The auto had the sound resembling that of an earthquake, and it was responded by my mother coming out from the gate to watch me as I collected my heavy bag and empty water bottle lying towards the corner of the window grill. Auto wasn’t just a mere vehicle for us; it was more than six years of childhood and teenage. The auto was a witness to all the unlawful divorce cases that me and my boyfriends faced, it had my tears rubbed with school shoes dust when I got slapped for not behaving better to my mum.
Auto had my ‘asto’ (English – to happen) it was a lively piece of no-words and actions to me. It was somewhere rhombus in the study of my mathematics syllabus, present but not in use thoroughly. There were so many things that just remained things in my life but soon when maturity started inking on my spirit, these things became unskilled lessons to me.
I wasn’t sure about the dirty scarf that was wrapped around his shoulder; it was evident that previously it was white with checks of brown and slight blue towards the edges. The common material with such a common design. His clothes were nothing special but they were of a particular color every day, the basic conductor color that people told me that they usually see on local buses. His name was Pappu, wrinkles all over his face and eyes elongating like that of a streamline fish and lips were suspicious. They were ruffled and tightened inside the teeth creating a thin line above the curvy bottom towards the chin. Maybe his life was too much slipped and secretive, because his lips always carried a lie and the color was pale as the dust coating on that old laughing Buddha statue kept in the glass shield of our showcase. It was visible but not witnessed.
He was there working as a driver to my auto. My auto-mates called him Pappu sometimes and they even shouted at him when he used to throw bags like a basketball towards the stand. I never called him by his name, it was always a sense of familiarity towards him. I remember when it was the last day of 10th class, he came to my father and greeted him and said that I was Lakshmi to his business. My feet were that of a goddess and he told me, “someday just randomly come and sit with this vehicle.” It was not before this that I was touched by the story of Kabuliwala by Tagore.
He treated me as the leader, the leader of his auto. A person who he can rely on, he had an uncanny trust mantra towards my soul. His eyes were focused on mine when we conversed and his hands were still towards the side and they never created any commotion. I remember his smell, it was not a smell I would recognize in the first go and it was definitely not the rusted iron and sweat busted one. It was a place, a place that I have never visited. It was a place which was equally holy to that of a temple but was away from those scented sticks and warm silver diyas, it was rather a cloud and a cloud of prayers. My mother once said that Muslims are used to scented smoke and it’s an irony to remember such a religious stigma till date.
He made me talk to the parents of other children so that I can convince them of his truthfulness. I was often the judge, teacher and manager of this world which was filled with iron rods, rexine material and out-of-size screws. It was our world because we felt the happiness of homecoming in it, sometimes he used to cover the window side and entrance with a plain transparent plastic sheet so that we were saved from the harsh pointers of rain and storm. Although, he was just there like any other driver trying to protect his customers. I don’t know if customers is the right word here but society said it that way.
It was my age to be vulnerable and so be it. It became a bliss for me in the years ahead as this vulnerability crossed my way at every decision I made, I was climbing mountains while learning the difference between a hill and a mountain. The only constant was this man whose name was Pappu and I wondered if such a name ever existed, because parents can’t be this reluctant to a child. Later, the news reached my ears where people told me that he was a Muslim and tried to hide his identity and of-course even after reading pages on equity, humans are targeted by their own crucified ideologies. He had three wives and five sons, I wonder where he is with them. We haven't met for years now and the scent of his smell still remains in my journey.
My journey towards learning the practice of equality. Maybe, I knew it that his identity lies when he slowed the vehicle whenever we used to pass from the front of any mosque. Maybe I knew, when once I said that everyone is equal and he said that he will ask me the same question after some years and now I am ready. I am here with an answer to my friend whose name is unknown to me. People say men and women can't be friends but I would say, we were even before we knew that the world discriminates against us on the basis of our biological creation. He became a rhombus to my calculated segments, not needed or appreciated but I will still admire the fact that this rhombus is the shape of my favorite sweet dish – Kaju Katli (Cashew Slice).