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The International Writers Magazine
Life of a Taxi Driver

The Winged Ones by Joginder Paul
Translated from Urdu by V Ramaswamy

All’s well here. Best wishes for your honour’s 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. "You’re an Urdu teacher Lobhey, don’t you know that greetings must be written well?"

Joginder Paul

"Don’t be such a wise one Fazaldiney. The fewer the words to be written, the simpler and clearer the writing."
"But …"
"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 aren’t the children of our Punjab able to speak Urdu as fluently?"
"Do you think I’m your student Lobhiya ? Why are you speaking to me in Urdu?"
"As you’re 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 somewhere."
After several years of stay in Delhi, suddenly one day he received a Pakistani postal envelope. … 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 you’ve become such a big maulvi and I didn’t even know about it … Hey you father’s 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, I’m 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.
All’s well here. …your honour’s well being.
Your honour’s! 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, today’s pay day you see."
"Mate, my poor Dharam Kaur stays down with fever even on pay day." Lobh Singh’s wife was regularly down with fever.
"Come, I’ll take you to my mama today itself. He’s a big hakim."
"I’m hale and hearty, you fool. Its your bhabhi who’s unwell."

But where was he hale and hearty? His wife’s illness was eating him up from inside. In 1947, at the time of the country’s 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 don’t reach you, take care of my pledge! …"
"But the time’s 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. He’d be holding her hand and sitting on her cot for hours, as if, were anything to happen, he’d keep her from going.
"Don’t be frightened, Jassi’s Bhappey, I won’t go."
She’d start raising his morale.
"Don’t fear. I won’t go. I know that you’ll die if I go away."

After Dharam Kaur’s 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 couldn’t 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 she’d go from here, Chondey, to her paternal home in Kothli Loharan, and during this time, without fail, he’d 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. …Best wishes for your honour’s well being.
‘Your honour’s’ has again teased him... What are formalities when a friend’s so intimate? … But he felt he was sitting very gracefully in the fourth standard of his own primary school. Express love freely to your heart’s content in your Punjabi, but if you’re 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 honour’s…’, ‘your honour’s mother’s…’, ‘your honour’s sister’s …’ 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 he’d start laughing, and sometimes crying. He’s suggested to his father that he too accompanies the driver in the taxi or else he’d go crazy, sitting all by himself. As usual, Lobh Singh has explained to his son, if you’re so concerned about me then why don’t you bring me a grandson quickly.
"You’ve really gone mad, Bhappey." He’s 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, Jaswant’s 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 he’d have asked for one or two as soon as they were born and brought them to his house. He’d 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 he’d not agreed then I’d have brought them by force…They’re yours Fazaldiney, aren’t 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 Fazaldin’s 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! … Red Fort! … 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 we’ll go walking to Chandni Chowk. Come! … Careful, mind! … Just sitting there, Lobh Singh is tired after having taken around the kids and breathless with joy he’s come once again to his room here.
All’s well here … Yes, very well indeed!
Kha … khi … khi …! …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 there’s 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 son’s name?
Yes, why?
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 Singh’s 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 son’s 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 he’d also have a couple of swigs of liquor, which he had left and sworn never to touch again. The Wonderful Lord is one’s 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? I’ll make him too sit beside and tell him, have some my brother, today you too try two drops … No? … No, my Emperor, take it, take it for my
sake! …

A band is playing in Lobh Singh’s 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 groom’s party. The faces of the party are shining like vermilion and their laughter is like the bursting of crackers and … and … what’s this? … 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 … Virji! … Jaswinder! … Vinderay … 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 mother’s blessings.
Lobh Singh is crying softly.
"What’s 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.
All’s well here …
Where’s well being? … But the Wonderful Lord’s orders must be accepted as being for one’s own good …
"Its alright now - son." For the sake of his son’s 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 mother’s voice.
Lobhiya! … Lobhiya! …
"Yes, Bebe." With that very Bebe’s Lobhiya’s call the old Lobh Singh has cried out uncontrollably.
"Go son, look. Fazla’s at the door calling you."
What a life it was! Life itself had taken care of everything and one’s 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 can’t 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 Singh’s ears and he smiles and supposes he has begun playing with his blooming grandson.
O brother Kesar Singha, O! Gulab Singha! … O mother’s Mautabar Singha! … And the mother’s Mautabar Singha too is chortling and keeps responding to him ... But where is he? …Wistfully, Lobh 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 taxi’s mine, I’m mine, who’re 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 I’ve 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.
"Where?" "Chondey."
"Chondey?" He has started laughing thinking himself mad. "There’s only one road there, through the heavens, become a hundred doves and fly away Sardaro."
"Why? …" Why? … The late Bhai Wariyam Singh was his Dharam Kaur’s 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 go there?
"Because Chonda is my nest brother."

When Lobh Singh’s life-breath stuck in his throat at the remembrance of Chonda, he’d 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. He’d reply, open the bottle, we’ll 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. All’s well here. Best wishes to you. The news is that - open the cap of the bottle quickly, we’ve 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 there’s 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 someone’s 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 Chondey’s 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 returns everyday… 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 she’s burning with smoke in her fever … He gets up with a start and makes towards her but when he’s half-way there what does he see but that smiling she has fallen dead on the ground …
Dharmu! … Jaswant! … Jassi! …
Jaswant has come quickly from his room. "What’s up Bhappey?" "Nothing."
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 you’ve gone mad Bhappey."
Pitying his dad, Jaswant has reminded him that it’s been ages since his uncle in Chondey died.

A translation of: "Faakhtaayein" by Joginder Paul.

Bebe: Mummy in Punjabi
Bhabhi: brother’s or friend’s wife
Bhai: brother
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.
Kainchi: scissors
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 Urdu medium.
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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