“No, I am anticipating a surprise test tomorrow.”.
“No, I have to show results to my boss tomorrow.”.
“No, I have Rhythmica practice.”.
“No, it is Malvika’s birthday tomorrow and I have to take her out for a candle light dinner…”.
Nobody was ready to accompany bhOndOO for a 9-12 movie. bhOndOO, frustrated, decided to go alone for the night show at a theatre on M G Road. He was not bothered about which movie, after the long paper submission. He was so much tired of the work done that he would not mind even if the theatre projected a Kannada movie.
Occasionally, bhOndOO’s luck is not that bad — it was Delhi 6. Not only that he got the tickets, although the previous show was housefull, but also that he got a seat between two beautiful young ladies. The show started. The romantic songs, filled with the fragrance of the ultimate fusion of two ladies perfumes, mesmerised him and he fully enjoyed his decision of coming alone. bhOndOO remembered his orkut fortune “you are the creator of your fortune“, when the young lady on his right missed a dialogue, leaned close to bhOndOO and enquired. bhOndOO, very much engrossed sideways than the front, did not know the dialogue, but told her something which satisfied her query. bhOndOO’s heartbeat rate had doubled: it was the first time in his adventurous life he had said to a girl, “Main tumhe chahata hoon.” (I love you). Yes, that was the dialogue.
bhOndOO’s heartbeats had just come to normal when the young lady on the left offered him popcorn. bhOndOO was on the seventh sky. With each bite, bhOndOO felt the theatre to be heaven, the young ladies to be apsaras, the popcorn to be amrit and he himself to be the God of heavens.
Unfortunately, the movie came to an end. bhOndOO had to part his way with the heavenly people. He came out of the theatre and raised his hand for an auto.
“Nahi.” and he drove away.
He nodded in rejection and picked up another passenger.
“Where is this?”. “Near Malleswaram.”. “Nahi.”, and he drove past.
He did not stop.
“200 rupees.”. “Nahi chahiye.”.
“Come.”. “By meter.”. “50 rupees extra.”. “Nahi chahiye.”. “We don’t get a passenger while coming back.”. “Nahi chahiye.”.
bhOndOO leaned closer to him, “By meter?”.
“Okay. But it is double charge now.”.
“I know, that is alright.”.
bhOndOO got in. The driver was in his late thirties, wearing a hankerchief folded along its diagonal surrounding his neck. Anyone would have been misled that he was drunk and so did bhOndOO. But he did not smell wine when he leaned closer and asked him to go by meter. The auto was particularly bad with the seat cushion sewed and torn at multiple places. The color on bars and other metallic parts was gone. There were several wires, each pasted with several red and yellow cellotapes, coming from below the driver seat and the meter. The only surprising thing bhOndOO observed was the front glass. It was intact and well cleant as if it was newly attached. The auto started and the driver pulled down the meter.
Instead of going straight on M G Road, the autodriver took a sharp left turn to enter a small lane. The lane was almost empty and bhOndOO dreaded. He searched for options:
- I will get down from the running auto.
- I will hold the driver by his throat and threaten.
- If the driver has a knife, I will hold his hand with my left hand and fight with my right hand.
- If the driver has friends hiding in this lane, then I will …
“Where are you going?”.
The driver replied in a tone as if it was the most non-sensical question on earth, “Tata institute.”.
bhOndOO realized: the driver was drunk.
bhOndOO did not speak for a while. He thought deep, brought a plastic smile on his face and softly said, “But bhaiyya, don’t you think, this way it would take longer?”.
“You go by any way, all roads lead to Gajya’s pan-shop.”.
The auto stopped abruptly. It was a small square. bhOndOO saw a pan-shop on his left having a couple of customers. The sudden stop of the auto made the owner of the shop, supposedly Gajya, to look at the shabby trio — the bhOndOO, the bhaiyya, and the auto.
The auto-driver peeped through his sleepy eyes towards Gajya and gave a big smile — as if meeting a childhood friend. bhOndOO expected the same from Gajya and looked at the pan-shop. But Gajya looked unimpressed with auto-driver’s smile. He continued applying kattha and chuna to the pan spread across his left palm. Not getting a smile in return brought the driver to business. He shouted from the auto, “One Masala 120.”.
bhOndOO’s mental thesaurus got an addition for the meaning of Masala. Originally, it was only about dosas, now it also meant a kind of pan.
“Will you have one?”.
“No, no. I don’t eat pan.”, and continued in his mind, “offered by a drunkard stranger“.
“You are a very good boy. You don’t eat pan. I also did not eat it earlier. But had to eat it for business.”.
bhOndOO was not interested in his talk even if it contained praise. He was more bothered about going back to college. Moreover, the word “business” sounded a bit exaggerated with the kind of auto the driver had.
“I have 4 houses.”.
And bhOndOO almost jumped off his torn off seat. He kept looking at the driver with a recently felt awe. Four houses, that too in Bangalore was amazing. bhOndOO did not show his surprise, but the driver kept searching for it on bhOndOO’s face for a few seconds. Then he closed his eyes to gather strength and spoke again, “I am a very good carpenter. You have seen Forum Mall?”.
bhOndOO nodded, his awe now visible on his face.
“I have done its internal wooden decoration.”.
bhOndOO kept wondering whether the mall had any wooden decoration, didn’t remember, and gave his driver the benefit of doubt.
“Is it!”, bhOndOO exclaimed showing as little admiration as he could.
“Yes! You may not believe me, but a drunkard never lies.”, accepting for the first time that he was drunk.
That statement brought bhOndOO to his senses again and he realized that he should have been headed the opposite way. He looked around but did not find any other auto. He was stuck.
bhOndOO’s looking-around was taken as a losing-interest-syndrome by the driver. He quickly continued, “I have also done the wooden decoration in Ramaiyya Hospital.” and waited for bhOndOO’s admiring glance.
bhOndOO realized that the auto driver was lying and simply nodded, looking around for any sign of another auto.
“In Bangalore…, in the whole Bangalore…, you just ask anybody the name of Raju mistri (carpenter) and he will bring you to my house.”.
Being a programmer and being already aware of the drunkard liar, bhOndOO thought of the gap in the driver’s sentence: Which of your houses?
“My work is always perfect. I do only perfect work. This auto, I drive out of hobby. But I drive it perfect too. I do only perfect work.”.
Raju mistri — the perfectionist — would have continued, but he remembered his pan. He looked at Gajya and shouted, “Gajya, is it done?”.
“Since so long!”, Gajya shouted pointing at a round pan at the counter.”.
Seated in the auto, Raju looked down closing and opening his eyes several times, his body waving like a pendulum. He then looked at bhOndOO and said, “You are not in a hurry, are you?”.
“I am.”, bhOndOO said, firmly.
Raju did not pay heed, got down from the auto and stood for two seconds, balancing himself. He then walked towards the pan waving his body in air. He picked up the pan, looked at it as if it was a wine bottle, wide-opened his mouth and pushed it in. bhOndOO kept looking at the process, involuntarily opened his mouth in parallel and gulped the air.
His eyes got hold of another auto coming from the other side and he saw a ray of hope. When the auto neared, bhOndOO gathered his voice to shout, but when his eyes fell on the back seat, he, at once, shifted his gaze in the opposite direction. The passengers in the other auto were girls similar to bhOndOO’s valentine.
bhOndOO dreaded remembering the event, and then cursed his luck for getting stuck with the drunkard autodriver. He looked first at the watch and then towards the pan shop.
Raju was enjoying the heavenly pan with full concentration. bhOndOO finally gathered courage to speak, “Chalo.”.
Raju’s concentration was disturbed and he did not like bhOndOO shouting at him. He showed his unwillingness by spitting red water on the ground. He then started walking towards the auto. But the pan-shop owner reminded him, “E? Paisa?”.
Raju looked back, with anger-filled already red eyes, “Giving know?”, then looked at bhOndOO and continued, “Everybody is in a hurry.”.
He then took out a 2-rupee coin from his pocket and tossed it at the counter. He then turned back at bhOndOO and gave a wicked smile, as if saying, Now I will see you.
The driver walked and came near the auto. He stood looking at bhOndOO chewing his pan. bhOndOO tried, “Let’s go now. It is already late.”.
Raju did not say a word. He entered the auto from the front door and almost slept on his seat. When bhOndOO leaned forward to see whether he collapsed, the driver got back with an unclean cloth from beneath his seat. bhOndOO sat back. Raju then went to the front of the auto, started cleaning the headlight with the already dirty cloth. bhOndOO got frustrated, but did not speak a word. bhOndOO gave up when Raju started singing, “Pan khaye saiyyan hamaro… Sawali suratia hoth laal laal…“.
After a few seconds, Raju got up and stood in front of the auto looking at bhOndOO. bhOndOO could not fathom what was in Raju’s mind and kept staring at the drunkard through the well-cleant glass. Raju’s hand was not visible to bhOndOO and bhOndOO suspected from Raju’s gesture that Raju was upto something. bhOndOO dreaded but did not move.
Suddenly, Raju held his arm high in air and threw a big stone very fast towards the front glass. bhOndOO’s eyes and mouth remained wide open as he thought, Has he gone mad? Why is he breaking the glass of his own auto? Is he planning to kill me? Shall I shout for help?
bhOndOO witnessed the glass break and the stone settling beside the driver seat. He got terrified and looked at the mad man. Raju had a wicked success smile on his face.
But hold on! How come there was no sound? bhOndOO blinked and realized that the stone was actually the dirty cloth. The ultimately clean glass in that shabby auto was actually an empty space — there was no glass at all!
As bhOndOO was trying to control his heartbeats, Raju spit in front of the auto, walked in and started the auto. He took a steep U-turn and started towards M G Road.
“You see, how much control was there in my hand when I threw that cloth exactly at its place from such a long distance? A drunk man cannot do that. I have drunk wine, but I am not drunk. Believe me. Because a drunkard never lies.”.
bhOndOO was unimpressed. He felt relieved that the auto was beside Cubbon Park now. He was finally getting led in the right direction.
As they approached the Golf Course, cool shivering breeze entered the auto. Raju pushed his pan on one side of the mouth. bhOndOO knew that some gyaan was coming his way. His guess was proved correct within two seconds.
“You have seen me driving. I have been driving since so long now. Do you feel I am drunk? No, na! Exactly! Wine does not drink man, man drinks wine. And I am not lying, a drunkard never lies.”.
bhOndOO was simply praying that the driver did not hit anything on the road. Although there was not much traffic, the road had a divider. Contrary to the state of the driver, the auto was not swinging. It went on with almost a constant speed of 20 KMPH.
As they reached Kaveri theatre, bhOndOO felt much relieved. The college was only 2KM from there. But tragedy never ends for bhOndOO. Raju pushed his auto into a nearby empty petrol pump.
Two young men dressed in blue were standing looking at us. Raju stopped the auto exactly in front of them, in the same abrupt manner as before. He kept silent for two seconds in the same position, and then looked back, “An auto also requires its drink. It is evil that we drink, but do not let our dependents drink. But a drunkard never does an evil. I have lots of thousand rupee notes, here, in my thief pocket and I am capable enough to supply drinks to thousands of people, at this time, at this place. And don’t think I am joking, because a drunkard never lies.”.
“How much?”, one of the two young men at the petrol pump asked annoyingly.
“20 rupees.”, Raju turned and whispered.
What the hell! bhOndOO was imagining at least a few hundreds and despite the delay in reaching back to campus, bhOndOO smiled with the paradox, nodding his head.
After the petrol was filled, the driver got up from his seat and stood firmly on the floor. He then pushed his hand in the thief-pocket of his trouser and took out a bundle of notes. He then glanced at bhOndOO and bhOndOO glanced back. It was a bundle of 10-rupee notes. He straightened them and counted, “One, two, three, four, five.”. He counted them again, “One, two, three, four, five.”. Then he started counting again, “One, two, three.”. He took the three notes and pushed those back in his pocket. He then took the remaining notes and counted, “One, two.”, looked at the petrol pump man and asked, “How much?”.
“Twenty.”, the young man replied reluctantly.
“One. Two.”, the driver handed over the notes with the same reluctance.
The auto started again. The driver, the carpenter, the rich, the four-house-owned, Raju mistri did not speak until they reached Maramma Temple gate. bhOndOO saw the meter. It read Rs.55. With double charge, the fare was Rs.110.
bhOndOO took out his wallet and saw a few hundreds and one twenty rupee note. He handed over Rs.120 to the driver. The driver did not speak for a second and kept looking at the notes. He then took out a 10-rupee note from his thief-pocket and before handing it over, looked at bhOndOO with earnest eyes.
“Sir”, the driver said softly, “Do you have any grievances against me?”.
bhOndOO nodded in negation, and found himself smiling.
“I am sorry if I troubled you. I know you must be thinking that I am a liar. But I am not. I have four daughters and although they are small, I get very worried about their marriages. To meet expenses, I run auto during the night and do carpentry during the day. I love my family and want them to receive all pleasures of life. They want to see at least one movie in PVR. But so far, I have not been able to take them there. I don’t know how, but all my savings get lost. I don’t know how to save money.”.
Raju started crying. bhOndOO felt bad. He looked at the security guard watching the scene with suspicion. He then turned towards Raju and spoke, “See, Rajuji. Money does not have feet. It can’t go anywhere on its own. You yourself spend it on your wine. Stop drinking. I know you want to stop it. Take help from your family and children. They also love you very much, as you love them. There is not as much joy in drinking as in the feeling that someone loves you. Save this money. And whenever you feel like drinking, go to a temple, relax yourself and come back. You will soon start hating wine. Take my friendly advice, because… a friend never lies.”.
The auto driver smiled, like a crying child. He held bhOndOO’s right hand and touched his forehead to it. He then handed over the 10-rupee note to bhOndOO. bhOndOO put his hand on Raju’s shoulder and softly said, “Buy some milk for your children with this money. Don’t buy wine for yourself. God is watching. You are standing in front of Maramma Temple.”.
The auto driver looked at the temple, bowed down and then looked at bhOndOO, his eyes filled with gratitude. He bowed down again and started the auto.
bhOndOO, feeling touched, entered the gate. The suspicious security guard, witnessing the drama, asked bhOndOO for his identity card. bhOndOO put his right hand in the back pocket, frowned, shocked, turned back and ran outside the gate. The driver had run away with the wallet.