My flight landed on time and as I switched on my mobile phone, I received a call. The cab driver for my pick-up from the airport told me in broken English, " Me waiting at exit, sir". His voice sounded cracked and his accent was hilarious, but he insisted on replying in English to my Hindi replies. This was going to be an interesting ride from the airport, I remember thinking. I waited for the never-ending baggage handler line to throw me a surprise, before quite predictably, my bags arrived next to last. Waiting for the bags, buzzing blackberry messages and other daily drills made me forget the waiting cab driver for a while. So much so, that I was surprised by the person I saw waiting for me with a placard holding my name at the airport exit gate. Here was a weathered beaten down man heavily wrapped in woolens waiting for me. Covered to beat the cold, but not covered enough to disguise his old face weathered by age or more. Life had drawn some long lines on his face, his teeth was more broken than his English and I was in two minds when he grabbed my bags and pulled it along to the cab. Hmm...this man was really old, he was probably closer to eighty or at least looked it, what was he doing driving a cab?
We got talking, or rather, I should say my cab driver got talking and I replied in monosyllables. I wanted him to focus on the road. I noticed my slowly creeping irritation at his very slow drive in an overcrowded highway. The pace at which we were going I suspected pedestrians would keep up. But, slowly, the old man drew me into his story. The story of his life from being a soldier at a border-post in the harshest of conditions. The story of his life shared with a loving wife of many years. The story of their life bringing up two sons and a daughter. The story of how he spent all his savings on his sons and their education. The story of how his sons were doing really well. The story about how his first son was in the big financial district making big money for himself. The story about how that son was not so much in touch these days and busy with his own life. The story about how his second son makes him cry by saying things he does not really mean. The story about how it is finally his daughter who gives him joy. The story of his beautiful daughter who he treats as a "son". The story of why he drives a cab so that his beautiful daughter can have a beautiful life. His story of his own dream ..... about how his daughter can fulfill her dreams, find a good job, a great husband and live a life at-least as good as his sons have....His story about his beautiful daughter who is more of a son for him because she cares and is there for him. His silent prayer that his daughter remains beautiful through life. It is a difficult world out there you know especially if you are a woman, he says.
Suddenly, the cab comes to a stop. I have reached my destination. The journey had actually taken much longer than usual, but it seemed so much shorter engrossed in the old man's story. Coming from a different social milieu, many of us have different ethos and don't realize the challenges faced by folks from a different background. Bringing up a girl child in some parts is still seen as a lesser priority than a son's upbringing. For someone from that social backdrop to care so much for his daughter's upbringing and to provide equally is a story in itself. In the midst of all the debate going on in India about female foeticide and the country's horrible record in number of deaths of girl children below 5 years, I remembered this old man. I remembered his beautiful daughter and how she was a "better son" to him.
The old man said, " It is a difficult world nowadays. No one cares about you in the city. It was easier at the border-post as a soldier. If I died at the border, I knew that I died fighting for a worthy cause." Thinking about it now, I should have said " Old soldier, you are still fighting for a worthy cause. For your girl child to lead an equal life. Because of you, she has got a fighting chance." Beautiful girl, you have got a fighting chance. Beautiful girl, you can change the world.