Extra-ordinary Stories of Ordinary People: 1.0
Salim ki kahani
June 25, 2008:
“ARE YOU NUTS?
Driving over 200 kmph and then spinning around the turn and halting right there at a feather’s distance to the girl! And this lanky yokel from Pune would do it?!!”, hollered the director.
“Sir, aap ek baar try to keejiye (give him a chance),” entreated the confidant spot boy. “If there’s anyone in India, who can do this stunt, it’s him,” he confidently bragged.
Ten minutes later, a car was screeching down the long road at breakneck speed, whizzing by a dazed film crew, and then taking a pronto turn, chalked two circles with the hot rubber and then suddenly took an almost impossible, suave, smooth, neat halt near the heroine.
A big applause followed and the director happily chewed back his words. After all, this was a scene long due for the past so many weeks and everyone, in the crew, from the director to the cast to the spot boys were losing their patience by now. It was one thing to steer a car at top speed but to make it saunter back in precision, and that too after some spine-chilling loops…was in one word, Phew!
So when this simple-looking hero, stepped out of the car, he was deservedly overwhelmed by hands congratulating him, thanking him - of the director, of the many assistants and of Bipasha Basu, who all, had almost given up the hope of the scene ever seeing the light of the camera.
For Salim, a common cab driver, who shuttles between Pune and Mumbai and nearby stretches ferrying passengers on normal days, this truly was not a normal day. “Maine Bipasha ke saath baith ke Thums Up piya. Unhone muje bola ki mein to ye scene ka aas hi chod chuki thi. Mera naam poocha. Accha laga. Wo din, mein bahut khush hua.” He says with a glint of the moment, he seems to line all over again as he recounts his adventures.
The sincere, sweat-earned, arcadian look on his face makes you squirm in your seat with an uneasiness. A Thums Up can be a trophy? And a small Gold Medal, can really be someone’s spring of joy forever? You have no choice but to believe as he shares his pride in an innocent, yokel but genuinely exulted voice.
“I got a gold medal for saving the life of me, the passengers on board and the bus, once when a Volvo I was driving met a brake-failure at top speed on one of the Ghats at the edgy Lonavala route. It was an absolute-death situation. And if the driver gets panicked, all is gone. Everything rests on the calmness, composure and the presence-of-mind of the man on the wheel at such a moment.” And so did he, by staying cool and smartly de-accelerating the bus by manouevring the gears. In return, he got wishes, blessings of the many passengers and a gold medal from the Travels’ proprietor.
The medal was the best and the second most emotional turn of Salim’s life.
“Mein aur meri biwi ne do din tak khana nai khaya, khusi ke mare. Uparwala bahut meherbaan hai.” Beams Salim.
Today too is one another special day in his life as he is driving me to Mumbai in an Innova. “Madam, aaj kismat se Seth ne ye ghadi chalena ko diya, kyunki doosre car nahi set ho paya. Sacchi bolta hoon, Innova drive kar ke life ne ek aur sapna poora kar diya. Majja aa gaya itna accha gaadi chalake.”
What amazes and humbles me is not the adventures this seemingly simple driver has been living off and on, but the sheer simplicity with which he embraces and celebrates life’s small but true bounties.
This was not what I expected as I opened a casual conversation on a boring three-hour drive from Pune to Mumbai one afternoon with the cab driver.
And when I ask, where he hails from, his sad but dignified and composed reply reveals the first most emotional turn of his life. Destiny brought him and his wife to Pune when an unfortunate earthquake hit his hometown in Latur. The Salim who saw his parents and other family members as mud-swathed corpses was certainly more brave than the daredevil driver he turned into. He saw, absorbed and accepted it all with a patience, faith and fortitude that probably only the common man is capable of. Amidst his tragedy, he extricated some more living bodies and contributed his bit to save some lives. “My wife incidentally, is another poor soul, who was hit in the calamity, and whom I happened to take out from the debris that day.”
Life left him bereft, of money, job and worst of all, his dear ones.
And so fate brought him to Pune to start everything from scratch.
The small child, who embraced his first toy- a car in all rapture, who used to be all in awe of his father’s taxi, and who shocked his Dad when he learnt driving by stealthily taking the taxi on a trial spin one evening while his father was having tea after a long day work, was now going to start an entire new life and his daily bread by driving taxis.
But he refrains from cribbing or making any complains at all. Uparwallah has been very kind in his estimation. “Wo niyat dekhta hai, aur barkat deta hai.” Staunchly believes Salim.
Clinging relentlessly to Niyat and himmat thus, Salim’s hopes and dreams now envelope his son Sulaimaan. “He too loves cars like me. I want him to rise high in life and do things much beyond I could dream of. I will give him the best I can.”
My stop has come as he finishes his sentence and all I can give him back for a hard-hitting inspirational ride is one heartfelt - Ameen!