Mr Tripathi was one of the most dignified drivers that we have had the pleasure of employing. He was an integral part of the household, playing a significant role in making our lives comfortable. From the daily running around to just having a nice presence, he was a positive influence in my life while growing up in the historic and culturally vibrant city of Lucknow.
He was always on time which was quite a novelty in Lucknow where the Indian Standard Time became the classical Indian Stretchable Time for most. I could never fathom the whole point of giving a time reference and not sticking to it. But that’s Lucknow and intrinsic to many parts of India. From a VIP at an event to a groom arriving for his own wedding, coming on time was almost a bizarre concept for most. But Mr. Tripathi was different. He used to dress sharp and run our lives with clockwork precision.
But all was not hunky dory. While he was perfect through the day he would demonstrate a surprisingly strong streak of aggression in the evening. Suddenly our Trekker in his hands would turn into a true beast. The Trekker was the Indian equivalent of the Hummer ( in the 1980’s) minus the sex appeal. It was a big bulky fuel guzzling machine that was built like a tank by a designer of questionable talent. It never gained popularity despite the best efforts of the manufacturer for obvious reasons!
Talking about beasts, Lucknow roads like most North Indian towns were co-inhabited by humans and a fascinating variety of four legged creatures. During the day, stray cattle would make the roads their own and the adjusting traffic would find a way through them. In the evenings, the cowherds would use the roads to get their cows home with scant disregard to public convenience. The cows would take their time to navigate the streets as the hapless humans waited in anticipation to get by. There was a strange equanimity demonstrated by both parties in this particularly vexing situation. But as they say no one is ever in a particular hurry in Lucknow!
However with Mr Tripathi things were a bit different in the evening. The Trekker would just need to announce its arrival through a sharp series of horns and the bovines would dutifully make way for our car. It was pretty amazing to see this and gave us as a family a bit of an edge. As a boy it got me to believe that my dad was so important that even the bovines on the road make way for us! The truth was that the bovines had realised the hard way that Mr Tripathi and his beast stopped for nothing, not even them!
My father in turn always suspected that Mr. Tripathi had an extra tipple every evening and that caused his aggressive road behaviour. From time to time he would accuse Mr T of having a drink which was passionately denied. Mr T would swear by all the gods known to us proclaiming his innocence. It always ended with my father reluctantly accepting his pleas for innocence and warning him to drive better in the evening. This went on for the three years that we were posted there and then one fine day we embarked on our next journey as my father was transferred to another city. I was sad to leave my friends, my home and my school but at the same time filled with excitement about our next adventure. Kids have an amazing sense of optimism and resilience and I guess I was no different.
I still remember our final day in Lucknow. Mr. Tripathi arrived smartly to drop us all off to the station. Our bags were packed and we were ready to go! The short journey from our home to the railway station was filled with us as a family thanking Mr. T for serving us well. As we arrived at the station we continued with our extended farewells. Suddenly in all my earnestness I popped the question that had bugged my father for the last three years about his aggressive driving post sun down. I asked him if he drank? He sheepishly whispered into my ears – “Baba, I am suffering from night blindness. I could not tell this to your father since I would have lost my job. Please keep this a secret and never let him know about our conversation!” As a nine year old I did not understand what that meant but the words stuck to me. Plus I was a loyal friend and kept this secret to myself.
Two years later my teacher was a bit puzzled to see my horrified cum amused expression as she taught us what night blindness meant!