Short Story with Moral Lesson – An Unforgettable Encounter
“You will be charging as per meter, won’t you?” Anay wanted to make sure before hiring him so as to avoid any kind of dispute.
“I was about to, but if you don’t want then I won’t. Pay me Rs.200.” Pat come the rickshaw driver’s replay with a huge grin, revealing his paan-stained mouth, which was in complete contrast with his clean shaven face.
Anay couldn’t help but smile himself. Without any further words, he boarded the rickshaw, the driver put the meter down and they were off for the railway station. Little did Anay know that this small encounter with an unknown rickshaw driver, which would hardly last for 20-25 minutes, will become one of the most memorable ones of his life.
Since morning that day, Anay was very happy. After all, he was going to his home town after a long time, 7 months and 11 days to be precise. He had to board the train scheduled to depart at 7 PM. He had a simple plan in his mind – leave from office at 5 PM, go home, freshen up and then leave for railway station at 6 PM. Anay has always been an organized man, who would have his plans for the day ready every morning. He would, most of the time, abide by that plan and would go disordered if there are any changes in it. That was one such day. He, being on a long leave, had to complete a lot of pending tasks in office, which went well beyond 5 PM. By the time he left home for railway station, it was already 6.20 PM. This little delay had annoyed him and he was fuming over it.
“Bhaiya, please. Can you drive as fast as you can? I have to catch a train that departs in 20 minutes.” Anay lessened the time a bit, he wanted keep some time as buffer.
“Arre sir, everyone in this world is in hurry. What’s the point, I would never get it. Anyway sir, you don’t worry. We’ll be there on time.”
Anay was sitting on the edge of the seat as he was nervous about missing his train. But somehow, the soothing assurance of his driver calmed his anxious nerves down a bit. After few moments, the driver spoke again.
“Sir, you asked me about the meter. Why?”
“You know that bhaiya. If I wouldn’t have asked, then you would have demanded lump sum amount as fare. There are many drivers who do that. And above that, you would have argued had I asked you to charge according to the meter. So I just wanted to make sure, that’s it.” Anay was in no mood to enter a conversation, hence he gave such a stern response. He was hoping that this might prompt the driver to discontinue his talks, but he was wrong.
“You know sir, like in every community, there are some greedy people among us as well who usually try to loot citizens, taking advantage of their compulsion and also their unawareness of laws. They have manipulated tariff cards, so even if you ask them to charge as per tariff card, you are bound to be charged more. And because of such people our whole community is infamous. They would have hundreds of ways to draw more and more money out of passengers, for example, luggage charge. Do you know sir, according to law, Rs.10 should be charged for every baggage exceeding size of 60cm x 40cm or 14kg.”
The driver was now talking statistically, leaving no point for Anay to argue. Anay looked at his luggage. He was carrying two big bags. That meant he would have to pay Rs.20 extra as the luggage charge.
“But sir, these people would ask for exaggerated money for even the tiny baggage, on the basis of inflated rates.”
Anay was now listening to him dumbstruck. He was about to speak something backing the driver’s thoughts, but was domineered by him. The driver continued.
“But sir, where there are cons, there are also pros. There are many of us who would let go some money for the sake of passenger’s comfort. I am one of them. I am not telling this to you to praise myself, but because you alleged us rickshaw drivers in general. There are times, for example, when the fare is, say, Rs.53 and people don’t have that Rs.3 in change. We let it go bearing the loss. Where do you expect us to get the change from? We don’t have them stashed at our home. There are many of us who would not even take extra charge for this much of luggage, if there is only one passenger travelling. ”
He said the last line pointing towards Anay’s luggage. “Because, if we ask for that, you would start arguing since, obviously, you don’t know the laws. And sir, many a times, it is us who has to retreat since people start citing laws which they themselves don’t know.”
Anay now realized his mistake and was apologetic. He showed this in the changed tone of his voice. He had, by now, realized that this man is not a regular rickshaw driver. Just out of curiosity, he asked, “Bhaiya, how much educated you are?”
“Masters in Commerce”, the driver replied proudly.
Anay was visibly stunned. No wonder this man is so clear of the facts. The driver identified his astonishment and he himself clarified, “Our country is not for poor, sir. I used to live in a village not far from here, where I completed my education. Despite poverty, my parents did not stop me to achieve my dream of higher education. But when I came to this city for a job, I found that there were thousands like me. Those who were capable of paying bribes got the jobs. Others like me had no way to go. I returned to my village and started working in fields. Meanwhile, I got married and had twin sons. They started growing up in the same village. Just like me, both grew a huge liking for studies. I decided to move back to city just for the benefit of my sons, even if that meant me doing odd jobs. Luckily, I got the license of this rickshaw through a friend and my sons got an opportunity of better education.” The driver got emotional and Anay could feel the lump in his throat.
“How old are your sons now?”
“They are in seventh grade right now.” He cleared his throat before speaking. “I don’t like the life in city. I am just waiting till the board exams of my sons. After which, I will enroll them in some hostel and I will return to my village. Unlike here, life is very peaceful out there. Even if I would make little less money, I would be more content, healthy and will be among my people.”
The initial merriness was back in his tone as he started describing his life in village.
“We work hard throughout the day in fields, take care of our cattle, spend time with family and friends and at last sleep serenely. We live satisfactory life in whatever little money we make, since we have very limited requirements there. That is as simple as that, isn’t it?”
Anay was lost in his own thoughts. There was a man in front of him, with principles, values and ethics. A man who did not bow down to the corrupt system, being fully aware that he would have to let go of his dreams otherwise. A man who was obsessed by his honesty and morality. A man who had no remorse of his fellow men earning much more than he do, and would not take any indecorous means to be at par with them. Anay always believed that such high level of consciences can be attained only when you have achieved fortunes in your life. But here was a rickshaw driver invalidating him. He was now all praise for the man who had just taught him a new perception to life. The perception, which was clear, precise and above all, self-content. Of all the things, one thing that Anay was pretty sure was that he would never forget meeting this man.
Anay didn’t realize that they had reached the railway station while he was admiring the driver in his thoughts. “There you are sir, right on time.” The driver said, smiling.
Anay was happy, partially for reaching his destination promptly and partially for meeting this man. “What is your name, bhaiya?” Anay asked.
“Balasaheb”, he replied proudly, probably because he shared his name with one of the prominent leaders of the state.
Anay shook his hand firmly, “It was really great meeting you, Balasaheb. How much is the fare?”
“Rs.80”, he replied.
Anay took out an Rs.100 note from his wallet, handed it to Balasaheb and started walking. Amazed, Balasaheb rushed upto him and said, “Sir, you have paid me extra.”
Anay smiled and said, “Extra! No. That is the luggage charge.”