He said his name was Dharam Pal Singh and he showered Neha with utmost respect. “How far have you studied, Madamji?” he once asked Neha as he took her to The Claridges for a meeting. “PhD,” she replied.
“Have you done B.A.?”
“Oh. Yes,” Neha tried not to laugh.
“My son’s also done his B.A. and has now joined my taxi service. He can speak in English, you know!” Dharam Pal announced proudly. And then he went into the story of how diligent and efficient his son is and that they got him married right after his B.A. because he was quite a catch and there were many parents of girls after him. “His B.A. fetched him quite a dowry, you know?” he winked at Neha when their eyes met in the rear view mirror. “He now has a two year old daughter and his wife is pregnant again; hopefully it will be a boy this time.” Neha wanted to say something, but she deemed it better to keep quiet.
As they were about to take the turn towards Claridges, Dharam Pal said, “I am sure my son could have got a job like you. After all he is educated like you. But I need him for my taxi service, you see, to expand my business. So he had to make a sacrifice for his father. I am sure God will reward him well for this.”
Neha’s office is located in Noida, across the Yamuna. But she has to move around the whole of Delhi NCR on official duty. On a few occasions before, Dharam Pal had chauffeured her to and fro from the office to the ministry offices at Nirman Bhavan. He wasn’t an employee with her organization, but his taxi stand was close to their office and so his services were taken for most of the traveling around by her colleagues. So a kind of unwritten contract existed between Dharam Pal and her office. And if ever Dharam Pal got to know that her office has used the services of another taxi provider, he would come over and create quite a tantrum at the reception. In the last six months that Dharam Pal had got to know Neha, he had also taxied her to the Indira Gandhi National Airport once when she was flying out of the country on work.
“Where are you going?”
“Good!” he had said like as if enlightenment had just struck him.
On her way back, she had picked up some duty-free foreign chocolates for him. She had arrived in the day and was taken to the office directly from the airport.
The incident happened only last week. And it sort of inconvenienced both Dharam Pal and Neha. A three-day event was on at Surajkund. For two days consecutively, Neha waited for Dharam Pal at the Maharani Bagh bus stop from where he picked her up and dropped her in the evenings at the bus stop right opposite before hitting the DND flyover to Noida.
“You stay here, Madamji?” he has always been impressed by the apartments and kothis he saw by the road at Maharani Bagh.
“Yeah. But you have to go a little inside to reach my place. I thought it would save you and me time if I met you here at the main road.”
“Your husband has left for college?” he knew from their earlier conversations that Neha’s husband taught at a college in Delhi University. And he also remembered asking her, “He must be earning well?” And Neha shrugging her shoulders to that and saying, “Yeah, he earns enough.”
On the third day of the event, the winding-up dinner got over quite late. It was already 10 pm when Neha got into the taxi.
“Dharam Palji,” she told him as soon as she stepped into his taxi, “Please leave me right up to my house today. I don’t have the energy to take a rickshaw or walk from the main road up to my house.”
“Sure, Madamji, sure! I understand it is so late already.”
Neha was asleep for most of the journey home. When they came to the Maharani Bagh road, he woke her up with, “Madamji, which way now?”
“This lane on your left.”
“This lane, that goes to Siddharth Extension?”
“Oh you stay at Siddharth Extension? It is a very nice place!”
“No. No. Not that. I’ll show you.”
Dharam Pal navigated his Esteem through the congested lanes with cars honking and barking at each other. They were in an area nestled between two posh neighborhoods. They went past the Jeevan Nagar hospital. By this time, Dharam Pal’s mood had been fouled and his demeanor didn’t seem too friendly. “This is one of the worst areas of Delhi,” he cursed, “People here don’t deserve to ride around on cars!” As they reached the Bhagvan Nagar junction, and it was clear that the lower middle class colony is where Neha lived, Dharam Pal stopped his car right in the middle of the road. “Madam, please get off here! I am not taking my car any further,” he spat out quite rudely. For a moment, Neha was stunned. Whatever happened to the polite, friendly Dharam Pal who always opened the car doors for her, and offered to carry her files, etc. She was very drained by the three hectic days just behind her. “Please Dharam Palji, do you see that shop right ahead? I stay upstairs. Could you park your car there so that I don’t have to drag this bundle of files and material up till there?”
“No,” he said without even turning back. “Please get off, there are cars behind me.”
Neha looked at him in disbelief. She felt insulted. As she picked herself up and the bundles, he didn’t even get off the car or open the door for her. As she was getting off the car, he said, “And ask your office not to send me ever again to fetch you or drop you at this place!” His demeanor continued to be rude. As Neha shut the door after her, the taxi raced ahead, past the shop above which she lived with her husband.