It’s late evening in busy Mumbai, and I am already late for my flight. To add to my confusion, the taxi is headed towards the wrong airport, and we realise this just as we are turning at a busy intersection.
There are a million reasons to scream and get agitated, but instead, I start humming a classical composition I was listening to earlier in the day. This sets the mood for what is to come next.
The taxi driver suddenly swerves and comes to a halt. “You did not tell me you were a musician,” he exclaims. I hardly see the point, but instead I just smile and look away.
He hits the accelerator and begins to tell me his tale. It takes me a couple of minutes to realise he is talking to me in English, a language I do not normally associate with the cabbies of Mumbai.
Despite my agitation and standoffish demeanour, I find myself being drawn into this conversation. He was an engineer with a major corporation, he says. His wife was a music teacher, and his home was filled with the voices of children.
On the night that his wife experienced labour pains for the first time, he literally ran to the taxi stand at the end of his street in Mahim. No one obliged. There was a bandh expected the next morning and no taxi wanted to take the risk of being caught by a zealous cop.
One old taxi driver finally brought his vehicle around and they managed to get going. An unexpected cardiac complication on the way claimed the lives of both wife and child.
Ravikumar quit his job and bought a taxi. His personal motto is to serve people, especially those in need. On days when there is a bandh in place or any other such restriction, he removes the meter and drives people through some pre-arranged routes anyhow.
As I get off the cab, I hand him a five hundred rupee-note, thinking that this is what I normally pay for the airport ride anyway. He returns it with a wry smile and asks me to keep making music instead.
This isn’t a movie. It is real life and this was a very real encounter. I turn around and head into the terminal.