Mumbai never sleeps they say. At anytime of the day you can see autos and taxis covering the face of the city. In short, Mumbai is cramped-in the locals, on the roads, on the beaches or wherever you go. There are people who love the city and there are people who hate the city. You can’t be neutral to Mumbai.
Manju was an auto rickshaw driver in Mumbai. It was one of those cramped, hot and humid afternoons in Mumbai. There was nothing special about the day. It was just one of those days where Manju would travel almost the entire city, get struck in some traffic jams and be exhausted at the end of the day. It was round about 3:00 p.m. and Manju was currently passing the Veera Desai Road after having dropped a passenger at the Andheri Sports Complex.
Shreya was in a very foul mood. Her car had broken down. She had been standing on the side of the road for the last 15 min after having waited for a good half an hour in the car. The driver had tried his best but he had not been able to fix the problem. “Why have you not called a mechanic till now?” blasted Shreya.
“I have Mam. He will be here any moment.”
“And how much time will he take to repair the car?”
“Don’t know mam. All depends on the problem. I have not been able to figure it out.”
“What the hell. I am going to get late and you know I never get late to any of my functions. Get me an auto!”
“Ya. Get me an auto.”
“But Mam, it won’t be appropriate for you.”
“What is not appropriate is me standing on the side of the road and waiting for the car to be fixed when there are people there waiting for me. So just do as I say.”
The driver tried to stop a couple of autos but none of them seemed interested in going to Bandra. Even a couple of taxis gave him a cold shoulder. Meanwhile Shreya’s frustration was increasing by the moment and she was about to vent out all her anger on the driver when an auto pulled by and agreed to go to Bandra.
“hum hain tere deewane, deewangi ki kasam” were the first words she heard as she got into the auto. She was thrilled to listen to that song. It was one of her personal favourites as well.
Shreya: Kitna time lagega pahunchne mein?(How much time will it take to reach)
Manju: Aj traffic thoda zyada hai mam. Ghanta bhi lag sakta hai.(It can take upto an hour as the traffic is too much)
After some time she realized that among all the songs that had played till now, the only thing that was common was the actress who was she, herself. As another chartbuster featuring her started to play in the background, She decided to start off a conversation with the autowallah.
Shreya: Ye to sabhi us Shreya actress ke gaane hain na? (All these songs have been picturised on the actress Shreya?)
Manju: Han Madam (Yes, Madam)
Shreya: Aapko achi lagti hai kya? (Do you like her?)
Manju: Han Madam. Maine unki sabhi picture dekh rakhi hain. Mujhe wo bahut zyada pasand hain. (Yes Madam. I have seen all her films. I like her a lot.)
Shreya: Acha, kya acha lagta hai unmein? ( What do you like about her?)
Manju: Madam wo kehte hain na k wo poora package hai. (As they say Madam, She is a complete package)
Shreya couldn't control her laughter after hearing this. Manju also started to laugh a but as he saw Shreya laughing.
Shreya had had a tough day till now. She had a very bad fight with her boyfriend, who happened to be an actor himself. She was feeling very sad and depressed because of the constant fights and quarrels she had been having with him. Her latest film was not performing well at the box office. She had just got to know in the morning that a leading cosmetic brand she endorsed had decided not to renew her contract. She had read an article in one of the leading film magazines where the author had declared her as a thing of the past. To add to that, her car had bust in the middle of the road. She was feeling as if everything was going against her. But, this auto journey and talking to someone who totally adored her was a breath of fresh air for Shreya. It was something she seriously needed to rejuvenate herself.
As Shreya and Manju kept on talking about Shreya and her movies without Manju having any idea about who he was talking to, Manju asked, “Ye mooh pe kapda kyun le rakha hai apne?”(Why have you wrapped your face with a cloth?)
Shreya: Wo dust padti hai na(Because of the dust.)
Manju: Hmmm. Waise apki aankhein Shreya ji se bahut milti hain. Aur aawaz bhi thodi unke jaise hi.(You eyes and voice are like Shreya’s)
Shreya started laughing and said “Thank You.”
Shreya was thinking, “Why did he say voice is also somewhat like her. I am her! Do I actually sound different on screen? Or is it because of all this traffic? Or is it because of the dubbing?”
No one had ever mentioned something like this to her. And if someone had, she wouldn’t have cared. She was at the top of her career till about 6 months back. But her last two movies had bombed at the box office and critics had also slammed them. There was a growing sense of insecurity in her. Anything anyone was saying was having a huge impact on her now.
Shreya again engaged Manju in some chit chat. She asked him about what time he starts his work and till what time he goes on. She asked him about his family, his native place and a whole lot of other things. Manju was surprised to see someone asking so many questions. Most of his passengers just sit and he drops them . A few yeses and nos apart, he hardly talked to his customers. But he was liking this conversation.
Shreya: kaisa lagta hai sara din shehar ghumte rehna. Hum logon ko to apne kaam mein dhang se shehar dekhne ka bhi time nahi rehta.(You must like driving throughout the city all day. We don’t even get the time to explore the city because of your schedules)
Manju: Are Mam, sochne ki baat hai. Sara din kaun itni garmi mein auto chalana chahta hai. Par pet ke liye karna padta hai.(Its just a way f thinking Mam. Who wants to drive an auto al day in this heat? But you have to do it to earn your bread.)
Shreya knew he was right. She hadn’t thought through before saying this. She felt bad for having asked this.
After sometime, Manju asked, “Aap kaam kya karti ho?” (What work do you do)
Meanwhile Shreya had fallen asleep. Manju noticed this and kept on driving.
After another 10 minutes, Manju woke up Shreya and told her that they were about to reach. As he was pulling up the auto, he asked again, “ Aap karte kya ho waise?” (What work do you do?)
As a few press reporters saw her and came running, She removed the cloth from her face and said, “ Actress hun.” and gave Manju a smile. Manju was astonished and he couldn’t control his happiness. He asked her for a autograph which she readily gave. He also asked if he could have a photograph with her. She said, “Why not?” and asked one of the bystanders to take a pic on Manju’s phone.
She said “Thank You” to Manju and moved towards the press. Meanwhile a few press reporters surrounded Manju to ask about what had happened.
“Shreya travels in an auto” was the headline that day with a subheading “Autowallah’s Dream comes True.”
“Failing star’s last ditch effort for publicity” read another headline. Shreya looked at it and just laughed and kept the paper away.
Sometimes we feel that nothing is going right or that life is unfair or million such things. But, in the end the smallest of things/occurrences bring us content and happiness which makes those not-so-good times totally worth it.
*A work of fiction