How many times has he dropped me and picked me from the railway station? I have had a long, both amazing, yearned and also difficult association with trains. The good first. I love a train journey. Nothing compares with sitting near a clean, glass window, or on the steps and watch a forest, a hillock, paddy fields, goats, waving kids pass by. What has been hard, is their timings, and the delays. My train to Mumbai for studies was at 03:45 am. When I started working, train to the coordination office involved taking the last bus at 12 am, to reach the railway station to catch the train at 6am. Later, when I started connecting to an airport, the connecting train was at 5am. It also meant after an early morning flight, the train journey was close to 10 hours with delays. The day would start at 4 am and end around 11pm. I have been subjected to 10-to-24-hour delays. I can go on, but I know you get it.
Since we found him, at least a decade ago, his auto was our designated transport at home. my parents do not own a vehicle. Pick ups and drops, and also to visit others in the city was always by autos which are easy to get. No uber etc those days but once cell phones came, it was easy. He had come to know the houses of all the friends and relatives. So you only needed to tell where to go, relax and stare at your city with nostalgic eyes. His was a big Piaggio auto rickshaw. Lots of space, so much so that I could never sit without holding on to something for the fear of being shifted around like popcorns in a machine. If you shopped, you could leave it in the auto. If you wanted something specific to buy, he would take you there. He would wait. He would hold the hand of my father and bring him to the auto rickshaw, drive slowly considering his age. He would even do some post office work, bank work and any other you needed done.
When he drops me to the railway station, he would wait. Help me with the luggage. Meanwhile chatting away about his children, a son and a daughter, how he wants them to study and find a job. About his relatives living in other cities. He would say with pride how he takes his entire family of four on the auto for as long as 200 kilometres!
Then the pandemic embarked upon us. And nobody could travel or stepped out. So after March 2020, when I last visited, there was not a need for auto rickshaw. I called his phone few times to run some errands for my parents long distance, but could not connect. I wondered if he had to look for an alternate profession and is doing something else. But why would the call not go through at all?
He had mentioned while chatting away, that he sometimes does some work for a post office. I looked up on the net, found few numbers, took a chance and called. I asked the gentleman, hesitantly that I am looking for a certain Balaji who used to be an autorickshaw driver and was related to someone in the post office.
“He was not well and did not recover”, said the gentleman on the other side. I don’t know what illness, where he lived, no information on how to reach his family.
Always helpful, always soft spoken, never an argument.
How does one mourn some people? A face only in the memory.