Jasram was leaning on his yellow coloured Ambassador cab at Howrah station waiting for the last train to come. It was past 11pm.The train from Delhi it seemed was running late. He could not say he had a good day and most of his rides were for short distances that did not fetch him much. As a principle he never asked for more than the metered fare for he considered it a form of begging.Scruplously honest he never tampered with the meter. He had some self made rules. He never refused to take a pregnant woman however short or long the distance may be. He avoided drunken men, gang of troublesome looking youngsters or shady looking couple. He would be happy if he got a foreign tourist or an occasional rich man. The latter type has their cars.
His wife Tara reminded him in the morning that there was no stock of grocery and unless he fetched money the children would go hungry. She said the youngest girl was having fever for two days and had to be taken to some doctor. His elder son told him that the last date for school fee was over ten days back. His mom’s request for a blanket to protect from chillness was remaining unattended for a month. His immediate concern was to earn some money for buying food for family.
He wiped his old car clean and took care of it as if it were his child. He put a lighted joss stick in front of Ma Kali’s picture on the dashboard and said a quick prayer. He saw some quick movement amongst the other drivers towards the station to solicit passengers. The prepaid taxi counter had closed by 10 pm.Jasram heard the hoot of the train and there was a scramble for a vantage position amongst the cabbies to catch the attention of arriving passengers.
Jasram stood a little away from others on the opposite side. The other drivers managed to get passengers and started driving away one by one. When the arriving passengers became a trickle, he got worried and the starving family came to his mind. He quickly prayed again Ma Kali when an elderly gentleman with a suitcase and a bag approached him. He looked tired and unable to pull the box.”Baba, let me take your box and bag. I will take you wherever you want to go. Please come with me and get into the car.”
He opened the door and made him sit comfortably. He kept the box and bag in the boot of the car. As he sat at the wheel and started the car, he asked the elderly passenger “Where am I supposed to take you?”
“Lake market .Once you reach there I will direct you. I have never seen anyone taking a passenger without asking for the destination. You seem a good person”
“Thanks, Baba.I don’t ask normally and today wherever you wished to go I would have taken you” he replied
“What is special today?”
“Since morning I have had only a few rides mostly minimum fare. I need to take some money home. My wife has asked me not to come home without money for buying grocery for kitchen”
“Oh, oh I am sorry to hear about it. Don’t worry. I will pay you two hundred rupees more than fare. I have no family or children and tomorrow is Christmas. Are you in Lake Market area and in which case I can use your cab?”
“No, Baba.Pay me the due fare. I don’t wish to take more”
“I am not feeling well. Let me rest for a while.” he said and took a five hundred rupee note.”Keep this with you. You can return me the balance if any after taking the extra two hundred rupees” and dropped it in front seat by the side of driver.
“Why now itself? What is the hurry?”Jasram protested mildly but found the elderly man resting with closed eye. He did not disturb him as he said he was tired. He tried to pick some conversation when he came near Victoria memorial. But he seemed to be asleep. Again as he crossed Bhowanipore and was nearing Hazra road he asked “Baba, we are nearing Kalighat and will soon be at Lake Market. Wake up to give me directions”
There was again no reply. Worried he stopped the car near tram depot and nudged him. The man fell down on his sides. He quickly got out of the car and. nudged him repeatedly calling “Baba, Baba.”When there was no response he quickly turned the car to take him to Ramakrishna mission hospital nearby.The doctors there pronounced him dead after a massive cardiac arrest.Jasram told them of the circumstances and gave them his address and the taxi number. He left the bag and the box with hospital authorities. The fare including extra 200 was only 360 rupees. He inserted Rs.140 in dead man’s pocket to the amused stare of those around and left the hospital in tears after paying obeisance to the departed soul.