I have been regularly travelling in autos since the past 1.5 years. I leave office at around 5:40 and walk for about 10 mins to get into an auto. It takes 5-10 mins to reach Mantam’s daycare. Everyone at the the auto stand close to work is familiar with me as I go there daily on the weekdays. From the past one year, I have been travelling in Auto# 478 which is driven by an old gentleman. Everyone at the stand fondly calls him Thatha. Thatha has a unique demeanor and everyone at the stand respects him. He has a pleasant personality and always adorns his face with a smile. He has a certain set of regular customers who travel daily from that stand to the area where Mantam’s school is located. So, he works only on weekdays as all his customers are IT employees. If any long distance passenger would approach the stand, he would route it to other autos. So, it was an unsaid, unwritten rule that his regular passengers would ply in his auto inspite of the queue.
Whenever I travel by his auto, he would discuss with me about the weather condition, current affairs, cricket scores, his daily routine etc. Within a few days when I started travelling by his auto, first thing he asked me was if I hail from Mangalore. I was shocked! When I asked how he could guess it, he said that he had lived in most parts of India during his lifetime and knew many places, people and cultures etc. There were days when I would visit the auto stand and not find Thatha’s auto there. I would get into any available auto. Next day, he would promptly tell me that he saw me in another auto while he was coming back to the stand after dropping some other passenger and that he missed picking me up by just a minute or so.
A couple of months back, when I went to the stand, he was speaking over the phone. Apparently, he was speaking to a regular passenger(RP) who was carrying, she had fixed his auto for the daily commute as rest of the autos drivers drove very rashly. He asked me if I was okay to travel with her as she was also coming in a minute. It was perfectly fine with me and we traveled together. RP and I didn’t converse as there was no introduction as such! I promptly got down first when I reached the daycare. And this repeated a couple of times again.
Two weeks ago, I travelled by Thatha’s auto on Friday and he was discussing about the previous day’s match. And repenting the expenses he incurred on his calls made to inquire live scores. As usual, on Monday evening I went to the stand after work. I could see RP approaching the auto stand. When she saw me, she stopped and asked “Do you know something?” I was caught unawares as I had never spoken to her earlier. She continued “Thatha expired!!!” Words are not enough to express how I felt at that moment. “It couldn’t be possible. How would she know! I travelled with him on Friday. He might not be well today. He will come tomorrow.” I asked her “How do you know that???” She said that she had called his number today as usual but Thatha’s daughter picked up and broke the news. She too was clearly upset. Since that evening till today, Thatha has been on my thoughts all the time. I just can’t get myself to believe that he is no more.
I spoke to another auto driver today and he told me that it was a shocker for them too. He expired on Saturday morning when he went to the bathroom after having his morning tea. Apparently he had a heart attack… It’s so difficult for me to resist the urge to find those three digits 478 in each auto that passes by. It’s a pain to visit the stand daily and not see Thatha, even more painful that it’s all over!!!
Like Piscine Patel (in Life of Pi) says, I know that life is about letting go but moving on without even saying a final goodbye is grievous….