Your fare lady

Updated: Oct 13, 2019, 07:26 IST | Rahul da Cunha |

The interiors he gave me were like a Filmfare magazine. All along, the left flank was 'Madhumati', Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala romancing against a tree

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaMy name is Padmini. Fifty years ago, they gave me away in marriage. I was young, shiny, bushy tailed, full of optimism. The man to whom I went to was middle aged, with a long black beard. His name was Mohammed Yusuf Khan, he was my 'driver'.

He was kind to me, wouldn't have been more than 50, but had the attitude of a much older man, spartan in his habits, always wore a kurta, prayed five times day, never refused anyone a ride , even if it was a short distance. He had no luxuries, or passions, except the songs of Dilip Kumar—amazingly the thespian and my taxi driver, shared the same name: Mohammed Yusuf Khan. Through the 70s he played songs off AIR radio, and then one day, he bought himself a simple car cassette player, from which emanated song after song of Yusufbhai's movies.

The interiors he gave me were like a Filmfare magazine. All along, the left flank was 'Madhumati', Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala romancing against a tree.

Above the seats, running all along the top was 'Mughal-e-Azam'.

Then, in the late 80s, as Yusufbhai's long beard got whiter and cataract set in, he whispered to me one evening, 'Rani Sahiba, ab mera waqt ho gaya. Khuda hafiz.'

Into the driver's seat came someone else, his son and heir—Yusufbhai was succeeded by Yakub the Bhai. I went from a day passenger vehicle to a night getaway car.

It was a 'rough tough' period, as I was the conduit to nefarious, nocturnal activities.

Yakub the Bhai, as his name suggested was true blue 'small time Underworld'.

My nameplates were changed often, and I never ferried anything less than six people, my carrier on top filled with 'dodgy' suitcases. And my dicky was never empty. I dared not even imagine what was inside, relieved that 'nakabandis' came much later.

Then came the turning point in my life, the Mumbai riots in the early 90s—my spare tyre played a 'useful' part. I believe the term used was ringing or necklacing—a man was doused with kerosene, a tyre was placed on him, and he was set on fire.

And then, a week later, I overheard a conversation Yakub the Bhai, had with a cohort, maybe they could place a bomb inside me—old man Yusufbhai stood up for me, "Meri Rani Sahiba pe koi nahin haath lagayega!"

But, over time, my shiny black and yellow lustre, took on a muddy variant—years of floods, wear and tear, and transporting crime took their toll finally.

By the time, Yakub's son, Mohammed Yunus Khan succeeded him, my best days were behind me. I was exhausted.

I am a senior citizen now. There's talk of retiring us—all of us from the '69 batch. We're planning a last reunion before we separate—Ustad from Bhayandar, Mukri from Govandi and Babloo Pasand, the Dongri boy—I'm the only girl in the gang.

Finally, we can drink and drive!

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahul.

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