Eyes closed and a bow with gentle reverence to the deity on the wall I rush out of the house, latch the door, recheck again, drop the keys in the bag, and fly down the flight of stairs. It’s another thing, that it is an everyday affair. Morning time is always a rush hour.
There’s an important meeting at 10 am and I hope the short prayer keeps me calm throughout the day.
It seems my prayers are answered, as I hail an auto rickshaw my very own chauffeur driven vehicle, the minute I reach the corner of the lane (my mode of transport interestingly would be another post).
15 minutes later and another change of vehicle, will take me to my desired destination; my workplace.
No sooner I arrive, am encircled by various auto taxi drivers, asking me ‘where next’? leaving little time to settle the dues with the auto driver. I stop, and look around, my eyes, trying to find the familiar face beyond this crowd.
And our eyes meet for a fraction of a second. In crisp white linen shirt at all times, dark trousers, as tall as approximately 5 ft 10 inches, heavily built, gold watch on his left wrist, he nodded towards me. The crowd dispersed as they saw me look past them. He has an authoritarian look on his face at the same time you won’t miss the compassion and protective aura he transmits.
“Anna” as they call him, and I do too, even though we never speak, knows exactly where I want to go. He keeps his eyes and ears sharp around him. He nods towards me, and then makes a few enquiries with his team around and barks sharp orders to another driver. He directs me towards the auto that is designated for me, with all checks done. I am now rest assured the ride to work will be safe and on-time. Anna made sure it would be. This special attention is meted out for only a handful of the regulars. When Anna intervenes his orders are followed without question. Anna in Marathi is a term of respectful compellation for an elderly male, in place of father. In most of south India it means elder brother.
A couple of times, when Anna had been very busy with his meetings in the tin roofed shed, with his trusted lot, I was left to fend for myself in finding my transport. All hell breaks loose on those days. Either the driver is too slow and I reach late, or I have to haggle with him for charging me extra than what the meter reads. Such times I unabashedly ask those drivers to check with Anna the facts that they are charging me more and that I am a “regular”. They surprisingly comply.
He never forgets to say a hello in Marathi, “Kay madam kase aahe?” (How are you?) A genuine smile lights his eyes every time he asks. He and his brother (both from Karnataka I presume) run the cigarette stall outside my office compound. Lunch hours and 4 in the evening are best avoided if you want to come here. The crowd never seems to disperse. If in case the urge gets the better of you, Anna; that’s how I know him, that’s what I have been calling him, spots me from far away, and keeps it ready for me. I just have to pass the coin to him and he asks the crowd to make way and hands over the goods.
He will talk more whenever there is no one around to eavesdrop, but his expression will change the sooner he finds another person is interested in the conversation. Then will smile at me and a slight nod indicating its business time for him. He stays a few blocks away from the office; sometimes his wife accompanies him, though on very rare occasions. He himself is a nonsmoker.
It was after much thought I believe and a few years later, he mustered the courage to tell me, “Madam yeah chod do. Aap keliye aacha nahi hai”. (Maam please quit. It’s not good for you.) I smiled and said yes I will. And I did.
The other day, I went out with my friends for tea to a stall adjacent to his. I called out to him, “Anna” and smiled at him. He was surprised to see me after a year almost asked how I was, and very softly asked me again as if it was taboo to utter the words. In almost a whisper, “Chod diya na? accha hai accha hai”.(You quit? That is good).
Two people, with whom I have no blood relation, who show care, concern and respect to strangers are rightly called as Anna, father or big brother.