Lessons On Life and English Literature From An Auto Rickshaw Driver

Posted: October 25, 2015

The author takes an auto rickshaw ride to JNU and encounters wonderful lessons on life and literature from an auto rickshaw driver who quotes Rabindranath Tagore poems in English.

Mr. Amar Singh was on his normal duty of taking people from one place to another, when I hopped into his auto to take me to JNU. When I immediately questioned if the meter was down, he quickly responded, “My auto has an automatic system to start meter as soon as the passenger gets in.” Satisfied with the answer, I sunk into my auto-pilot thinking mode when I found Mr. Singh commenting and complaining about other auto drivers who refused to take people, when it was their job and responsibility to do  so. I added hastily that perhaps not everyone was as good as him in taking their job seriously.

As we continued on the road, Mr. Singh began his musings on goodness and said that real goodness was getting good education, doing good deeds  and thinking good thoughts. He further added that there was this famous poem by Rabindranath Tagore that speaks of this and he went on to quote the full poem in English:

” Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads!
Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower,and his garment is covered with dust.
Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!”.

Having a PhD in English literature and not even having read the poem that an auto driver could quote, my ego cursed me but I was quick enough to recover the learner in me and I asked him what the title of the poem was.

Having a PhD in English literature and not even having read the poem that an auto driver could quote, my ego cursed me but I was quick enough to recover the learner in me and I asked him what the title of the poem was.

He continued to speak of another Hindi book, Anand Ki Khoj Me Pagal Pathik describing how it talked about the futility of a traveler who is in constant search of happiness in the outer world and things like a crazy man when he can access such happiness even in the simple experience of doing to work everyday. “Insaan chahe to har cheez aur waqt me sukh ki anubhuti kar sakta hai.” Needless to say, I was inspired by this man.

Then he narrated another story titled ‘The King’s Cure’ which was focused on a king who was seriously sick and unhappy with worrying about the progress of kingdom and used to sleep most of the time. Many doctors visited him and did not find anything wrong with him. But whosoever told this to King had to suffer his anger and was ordained to be killed. Once a special doctor came and claimed that King was ill and he could be cured if he could wear the khurta of a happy  man for few days. The King sent his sentinels to find such man and had hard time finding one as everyone had one or other problem. Eventually they  found a farmer tilling in the ground – bare chested and sweating and singing a song.He was the happy man. They immediately approached him and requested him to lend a shirt for the King so that he could be cured. The farmer smiled and said, “Do you think if I had a shirt, I would not wear it?” When the King got to hear about this, he realised his mistake and said that he was well now and had understood that real happiness is an attitude, a state of mind and being.

After Mr. Singh had finished narrating his tales, I could not resist asking his name and age. Standing tall at the age of 57, Mr. Singh could quote and make me learn three different writers in a matter of a 20-minute drive. He belongs to Bijnor and had appeared for IAS exams as well as bank recruitment exams and used to teach English to students back in his village. He has lived his struggles and has had share of his  dreams and he is truly a happy man. As I got down, I told him that it was nice to meet him and he said, “fir milenge.”

The best teachers appear at the time when we are ready for them, in most mundane surroundings, in the commonest garbs,  with plain looking face and among ordinary people. Etched in memory, Mr. Singh is one of the greatest teachers of my life. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Life is simple.

Image via Shutterstock.

Dr Sakshi Chanana is a creative writer associated with academics and poetry writing. Teaching is

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