CHOTU – A man who was…

After serenading with a big fat novel that I have been trying to finish since I had it in my possession, it was almost 4 am and the Monday blues had been hitting already. I slept like a log and thankfully, the next day I had a late shift in the afternoon.

One good thing about the corporates, who work round the clock, is the cab facilities. This has completely handicapped me to use any kind of public transport as it feels like I am out for a quest. The driver called to inform he would be late, as the monsoons make it difficult to see beyond a mile. In this crazy over populated country, along with pedestrians, cars, rickshaws, buses, cats, dogs, cows and so much more, the driver needs to lookout for the deadly potholes and pray to live for another day. I decked up for the start of the week and over stuffed myself with a three-course Bengali meal. I fell right back to bed trying to get a power-nap.

The phone rang. After three rings, I woke up from a super refreshing sleep, which felt like forever. I grabbed my headphones, slung my bag on one side, and wore my shoes and stormed out of the house. By default, I unlock the gate and look up towards the balcony, where my mother stands every day without fail to wave at me. I carefully opened the backseat door; dribbling the traffic on both sides of the narrow road, I live in. The car whiffed of Bidi. The driver was rolling up the windows and getting ready to switch on the air conditioning. It was exclusive, as our company can never find the budget to provide us cars with them. I was in a mood to plug in my favorite song for the ride as I was alone and it takes a good 2 hours for me to reach office. The man was in his early 50’s with a well-maintained moustache. He looked through the rear-view mirror a few times, I could not understand if he had said something with the song on full volume. At a signal, he looked back and asked me if I had been staying in that house for long. I was a bit startled but told him I had shifted here a few years ago. He kept speaking about my area as if he had stayed there for years. After exchanging a few pleasantries and a loooooong pause, he told me my grandfather’s name and my dad’s name. I could not guess where this conversation was going and how this man exactly knew so much about me and my family and my area; starting from my newspaper man to the next door shop. This was creepy af and I mustered up the courage to ask him who exactly he was. He smiled and said, since the moment I had entered the cab he noticed my eyes.

You have the same eyes as your grandmother, they look brown from afar, but as you notice, they are the color of honey. They are bright and liquid warm, sprinkled with light brown specks, framed by beautiful thick lashes, he said. I believe you are born in the month of October. I nodded. Your grandfather brought you back home with a wide smile on his face. He was the happiest that day.

I still could not find the missing piece. How do you know all of this? His eyes got teary and his voiced deepened. Your grandfather was the greatest man I knew; He saved my life. I was born in an orphanage in North Kolkata. I had an ordinary childhood. Every year the kids at the orphanage would find shelter at new homes with warm-hearted people who would pick only those who showed them a few tricks to lure them to choose first. I was frustrated and on my 16th birthday decided to escape that hell. I had a lot of fire in my heart, not knowing where to go and neither did I have any money, I decided to walk. I went on until my rubber slippers were tattered and my appearance had changed to a homeless boy. People started staring at me and some even offered money. Those were the hardest days of my life. One night I slept near a tea stall hoping that the owner would provide some food when he opened his shop. Next morning, I could hear someone murmur something and shaking me to wake me up. I opened my eyes, still a blurred vision looking at a tall man wearing a white dhoti and a khaki colored kurta. He had such calming eyes. He was holding a cup of tea and some biscuits offering me to eat. Without even thanking him, I gobbled it all up. It had been days since I ate. I cried as I gulped down the tea. The man asked me my name. Everyone in the orphanage called me “chotu” as I had never grown taller by the years. I did not know what my real name was. He asked me if I knew anything about cars. I looked at him blankly not knowing what exactly he meant. I had seen those driven by the prominent people around the streets of Kolkata. He smiled and said, “Don’t worry Chotu. There is nothing you cannot learn and be a master at. Come with me, I shall find you something to do.” He took me to an old garage and met someone who was very pleased to see your grandfather. They looked close. He took him to the corner and said something to him. The man walked up to me with kind eyes and told me that I needed to work very hard and be a fast learner. Your grandfather would come and visit me weekly. I started doing the small chores and learning so much about automobiles. In and out of it actually. He treated me like his own son. I visited your house every Sunday for a good Mangshor jhol and rice. That is where I met your grandmother. I could never forget those eyes. She would always keep the best piece of mutton separate for me. Your father and his brothers were of my age and we would go hiding behind the house and smoke. With my first income, I handed it all to your grandfather. He never accepted. He was the most humble man I had ever met, who is always doing for the community and not thinking about himself. Your grandparents were like my parents.

Time flew; this man’s story was the most intriguing. I had reached office and he looked back and said “Madam, it was very nice to meet you. Hope I get to continue this story the next time we meet.” I smiled back and got out. That day at office, I kept thinking about this man. I could not wait to go back home and ask my dad and grand mom about this. My grandfather had passed away 6 years back and I hardly knew much about him as I only visited him during my summer vacations. This story made me know so much more about him as a man with grit and power in the society. I reached home and asked my granny about someone named “Chotu”. I narrated the whole story word by word to her and she could not recall any of it. I was so disappointed. I thought she must have forgotten and asked my dad the same. He had no clue of what I was saying as well. I kept repeating and repeating. They just stared at me as if I were crazy. The next day I called up the cab coordinator and enquired about my yesterday’s pick up. He said the driver had quit their service and left without notice. Even his number was out of reach. I was left shocked.

I really wish someday I get to meet Chotu again and continue from where we left off.

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