By Priyanka Verma:
You folks probably already know how difficult it gets to convince auto drivers to go by the meter in Delhi and also how frustrating that can be when one needs to commute urgently on a sunny afternoon. I was in a similar state of mind when I approached this auto. As soon as I was about to pick up the automated battle of arguing with him to switch on his meter, he turned around by himself and switched it on!
I was quietly amazed when a voice came from the front seat, “Sure ma’am. Where do you want to go?”
English! Hmm… I couldn’t help myself but praise him for being able to speak the language so fluently. He thanked me and added, “I am a fairly new driver.” He used to work in the hotel industry, which is probably where he learned to speak the language so smoothly.
He was a relatively handsome man, probably in his mid-thirties. He wore a black sweatshirt paired with beige corduroy pants. He was tall and partly bald and to say the least, very well-mannered too.
He had caught my attention, and it made me probe him about his background. “Wow, it must be a very different experience for you driving an auto all of a sudden after being an hotelier?”
“I spent a good 18 years in the hotel industry before I finally had to put in a resignation.”
“How come? Why would you do that?”
“I wanted to spend time with my two-year-old son at home,” he said with nonchalance.
“I am my own boss as an auto driver. I can choose when I want to work…”
“Oh, so where is your son now?”
“He is at the crèche. I am going to drive till 5’ o clock and then go pick up my wife from work. She and I will then go and get our son. My wife works at the Lalit Hotel. That is where we first met, you know. It was all very rosy in the beginning. We had a love marriage. She hails from South India, and I’m a Punjabi.”
He seemed to smile from what I could see of him in the rear-view mirror. And then he went quiet for a while.
“Money is very important, ma’am.”
I could not hear him at first in all the traffic noise.
“I am saying, money is a very important thing, ma’am. We did not save a lot of money in our initial days of marriage, and I regret that today. And so yes, my wife and I, we decided to figure out a plan wherein both of us can work, earn and save but still be able to spend quality time with our son. We cannot leave him alone with an ayah, you know.”
“Hmmm…,” I said after gaining some insight about his family and his life.
“You know ma’am, leaving our son to the ayah was not the best idea. We hated it from the start, but we did not know any other way. Instead of my wife leaving her job to take care of our son at home, we decided to do things differently. I chose to leave my job and take up this work for the time being. It pays me quite well. 30 to 40 thousand per month aaraam se aa jaata hai (I easily earn about 30 to 40 thousand rupees).”
I tried to gather my thoughts. For a moment, it occurred to me that he might be concocting a story having found an audience. But the next moment, I felt that even a concocted story (if at all, it is) such as this, to be quite path-breaking given that this is a man’s world.
It brought an array of questions to my mind. In a situation like this, how many men would be willing to do what this auto wallah claims to have done? How many men would want to leave their jobs to take up a ‘lesser’ profession so as to give more to the family? How many men would be ready to earn less in comparison to their wives? How many men would say, “I want to spend quality time with my son more than I want to prove my merit in a job?” How many men would demand and fight for a paternity leave system in their offices?
Especially when the chosen, primitive and comfortable formula has always been, “I bring the money; you take care of the house.”
Hats off to this man. Thank you for breaking a stereotype around gender, even if it is in your personal space.