It was a cold December night. I was returning from a party my friend had thrown on the eve of his first marriage anniversary.
By Shubhankar Ray
It was a cold December night. I was returning from a party my friend had thrown on the eve of his first marriage anniversary. All other friends of mine stayed there but I had to leave as my mother was alone at home. I crossed the road and walked a long distance to reach the bus stand. The road was dark and I could see only see eyes of some barking dogs dazzling in the dark as they followed me on my way to the stand. It was drizzling too. An ox was sleeping there, perhaps sheltering itself from the rain.
The dogs continued barking till the ox, disturbed by their noise, drove them away with a long moo. It fell asleep again, complacently keeping its tail on my new brown shoe. Time passed by but there was no sign of any bus or tram. Only few private cars passed through the road as swiftly as lightning. My patience was wearing thin. Had all the Kolkata buses got stuck in a jam or burnt by mob frenzy or taken away to Maidan for political functions?
Some street urchins were running towards me to have my lighter for lighting bidis. They broke the news of the assassination, of one of the opposition party workers that had happened a few hours ago. ‘Sambuddha was a good man. You know. And those goons murdered him brutally. We will not leave them. We’ll take revenge”, they promised and fled.
‘Political murder! That too of our worker! Party leaders would not leave them too easily. They might also call a bandh the next day. That would be good for us as we would get an unexpected holiday. Wah!’ I said to myself.
It was already past eleven. Ma would have already been anxious. I tried my best to stop few cars but none paid heed. Desperate, I sat on the middle of the road with a hope that the next car would inevitably stop to avoid running me down. Still they successfully managed to bypass me as speedily possible. Perhaps they thought me to be either a lunatic or a drunkard lying unconsciously on the road.
Finally a speeding red Maruti, screeched to a halt, inches from me. The driver, clad in a cream suit, stepped out and slapped me right on my face. “You idiot, don’t you have sense. What’re you doing here?”
“Nothing. I was just trying to stop the cars for a lift. For I have to return home and I’m waiting at the bus stand for over an hour. Please help me out bhai,” I replied. Where is your house? He asked me. “It’s Shyambazar,” I replied. “Oh I’m going to Baghbazar so I can drop you there,” the driver said. I got into the car and we set off.
For a moment we remained silent. Then he started asking me various questions – whether I was married, where I was working, my family and so on. I was annoyed. But I controlled my growing irritation or else he might have thrown me out of his car.
I took out a cigarette from my pocket, and when I sparked my lighter, the driver cried loudly, “Oh stop that light. I said stop that light”. “Why are you a ghost or what?” I asked and he became furious.
“You foolish young guy, throw the cigarette out of the window. I don’t want people to smoke inside my car. I don’t want to be a passive smoker. It’s awfully harmful”. He spoke loudly and violently in English, and I was stunned with his impressive accent. How come a mere driver could speak English with distinct pronunciation?
The car stopped in front of the statue of Subhash Chandra Bose at the five point crossing at Shyambazar. I thanked the driver for his service and stepped out of the car.
When I was about to walk off, he cried out, “Hey, you! Give me fifty rupees for the lift.” At first I could not believe my ears. I just smiled at him and he again repeated his demand, “Don’t smile. Give me fifty rupees for the lift.” I was shocked at his rudeness but paid him the amount.
Few days after this incident, my boss gave me a new doctors’ list and I found a new name in it, DR. Dhiman Kundu (Cardiologist), Kalighat. When I went to meet him, I was astonished to find that rude driver in the chamber. I asked him if he was also the compounder of Dr. Kundu.
He, recognizing me, smiled gently and said, “No, I am also a doctor. Dr. D. Kundu, Cardiologist. I thought of disclosing the fact that day but I couldn’t as I came to know from you that you are a Medical Representative. Sorry yaar to charge you that fifty rupees. For I couldn’t control myself as it has become my obnoxious habit to charge from people some amount of money when I give them a lift, while I take my car to chamber and return from chamber to home.” “What ?” I exclaimed with wonder.
“Yes, young man. I deliberately pick up passengers and charge them a limited sum of money which is cheaper than the taxi fare. They oblige because of the favour I offer to them and I also feel happy to spend the amount of money on the fuel of my car.” He then laughed uproariously and I stared at this strange doctor-cum-driver for a few minutes with utter surprise.
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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