Friday, June 5, 2009

Forever sweet and shy!

I'm still not done with all the to-do lists that go with the major move in my life, especially the packing-and-transporting-my-stuff-to-Gopalpur bit. While discussing with Serish about how to transport the car, I was automatically reminded of Khadir.

Khadir was the guy who offered me my first sneak-peek into what Google transport is all about. A lanky young boy of about 19-20 with wheatish complexion, and a white uniform, this 5-feet-6 guy was the first experience I had with a cab driver - I never traveled by a cab to office before this.

So there I was, on the Monday morning of January 9, 2006 - my first day at Google - waiting for the office cab at 8.15 a.m. outside the gate of my apartment complex in Tolichowki. And Khadir was the first one I saw in the cab. He gave me a warm welcoming smile, and I instantly liked him.

Siddhartha, my cab mate, introduced him to me as Kabir. I liked his name too, and I used to call him by that name for more than a year. Not once did he correct me or tell me that his name is Khadir, and not Kabir. When my batchmate Nidhi pointed it out to me, I was quite surprised. When cornered, he smiled ever so shy, sweet, and enigmatic, and said, "It's okay Madam, aap mujhe Kabir bulalijiye, problem nahin hai." That's Kabir aka Khadir for you! Forever sweet and shy!

And Kabir was the first person I used to think of if I needed a driver at any point in time for my personal use. I was proud to be one among the very few people he would try to contact whenever he was in trouble, when he met with an accident, and when he lost his job. I still remember threatening the insurance guys with dire consequences if they don't release the insurance amount for his accident-hit vehicle soon. During one such episodes, when Serish suggested that he should probably contact MIM so his vehicle will be sent back home sahi-salamat, he brushed it aside with a vigorous shake of his head, a vehement NO and yet another enigmatic-sweet smile.

And I can never forget the near-death experience we had on the Vijayawada highway, about 70 kms away from Hyderabad. We were returning from Machilipatnam when we escaped this major accident, unscathed. On December 1st, 2006, we received the news of my aunt's death, and I rushed home immediately from work. And so did my brother. Mom, me, and bro decided to drive down to Machilipatnam in his Silver colored Maruti Alto.

I called up Kabir, but naturally, and asked him if he could send somebody who can drive us down to Machilipatnam and back. Kabir was just recovering from his recent accident. But he wasn't the one who would let us go with someone else. Despite me raising an objection considering his health, he wouldn't have any of it and was stubborn about taking us himself.

So, we set out on this long journey of 700 kms around 2 p.m. with Kabir behind the wheel. Everything was okay in spite of us being witness to a couple of horrible accidents on the highway. We stopped at Vijayawada, had dinner and finally reached Machilipatnam around 10.30 p.m. Kabir was tired and had to sleep in the car while mosquitoes just refused to stop singing in his ear.

At 11 a.m. next morning, after my aunt's body was taken for cremation, we set out on our return journey. After crossing Vijayawada, I was driving for a bit as my brother was too tired to drive. That was my first stint with highway driving, and I was driving at 100 kmph. God knows from where these two buffaloes came on to the road, racing. I probably would have rammed into the divider or into the vehicle in the other lane. Kabir just told me, "Madam abhi slow mat karna, aap accelerator dabaake rakhna, kissi ko kuch nahin hoga." And that's exactly what I did.

After driving about 132 kms, I was tired too. And it was Kabir's turn to drive us back to Hyderabad safely. As we were nearing Hyderabad, Kabir was trying to overtake an ambassador. It was too close and the margin was almost negligent but Kabir is an experienced driver. Or so I believed.

Unfortunately, a two-wheeler driver coming in the opposite lane didn't believe so! He misunderstood Kabir's move, and miscalculated his attempt to overtake the other vehicle. The scared driver lost control of his greenish-blue Bajaj Chetak and drove off into our lane, right in front of our car. Kabir swerved the car to the right missing the Chetak by inches. But the car hadn't stopped after that.

In a fraction of a second, we were in the opposite lane with headlights of speeding vehicles coming closer, and our car was just going in circles on the spot. But Kabir just kept at it. He literally had to stand on the break and clutch to control the vehicle. I was 100% sure that we're not going to make it to the city. I closed my eyes, put my head between my knees, and screamed with fear as I saw images of my husband and daughter waiting eagerly for my return. I didn't want to die. Not that day at least!

That day (December 2nd) happens to be my daughter's 4th birthday. And I've not seen her the whole day. Our pretty little princess had participated in a play at her school annual function that evening. And I missed seeing her on stage during her first-ever performance. Earlier in the day, when I called up Serish, she was cranky and crying, refusing to eat or participate in the play. It took a lot of patience and convincing on part of the teacher to get her on to the stage. Will I be alive to see at least the video of the function that my husband promised to record?

All I knew at that point was that Kabir is still trying his best to control the vehicle and save us at any cost. The next thing I saw was the car rotated yet again and was fast approaching a huge tree on the side of the road. And then, it stopped suddenly - almost in a filmy way - within a few inches of the tree, with one tyre off the road completely. Kabir's sigh of relief was all that I could remember for the rest of my journey.

After he dropped us home, an apologetic expression in his eyes, his lips mumbled a few feeble words - "I'm sorry madam. Meri galti nahin thi. Aap phir kabhi mujhe nahin bulayenge na!" And with that his face fell, and he left. A few days later, when I paid him for the trip, he refused to accept the money - he was still feeling terrible about the whole incident. But I'm more stubborn than him. And I won, as always!

Kabir is definitely a winner, though! A winner of hearts, people, friends! He still sends me an SMS to wish us for Diwali, and I call him up for Ramzan to wish him and his family. If he wasn't half as genuine and sweet as I know him to be, my ex-cab mate Siddhartha would not have probably helped him buy his own Indica by paying the amount towards down payment. Yes, after spending 3+ years at this organization and having seen all kinds of drivers, I must say Kabir is definitely a charmer! And I still miss him sometimes.

(I lost my mobile recently and with it all his contact numbers. If anyone reading this post knows who I'm talking about and can give me his contact details, I'd really appreciate your help).

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