Monday, July 20, 2015

They walk among us

Hyderabadi autowalas are, by and large, a delightful set. Chatty, warm, funny... of course, we have our cads and they're fussy as to destination, but most of them are decent chaps.

I was dropped off by friends halfway home yesterday evening and found two autos, both with snoozing drivers. I was reluctant to disturb their rest but it was late, and I didn't want to be hanging around Begumpet, so "Bhaiyya?" it was. He woke with a start, "hau, hau."
"Secunderabad chaleinge?"
"Hau, hau, chalo." He was diving into the driver’s seat with almost mindless alacrity.

I sniffed the air. "Peeke hai kya aap?!" (Have you been drinking?)
"Arre nai, Madam, aisa kaisa bolte! Aap pukaare toh pehli baar mein utha na mai? Peeke su logon ku baar baar uthana padta!" Evidently chagrined.
Ok. But I liked his lined face and we discussed destination and terms. I tried to haggle but he cut me off irritably; pay me what you think fit, I won't fight about this! Fair enough, I thought, that's my line usually.

We zipped along and after a little small talk, again: “Peeke hai kya bolke aisa kaisa pooche madam?”
I didn’t see the need for this super sensitivity and said so: “Kaiku nai poochna, bhaiyya? Mera iraada aapki tauheen karna nai tha, apni hifazat ke liye poochi mai. Galat kya hai?”
Two Urdu words in one sentence and he was impressed. Where did you learn to speak Urdu?

Then halfway there, he requests permission to speak frankly. Okay, I say.
“Aapki nazar tez hai, aap sahi pehchaane: mai peeke hi tha!”
I was unsurprised – I’d been alert anyway for traffic mishaps.
“Sharab galat nahin hai, Madam,” he assured me, “lekin kuch log sharab ka naam kharaab karte hain.”
Ok, I said, willing to indulge his argument.

Then he launched into a sher, lauding my perspicacity:

Hum ulaT'te nahi bejan kitabon ke varak
Hum wo padte hai jo chehron pe likha hota hai

I am not used to turning the leaves of lifeless tomes
I read that which is written on living faces

“Wah!” I said, “kya baat hai!”
Seeing that I had needed no assistance in deciphering that couplet, he asked if he could recite me a sher of Allama Iqbal’s.
“Of course,” I said, “Irshad!”
“Will you understand it?” He was polite but clearly this was to be a test of the depth of my classical knowledge.
“I’ll ask you to explain if there is a word or phrase I don’t understand,” I assured him.
He threw down the gauntlet with:

Ye kainat abhi na-tamam hai shayad
Ke aa rahi hai damadam sada'a-e-‘kun faya kun’

It was not a sound background in Urdu literature or Muslim theology that had me in instant raptures over this one – merely my magpie-like assortment of random knowledge.

Creation is as yet incomplete perhaps
For incessantly comes the wave: ‘Be!’ and ‘It is’

“Do you know what kun faya kunmeans?”
Yes, I did and said, “It is the original hukum or the word.”
My new friend was delighted.

What is your education, he asked me. I confessed to an MA.
And then delicately, how many children do you have?
None, I said; I have never married.

“Oh, your degree is a diploma then!” he said, downgrading me promptly.
Obviously, his values were old fashioned.
“Arre!” I protested, half-amused, “aisa kyon? Mai khud mein mukammal hoon, kisi aur se judna zaroori toh nahin!” (I am complete by myself, surely it isn’t necessary for me to partner someone else…)

He conceded the point and then had a sher for this keyword too:

Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahin milta,
Kahin zamin toh kahin aasman nahin milta…

No one has ever achieved a complete perfect world,
Here the earth eludes us, there heaven

(Link to another post on this sher)

I don’t hold with that one, I told him. The poet is simply faint-hearted.

He laughed out at that and said oh, you are like this then:

Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se khud pooche bata, teri raza kya hai!

Elevate yourself so high that at every turn of destiny,
Even God might ask, ‘Speak, what is your will?’

Absolutely, I said.

Sorry for boring you, he said to the end. “Shayari se hum bore nahin hote,” I told him. He agreed: “Bada sukoon wala junoon hai.”

He asked for my name at the doorstep, and told me his.
Sheetal bibi, he called me, 'Sheetal bibi' with such affection as he said Khuda hafiz and shabbha khair.


Silpa said...

<3 Sheetal bib.

Deepa said...

Aw so lovely, Sheetal. This drunk poet found a worthy humrahi :)

Anonymous said...

Masha'allah! They don't write scripts better. 'Is mai to mubaarak cheez samajh, mana ke bohut badnaam hai ye!'

Sheetal said...

Thank you, Silpa, Deepa.
@Shweta: wah, kya cheez le aaye tum!

Anonymous said...

Where else but in Hyderabad would you have such an experience? Such a sweet encounter, Sheetal. Reminded me of my auto hopping days in Delhi when every conversation would begin with, " Achcha, toh bhaiya...."
Miss it all here in Seattle...
Vimla Sriram (you and I spoke over the phone when I was in ISB)

Sheetal said...

Hello, Vimla, and thank you! So wonderful to see you here. Absolutely - autos take up a whole chapter in our collective nostalgia.