words pavithra sankaran | images cebe loomis & natasha sumant
New Delhi to Old Delhi Station.
“A lot has happened in my life because of my good looks,” he tells me, turning the taxi into the city’s central district. Ahn, I grunt, not knowing where encouraging him might lead. Through the window of this well cared-for taxi, it seems as if we are still and it is the city that passes us by tonight—her endless flyovers with the viscous river alongside, her vast construction sites alive with floodlights and helmet-less workers, her manicured neighborhoods where even the trees are too proper to put out an asymmetric branch—slipping past softly while Rajendar tells me about his looks and loves.
“We are from Bihar, but we don’t tell anyone here that. People think we are either stupid or that we are thieves, mostly both. We sold our land and came away, my brother and I. Two years ago we brought our parents also. My neighbors are from the south, like you. They are very simple people. Their grandmother went to Uttarakhand last month and she has not returned. She must have died in the floods. Her second son and oldest grandson have gone to look for her. But they say entire hills fell into the river…oh, what a way to die! Sinking into an angry Ganga ma! That is the best way to go.”
“But I was telling you about the girl who pursued me. She was a Brahmin and she earned fifty thousand rupees a month. I am talking of twelve years ago. I was only a driver in her uncle’s company. She was working there in the accounts department. I am still very good looking, but then, toh, I was like a Chandravanshi. People used to stare at me on the roads.”
“After five–six months of trying to make her understand, I had to go speak to her father. I told him to advise his daughter. We are of different castes and I am not educated. I told him I might be a man of good looks and good heart, but the differences are too much; such things cannot be changed.”
“Do you have children?”
“Two, one girl and one boy. The boy is in 1st standard.”
“And the girl, does she go to school?”
“She is only a year old now.”
“Will you educate her?”
“Yes, of course. We live in a small house in Munirka, I bought it with my earnings three years ago. I think parents should spend time with their children. I don’t go to the movies, I never watch TV, I don’t even sit outside and smoke like others, even in winter. If I am not driving the taxi, I am with the children. If we don’t watch them and teach them, who knows what will happen?”
“Look you are educated, you can call a taxi and someone like me will come. I want my children to be like you, not like me.”