As we set off, my eyes fell on a few magazines (kept in an aircraft style pouch) behind the driver’s back rest..
My wife and I looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of me was a small first-aid box with cotton, Dettol, and some medicines. This was enough for me to realize that I was in a special vehicle.
Then I looked around again, and discovered more – there was a radio, fire extinguisher, wall clock, calendar, and pictures and symbols of all faiths – from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11- Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan.
I realized that not only my vehicle but also my driver was special.
I started chatting with him and the initial sense of ridicule and disbelief gradually diminished.
I gathered that he had been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 8-9 years; he had lost his job when his employer’s plastic company was shut down. He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night.
No break unless he was unwell. “Sahab, Ghar mein baith ke T.V dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega.”
We realized that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai the spirit of work, the spirit of travel, and the spirit of excelling in life.
I asked him whether he does anything else as I figured that he did not have too much spare time.
He said that he goes to an old age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, hair oil, and other items of daily use.
He pointed out to a painted message below the meter that read: “25 percent discount on the metered fare for the handicapped.
Free rides for blind passengers up to Rs.50/-.
My wife and I were struck with awe. The man was a HERO!
A hero who deserves all our respect!!! Our journey came to an end; 45 minutes of a lesson in humility, selflessness, and of a hero-worshipping Mumbai, my temporary home..
We disembarked, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride for a blind man.
I hope, one day, you too have a chance to meet Mr. Sandeep Bachhe in his auto rickshaw: MH-02-Z-8508