Every now and then I prefer taking an auto to work – just so that I get to preserve my peace of mind for the day and let someone else handle the stress of getting me to and fro between work and home! The cherry on the cake for this one day in particular was rains! Imagine – you get to relax and eat your khakhra (yes, I am a Gujju!), watch the traffic around, take a stock of the new shops and showrooms that have sprung up on the way, and just be for a while!

The moment I settled into the auto, the driver reminded of how reasonable his quoted fare was (aah, the arbitrariness of meter-less transport!). I had to agree though, quite genuinely. I smiled and told him how he had saved me of the mindless haggle that I was expecting to go through just go get back home in the rains. This seemed to work as an invitation for him to launch into his observations about how the traffic and people’s driving are only deteriorating with time. These days, bitching about traffic seems to have become one of my best stress-busters anyway. It is a wonderful feeling to know you are not alone in your observations of how the driving skills are going for a toss! As I continued to listen to him, it became increasingly clear that he could not have been an auto-driver for too long. His tone, mannerisms, language, the choice of words, all sounded like they belonged elsewhere.

I asked him if he had been doing this for long. He said he had begun to drive an auto only 9 months back – a forced new profession at the age of 58! He ran a paan shop for a good 42 years of his life, having begun in early adulthood. He ran his shop right at the corner of the District court’s gate. This gave him easy access to all the good lawyers (not that he ever needed them until a few years back). Further, this vantage point also allowed him the honour to present a paan to the iconic bollywood actor – Lt. Pran Sikand. The loyal lawyer customers also helped him to get up close and personal with the Deol family when they were in Rajkot shooting for their movie Apne! So far so good. I was wondering how the auto driving would fit in with such a smooth life line.

Three years back however, he was hit by a motorcycle while buying vegetables one evening. This accident damaged both his legs, thus leading him to be hospitalized for a really long time. This was also the time when his shop was demolished as a part of some restructuring. The aforementioned loyal lawyer customers ceased to be as loyal, of course. As a result, he continues to visit the court regularly with his wife, in order to receive his financial claim post the demolition. Returning to the tragic episode, after spending a good 1.5-2 years with no specific progress, they moved to a small town nearby. He spent about a year there being treated the Ayurveda way. The final outcome however, remained the same – he would not be able to return to a fuller and regular functioning for his legs.

With steel rods in both his legs, a capacity to walk not more than 10 steps at a time, he told himself it was time to do something else with his life. He thus chose driving an auto to keep himself active and continue to earn while he could. Both of  his daughters have married already and his son owns and runs a cycle shop, which seemed to be doing quite well. My auto-uncle worked for the joy of it and to feel alive. He does not feel the need to charge any added fares in difficult times (nights, rains, sweltering heat, etc). He does not take breaks based on the weather like a lot of other auto-drivers he knows tend to do. He does not even bother to cut the call when his mobile rings in the middle of a ride. He does not care about getting late in reaching somewhere because he believes life is more important than rushing to get past other vehicles. He was a genuinely happy man.

I have very rarely met people so content with life, despite the shit having been thrown at them. He joked and spoke about the older times (his times, as against mine); how they were so much better in every respect; how everything had a more humane quality to it.

He philosophized at a point, looking at the rains spoiling all preparations for Garba around –  everything is supposed to happen for a reason. When we look at the larger picture, the different pieces of the puzzle do fit in well. I personally, love this philosophy. It makes sense to me. It lets me find peace when circumstances are hard to digest (at least right away). A lot of situations do not make sense even later maybe. But having faith in the larger picture helps. It made me wonder how capable an individual can be of creating a symphony out of the sounds of life as well as of playing it like a broken record. It all boils down to one’s perspectives. Perspectives boil down to one’s choices.

He never sounded sorry for himself or about life for a moment while he talked. That is what inspiration is probably supposed to look like – having been broken down, and having successfully patched itself back to full form.

 

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