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Life of a Taxi Driver
Winged Ones by Joginder Paul
Translated from Urdu by V Ramaswamy
well here. Best wishes for your honours well being. Writing
a letter to his old friend Fazaldin, Lobh Singh has remembered
that even nowadays he was pulling him up for writing the greeting.
"Youre an Urdu teacher Lobhey, dont you know
that greetings must be written well?"
be such a wise one Fazaldiney. The fewer the words to be written, the
simpler and clearer the writing."
"Leave the buts. You too read English." Both of them had been
primary school teachers in Pakistani Punjab. "Think a bit deeply,
why is your English so simple that even the children of the English always
speak it so fluently? Why arent the children of our Punjab able
to speak Urdu as fluently?"
"Do you think Im your student Lobhiya ? Why are you speaking
to me in Urdu?"
"As youre replying in Urdu."
"Heh ha hah!
With the formation of Pakistan, Lobh Singh left his Chondey to go to Delhi
and giving up teaching began driving a taxi there.
"Once home has been lost, mates" - he would say - "then
even while staying put in one place it feels as if one is running away
After several years of stay in Delhi, suddenly one day he received a Pakistani
From Maulvi Fazaldin, Headmaster, Chonda. Reading
the letter, he felt he was holding his old mate to his very heart
"Fazliya! Hey you bastard! There youve become such a big maulvi
and I didnt even know about it
Hey you fathers headmaster!
" The five waters of Punjab had flowed out of his eyes over
his face and beard.
"Did someone die Bhappey?", his young son Jaswant Singh began
asking? "No, no son, Im lying living dead."
After that it became a regular practice with Lobh Singh to set aside all
his work once a month, and sit down to write a letter to his Fazaldiney.
Alls well here.
your honours well being.
Your honours! Lobh Singh has started laughing uncontrollably. Even
the wife of that black-faced maulvi used to brazenly push him out of home.
"Come after a hiding again today Fazaldiney?"
"No Lobhiya, todays pay day you see."
"Mate, my poor Dharam Kaur stays down with fever even on pay day."
Lobh Singhs wife was regularly down with fever.
"Come, Ill take you to my mama today itself. Hes a big
"Im hale and hearty, you fool. Its your bhabhi whos unwell."
But where was he hale and hearty? His wifes illness was eating him
up from inside. In 1947, at the time of the countrys partition,
so much fire had broken out that he had arrived at Delhi homeless. If
they had not lost Chonda then Dharam Kaur would somehow have been alive
even today, but before even a year had passed since their coming here,
in all the instability, he had to entrust his Dharam Kaur to the Wonderful
Lord. "True Emperor! Until I too complete my time and dont
reach you, take care of my pledge!
"But the times over." Lobh Singh has raised his head and
asked himself, "So what am I doing here until now?" Stroking
his white beard restlessly he thinks that he might well set out, but where
would he search for this Wonderful Lord? In all these years, Dharam Kaur
too must have become, like him, an old hag, but when she was dying her
fever-flushed face had acquired such a beauty. Hed be holding her
hand and sitting on her cot for hours, as if, were anything to happen,
hed keep her from going.
"Dont be frightened, Jassis Bhappey, I wont go."
Shed start raising his morale.
"Dont fear. I wont go. I know that youll die if
I go away."
After Dharam Kaurs departure, just this did happen, but even worse
than this was that even after dying he had to continue breathing for who
knows how long. The whole world was as it had been, and he used to fly
around here and there in his taxi as usual, and eat and drink as usual
and talk merrily, but without his Dharam Kaur he couldnt remain
alive for a moment. When the time came for Dharam Kaur to go, he tightened
his grip on her hand but her hand remained in his and who knows where
she went away
Earlier, very often shed go from here, Chondey,
to her paternal home in Kothli Loharan, and during this time, without
fail, hed write her a letter every second day. To be delivered to
Sardarni Dharam Kaur, care of Sardar Ranjit Singh (horseman), Post Office
Kothli Loharan, Tehsil Wazirabad, District Gujranwala.
But where would he send her a letter now?
But right now he is writing a letter to his Fazaldiney.
for your honours well being.
Your honours has again teased him... What are formalities
when a friends so intimate?
But he felt he was sitting very
gracefully in the fourth standard of his own primary school. Express love
freely to your hearts content in your Punjabi, but if youre
writing a letter in Urdu then always address the recipient as your
honour. He has started remembering especially the Delhi folk, who
even when they get down to swear words and abuses, say your honours
your honours mothers
, your honours
The words are just bursting out explosively
from his mouth.
Jaswant Singh has left his wife and come, wondering what was wrong with
his father. Ever since he stopped driving his taxi and sat down, all by
himself, sometimes hed start laughing, and sometimes crying. Hes
suggested to his father that he too accompanies the driver in the taxi
or else hed go crazy, sitting all by himself. As usual, Lobh Singh
has explained to his son, if youre so concerned about me then why
dont you bring me a grandson quickly.
"Youve really gone mad, Bhappey." Hes asked his
dad whether grandsons are sold in the market that someone simply gets
into a taxi and buys them right away. Got to toil for grandsons Bhappey.
"Then toil son."
In the adjacent room, Jaswants wife has been suppressing her laughter
and Jaswant too has returned, smiling, shaking his head.
Lobh Singh has remembered a letter from Fazaldin in which he had written
that he had, altogether, fifteen grandsons and five grand-daughters from
his sons and daughters. That is to say, my lion of a headmaster has grown
from one to twenty. If he were anywhere nearby then hed have asked
for one or two as soon as they were born and brought them to his house.
Hed have washed and bathed them with his own hands and combed and
braided their hair. No, how could it happen that my Fazaldina would not
have agreed ? If hed not agreed then Id have brought them
Theyre yours Fazaldiney, arent you mine? Read
your book carefully, you headmaster - there are clear instructions in
it that you should share with all your friends and companions. Kadah prasad
is for the entire congregation of worshippers, and may his Creator keep
him content with his lot and my Wonderful Lord me, but for goodness sake
why would he disregard me?
Overcome by his greed and desire Lobh Singh has parked his taxi in front
of Fazaldins home and with the toot of the horn assembled all of
his grandsons and grand-daughters and brought them flying to Delhi in
the car. Take a look at the majesty of Qutub Sahib! These are the offices
of the laat sahib!
Yes brother, give a kulfi each
to every one. Eat my dears, the k of kulfi here is that of kainchi, clears
up your throat ... Heh ha heh
Hey Shabbo, where are you going there?
Come here, from here well go walking to Chandni Chowk. Come!
Just sitting there, Lobh Singh is tired after having
taken around the kids and breathless with joy hes come once again
to his room here.
Alls well here
Yes, very well indeed!
Heh hah ...!
The muffled laughter of his son and daughter-in-law coming from the adjacent
room is audible and with great contentment he has asked himself a question.
How else does one express greetings? At that time too, seven-eight years
ago, I had only told Fazaldiney that all was well when the whole game
had been laid to ruin. Not even a month had passed since my elder son
Jaswinder had gone to the next world after a taxi accident. This time
I had become so homeless that there was no place left to stay even in
mind or heart, but from so far away, when I am unable to send any joy
to my mate, then why should I make him sad either? And if theres
no option but to send such news, the basket of sorrow must be opened ever
so slowly, so that at first only the tail of the black serpent is visible.
Is Jaswinder your sons name?
Was it he who had gone with his taxi to Agra yesterday?
Yes, what happened?
Yesterday his taxi collided with a motor-cycle, and the motor-cyclist
died right there.
My son is blame-less sir, he is a very responsible driver.
Yes, but at that very moment a speeding truck hit his taxi. And now the
black serpent spread his hood but in this while Lobh Singhs courage
too had taken control.
Jaswinder was to be wedded a week or so after the accident. Lobh Singh
had invited all the members of the local branch of the taxi drivers
union to attend. The Commissioner sahib of the public transport department
had got up from his chair and shaken his hand and assured him that he
would attend his sons wedding. This was the first wedding in the
house, and he had thought that this would be celebrated with much pomp
and on that day hed also have a couple of swigs of liquor, which
he had left and sworn never to touch again. The Wonderful Lord is ones
own man, and he knows that on such a big occasion if even such a small
allowance was not made then what was life for? Ill make him too
sit beside and tell him, have some my brother, today you too try two drops
No, my Emperor, take it, take it for my
A band is playing in Lobh Singhs hearing and he has seen that following
the band party, Jaswinder, a golden veil bedecked in pearls and fragrant
with roses fixed to his turban, is sitting in all his finery on a mare,
and slightly ahead, he himself, wearing a long shalwaar kameez and a bordered
saffron turban flaunted like ripples on his head, as he walks, affecting
a bhangra, turning around repeatedly to sprinkle kewda on the grooms
party. The faces of the party are shining like vermilion and their laughter
is like the bursting of crackers and
The whole bridal party suddenly begins to rise from level ground
and band and all are rising, as per norm, towards the distant moon and
stars and only Lobh Singh and his young son Jaswant remain behind on this
earth and are crying out hysterically
Ay! ... Wait son!
And then he is overcome
with despair, and his turban has come loose and is hanging on his shoulders
and he is explaining to the wayfarers, a very good son he is sir, really
good. He has gone away upstairs sir to take his dead mothers blessings.
Lobh Singh is crying softly.
"Whats up Bhappey?" This time Jaswant has called out from
his room itself.
Lobh Singh has got up, moistened the towel and wiped his face and then
come and sat down on his cot.
Alls well here
Wheres well being?
But the Wonderful Lords orders must
be accepted as being for ones own good
"Its alright now - son." For the sake of his sons peace
of mind he has raised his voice and spoken. "Do rest."
He has again picked up his letter and started writing.
The news is that time does not seem to pass. Day and night I lie quietly
and only those hours seem worthwhile when I doze off a bit and reach our
Chondey. Across a distance of fifty-five, sixty years Lobh Singh has heard
his mothers voice.
"Yes, Bebe." With that very Bebes Lobhiyas call
the old Lobh Singh has cried out uncontrollably.
"Go son, look. Fazlas at the door calling you."
What a life it was! Life itself had taken care of everything and ones
own task was only to go on living and grow older.
Taking a breath of fresh air Lobh Singh began writing again.
Can it not happen that you fill your forehead with the soil of Chondey
and come once to visit me? If you cant get the visa then come on
the sly. What have we to do with the battles of big people, we small folk
meet only to embrace. Who would have any objection to that? You just come
quietly and my son Jaswant Singh shall take care of everything else.
The amused whispers of his son and daughter-in-law sound pleasant to Lobh
Singhs ears and he smiles and supposes he has begun playing with
his blooming grandson.
O brother Kesar Singha, O! Gulab Singha!
O mothers Mautabar
And the mothers Mautabar Singha too is chortling
and keeps responding to him ... But where is he?
Singh has again taken up his letter.
The remaining news is this that I have become very lonely. A few months
ago when I had completed my sixty-fifth year Jaswant Singh stopped me
from driving the taxi and made me sit at home. At first I wanted to slap
him and explain, the taxis mine, Im mine, whore you
in the middle? But the truth is that I am no longer able to drive the
taxi. Now I can only ride the horses of imagination. If I had been a headmaster
then like you (here he has struck out the you and written
your honour) I would have given a false age and extracted
another ten years or so. But Ive had enough. You too should collect
your pension and begin assembling the children of your house. After your
pension if you continue teaching outside home as well, then within four
to six months you shall be put into a lunatic asylum.
"Heh ha heh
!" Lobh Singh has stopped moving his pen.
Once a merry old madman had got into his taxi and with great officiousness
instructed him, "Go!?" "Where?" "Back".
Lobh Singh could not stop laughing. "But the taxi can only move forward."
"But I have to go backwards."
"Then sir, where is the need to sit in a car. Get down to walking
in your mind itself."
Today Lobh Singh feels he himself has come and sat in his taxi.
"Chondey?" He has started laughing thinking himself mad. "Theres
only one road there, through the heavens, become a hundred doves and fly
The late Bhai Wariyam Singh was his
Dharam Kaurs brother and they were dear mates too. Bhai used to
ask him, you got out of Chondey looted and beaten, why do you want to
"Because Chonda is my nest brother."
When Lobh Singhs life-breath stuck in his throat at the remembrance
of Chonda, hed leave everything and go to Bhai Wariyam Singh in
Saharanpur, where Bhai had settled after leaving Pakistan.
As soon as he reached Bhai would ask him, why Lobhiya, have you come to
go to Chondey. Hed reply, open the bottle, well talk after
reaching Chondey. If for some reason Lobh Singh was unable to go to Bhai
he would sit down to write him a long letter.
Bhai Wariyam Singh, Sat Sri Akal. Alls well here. Best wishes to
you. The news is that - open the cap of the bottle quickly, weve
got to reach Chondey.
Even now-a-days Lobh Singh is often overcome with the desire to write
a letter to Bhai Wariyam Singh. But to which address are letters to the
dead to be written? If he had been alive then Lobh Singh could even have
walked to Saharanpur to deliver his letter, and reached the porch of the
fourth house on the right side at Kuchey Dilbaran, but theres no
knowing where the Wonderful Lord keeps the dead. Nevertheless, once when
he got into a strange fit, he wrote and sent a letter to the late Bhai.
Which came back, or perhaps it reached its correct address, because after
someones death when he addresses us, then for his side as well one
has to listen to oneself. The dying one has died, but we are alive so
that he can live.
Lobh Singh has begun to doze and dozing is wandering around in his dreams,
and wandering around has lost his way, and in his dream itself has emerged
from his dream.
Here. This is Chondeys primary school. This
un-metalled road in front of the school goes straight to his house. He
there at the threshold of his house Dharam Kaur stands waiting
for him. Even in her illness, she stands here, just like this, when he
He has stopped to get his fill of looking at her,
and it strikes him that my wife is desolate and disheveled like pale mustard
flowers. Fixing his gaze upon her all at once he has suddenly jumped up
thinking I, Lobhi, am here gazing at her with greedy eyes and there shes
burning with smoke in her fever
He gets up with a start and makes
towards her but when hes half-way there what does he see but that
smiling she has fallen dead on the ground
Jaswant has come quickly from his room. "Whats up Bhappey?"
Lobh Singh was gaining control over the bones and joints of his soul.
"Go to sleep, Bhappey", Jaswant says to his father and casting
his eyes here and there, seeing the half-written letter has casually asked,
"Writing a letter?" Lobh Singh has wiped his face with the towel
and replied, "Yes, to your uncle in Chondey."
"But youve gone mad Bhappey."
Pitying his dad, Jaswant has reminded him that its been ages since
his uncle in Chondey died.
A translation of: "Faakhtaayein" by Joginder Paul.
Bebe: Mummy in Punjabi
Bhabhi: brothers or friends wife
Bhangra: Punjabi folk dance
Bhappey: Daddy in Punjabi
Hakim: a physician who follows the Unani system of medicine
Kadah prasad: the ritual offering made in the gurudwara i.e. the Sikh
place of worship, and distributed among the congregation; a sweet semolina
halwa prepared in clarified butter.
Kewda: a fragrant flower, pandarnus odoratissimus
Kulfi: a kind of ice cream.
Laat sahib: Viceroy or Governor General
Mama: maternal uncle
Maulvi: a learned Muslim, well versed in Arabic scripture
Sardar: common name for a Sikh man, meaning leader
Sardarni: a Sikh lady
Sat Sri Akal: Sikh holy greeting, meaning Truth is Eternal
Sahib: a word of respect, master, a European
Shalwaar kameez: traditional North Indian dress, consisting of a long
upper garment and a pair of pleated trousers
Virji: Elder brother in Punjabi
The noted Urdu fiction writer Joginder Paul was born in Sialkot in present
day Pakistan and migrated to India at the time of Partition. His mother
tongue is Punjabi, but his primary and middle school education was in
He taught English literature until he retired as the principal of a post-graduate
college in Maharashtra, India. Mr. Paul chose to put his creative expression
in Urdu language, as he believes that Urdu is 'not a language but a culture'
and for him writing is to be in the culture. He was part of the Progressive
Urdu Writers' Movement.
Mr. Paul's nineteen fictional works are widely read not only in India
but also in Pakistan. In all his writings he exposed social ills and all
his characters are full of life and their struggles. He has won all the
important awards that an Urdu writer can achieve.
Among his works, Dharti ka lal (1961), Main kyun socum (1962), Mati ka
idrak (1970), Khudu Baba ka maqbara (1994), Parinde (2000), Bastiyan (2000)
(all short stories), Amad va raft (1975), Bayanat (1975) (both novelettes),
Be muhavara (1978), Be irada (1981) (both short fiction), Nadid (1983),
Khavab-i-rau (1991) (both novels) are most known.
© V Ramaswamy March 2007
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