set in, that I would not find driving fun at all in this situation. I did not feel like getting behind the wheel after this.
My friend Ravi had sent a prospective driver around to me.
His name was Mohan and he apparently lived in some dwellings across the street almost opposite to where I stayed.
After informing him of my working hours, I asked him
"How much would you expect?"
"6000" he said immediately. I tried to bargain with him but he would not be swayed.
"It will have to be at 6000 or you can find someone else" he snapped.
"Ok" I sighed.
The next day, I stepped out of my house promptly at 7:30am. I saw with satisfaction that Mohan was already there standing beside the car. That was a good sign. I liked people who kept good time. On all subsequent days too, he gave me no cause for complaint. He was very particular about being on time and was always neatly dressed. He however continued to maintain a stone-faced countenance and was always gruff bordering on rudeness.
There were few occasions on which I did see flickers of some emotion. When we passed a college once I asked him suddenly "Have you been to college?"
"No" he replied.
"Did you pass 12th?" I asked next.
"I scored over 70%" he said quietly.
Surprised, I asked him "Then why didn’t you go to college?"
"Who had the money?" he snapped.
At this time it was becoming apparent to me that people like Mohan used rudeness as a shield or rather a weapon against what they perceived was life's unfairness.
A few weeks later I stepped out to find surprisingly that Mohan was not yet there. I paced up and down, quite irritated when it was 15 mins past my usual time. I suddenly saw him hurrying towards me.
When he reached me, I said with my irritation showing "You are late."
"Yes" he replied getting behind the wheel, offering nothing further.
I was irritated at not receiving any explanation for his coming late. Recalling that he had never been late since he started work, I was also a little curious. I decided to find out.
"Had a late night drinking?" I sneered.
He turned towards me angrily "My daughter was ill."
"How is she now? You could have called to say you were not coming." I said softly.
He seemed a little surprised by the change in my tone.
"Its Ok. She will be alright." he said shortly.
While returning from work two days later, he said suddenly "Can I have 300 Rs.?"
I remembered his mentioning his daughter's illness two days back and asked him "For your daughter's medical treatment?"
"Yes." he replied.
I counted out 300 Rs and handed it to him. He looked a little troubled and handled the money thoughtfully. "I may need only 200 Rs." he said handing back 100 Rs to me.
"I see." I said receiving the money, understanding dawning on me that he had probably expected me to give him a lesser amount than what he had asked for.
"Actually..." he began hesitantly.
"Yes?" I said.
He continued slowly "My daughter still has fever. I am thinking of taking her to a better doctor."
I said, "There is a good doctor in the next building. I know him well. Bring your daughter and we will go."
"No, that's Ok." he said hurriedly.
"I am waiting at the entrance of the next building. Bring your daughter." I said starting to move towards the next building.
Seeing me make my move, he walked hurriedly across the street and was back with his two-year-old daughter in minutes. The doctor completed his diagnosis and mentioned she had contracted a virus but that it was nothing to worry about. He handed out a packet with a few tablets saying the fever should subside by the next day.
As we walked out Mohan still appeared pensive and troubled. To reassure him, I said, "You heard the doctor. Your daughter will be fine soon."
He turned to me and said gruffly "It is not that. You don't understand" and then added "Kindness can be difficult to take if you are not used to it or expecting it". For me, it was one turn I got right.