Death! Thy Name is Life

Death! Thy Name is Life

It is said that life unwinds itself like a film reel when we are face to face with death. It turned out to be true with Mohan lal Yadav. Death looked deep into his eyes and challenged – sooner or later we are destined to meet, why not now? He dared to look into its deep-set eyes- death cannot take away what I have earned, it shall remain long after I am gone. I shall leave my mark in this world, the respect I have earned shall be with me. Life, even though short, has given me abundance of love and affection, I shall carry the memories…..

***

“Taxiwale ka sapna” (Taxi driver’s dream), the big cut out of the blockbuster hero was being put up near the taxi stand. As soon as the cut out was put up the fans association garlanded it amidst drum beats and loud music. The wild dance that followed was nothing less than madness. 

Mohan and his co-taxi drivers laughed aloud. “crazy people!” said Jagan babu, a middle aged taxi driver, “I have been a taxi driver for nearly twenty five years, no has even appreciated me when I drove at 100km/hr to save a life, no one came forward to pat Sohan lal when he returned a passenger’s purse with Rs.50,000/- in the Police station, Moinuddin was beaten up by the crowd when he saved a girl when she was being harassed by street rowdies, saying that those goons too were Muslims…. Numerous incidents where we, the real heroes, weren’t acknowledged that we have done something worthy of appreciation. A token of appreciation for our service is all we expect and that too is denied. And here, right in front of us, in the taxi stand they have put up this poster! What an irony!”

“It is always the ‘Happywala’ ending, he either becomes a rich person (driving a taxi and earning big money!) or his loyalty pays off, he marries the girl of his dreams and lives happily ever after…”Ha ha ha … Sohan vented out his feelings. “Why doesn’t it happen with any one of us? Such farcical representation of reality!”

Mohan, whose dreams were bigger than reality, couldn’t support any of their thoughts. He knew he would make it  big one day, and that day would make the taxi drivers lives memorable, appreciable and worthy. He looked at the poster and felt proud, at least some film maker had thought of bringing their lives live on the celluloid. He was filled with gratitude. He wasn’t aware of the stumbling blocks that awaited him as his dreams take off scaling new heights.

***

 Mohan, a Commerce graduate, tired of job hunt, became a taxi driver, not by choice but by chance . The taxi belonged to his friend who had met with an accident and was recovering from a fractured leg. Since Mohan had a driving license, he offered to run the taxi so that the family wouldn’t face financial difficulty. 

Each day was a new experience for him, it was no less thana filmi story; passengers as they travelled in his taxi, would indulge in conversation, especially if they were elderly people, asking him about his family, his education, family background, reason for becoming a taxi driver, instead of looking for a jo…… innumerable questions, a few answered and a few ignored, especially if they concerned marriage! 

Youngsters would be busy on their mobile phones, either speaking to someone or checking/ replying messages. There were times when he would advise young girls to keep track of the route instead of getting busy on the phone.

One girl had even asked him why he advised like mom dad, elder brother.

“ Madam, the SHE teams, safety apps, are measures to keep oneself safe while travelling. You need to be cautious while using cabs, autos and taxis. There have been so many cases of assault on women, so ‘prevention is better than cure’, am I right Madam?”

Once a doctor’s car broke down on the way to the hospital to attend an emergency case, Mohan drove at high speed but with utmost caution, and dropped the doctor at the hospital gate  and refused to take the fare money as it was a life and death matter. The doctor later contacted him and thanked him for being so selfless and helpful. 

Mohan felt these were the rewards for his work and they meant a world to him. There were instances where the passenger had been outrightly rude with him for driving slowly, as he was getting late for a pub party. When he tried to reason out with him that it was peak hours and a heavy traffic route, it wasn’t easy to accelerate and move, the youngster got wild and used foul words. Mohan understood that the delicate situation required him to be calm and cool. He pretended as though the taxi broke down and asked him to take another vehicle. 

It was like a film reel taking him from one place to another. 

His life as a taxi driver took many twists and turns, some to be nourished a few to be forgotten. But some incidents left him with a creepy feeling which he couldn’t shake off. Such ones taught him life lessons. One such unforgettable, mysterious, nerve racking late -night occurrence had left him shuddering and speechless and it took him almost a week to recover from the shock. In fact at that instant he decided never to run a taxi again. But as fate would have it, he continued to drive the taxi; his conscience was mightier than the nightmarish experience.

It was a Sunday and he felt like retiring early. He had just turned the meter sideways as a sign that the taxi isn’t ready for passengers. He would have driven just a 100 meters when he saw a girl being chased by some goons and she was crying out for help. She bumped against the taxi and rolled down. She was hurt and was bleeding at the knees. He stopped the vehicle switched off the engine and knelt down beside her to help her stand. She rested her head against his chest and tried to walk but she staggered. It looked as though she would pass out. He helped her into the taxi and sprinkled a little water  on her face. She opened her eyes and …….. shrieked! She continued to shriek-‘Help……help please…..” Her loud, shrill voice pierced through the dark, silent night. He heard someone’s footsteps and as he turned to face them one of them hit him with a baton and beat him till he fell down. 

The girl got up brushed her dress and joined the gang of men. She gave a wicked laughter and said, ‘You are so innocent. Pity you Mister…. I pity you. You did not even think it could be risky to stop the vehicle in a deserted locality? Should I appreciate you for your humanity or laugh at your stupidity?”

One of them took her by her arm and propelled her towards the car they had come in……now the real story began….

The girl helped them to take out a few suitcases from the car and the men dumped the same in his taxi, got into the taxi and drove away, leaving him by the roadside. He felt giddy but he tried to get up and walk at least a few paces so  that he would be visible to passers- by. His groans filled the air. None came that way. He slumped in the middle of the road hoping for some help. 

Time ticked slowly and he lay huddled, in pain, in shock; he tried to cry out for help but fainted. When he opened his eyes he was in the hospital surrounded by nurses, doctors and a few policemen. 

“The patient has regained consciousness, but please don’t disturb him, he is badly injured, and he needs rest.” He heard the doctor caution the policemen. 

“Sir, we understand, but we should record his statement as he was found by the roadside, unconscious and injured. This gentleman called the emergency number and brought him here. Mr. Rajan Sharma, you can go now, but we may ask you for witness later.”

Mr. Rajan, a middle-aged business man was driving back from a tour and on the way he found Mohan lying in a pool of blood. He called 108 and also alerted the police control room.

Mohan thanked him in a feeble voice, “Sir, thank you for being so kind.”

“No, don’t thank me. It is our moral responsibility to help one in distress.” He wished Mohan a speedy recovery and left.

The Police Inspector asked Mohan several questions to know who attacked him and the reason for it. 

“Sir, it was an unexpected incident. After the last trip of the day I was driving back home when…..”

The duty doctor looked at him in disbelief while the inspector recorded his statement. There were several such active gangs on deserted areas which waylaid passers-by and looted. 

The doctor was curious to know why the woman screamed for help when her accomplices were just behind her. 

“This is one way of silencing the person not to raise an alarm and get help from anyone. See they are smart people who use their energy for negative  purposes. Now doctor please excuse me, I have to go.””

After the inspector left, the doctor got busy with his apparatus, recording Mohan’s vital parameters. The sight of saline bottle, and the monitor showing his blood pressure, heart beat etc. made his throat go dry. He had not visited a doctor’s clinic in 5 years! The nurse held his hand as if assure him that he would be fine in a few days. That smile made him feel better.

The inspector visited him two times before was discharged. His information wasn’t very encouraging, but he was confident that  the assaulters would be caught soon. The incident had completely put him off balance. He almost decided not to run the taxi anymore. Any odd job was fine with him but not this one which could jeopardise his life. 

His friend was anxious about him,  when he went to meet him after getting discharged.

“Mohan, where have you been….Oh, what are these injuries. What happened. I tried calling you, but your phone was switched off. I was worried about you.” He spoke in one breath.

“I did not know a taxi driver’s life was prone to life threats. Do you have any enemies?” Mohan tried to make it sound light. His friend apologised saying that he had never faced such situations and that if he wished he could leave the taxi in the garage. Mohan felt his friend needed the financial support for at least another few weeks. 

“It did occur to me that I should look for a job instead of running a taxi, but its just a matter of few more weeks, henceforth I shall be cautious. Don’t worry, I will download  safety App and monitor.”

***

The inspector called him for an identification parade, but none of them resembled the assaulters. While leaving the Police station he asked the inspector if he could get someone to sketch the descriptions, he could easily describe the woman, if not the men. Inspector said he would inform him soon so that he could take time from his busy schedules.

The inspector called him a few days later saying that they found his taxi abandoned in a deserted garage near a cinema hall and that he should complete the formalities before collecting the taxi from the police station.

Mohan felt relieved. 

Days passed uneventfully. He was more cautious and observant, did not indulge in conversation with the passengers and stuck to his early schedules, the last pick up and drop was never after 10.00 p.m.  

Life wouldn’t be what it is if it runs smoothly for ever. It is never … “and they lived happily ever after.”

Life plays tricks with us just to test our perseverance, determination and grit! It does, believe me, it does.

And it cast its dice leaving us writhe in agony. 

Mohan had vowed not to go out of his way to help anyone in distress. He knew he sounded inhuman, but the bitter experience had taught him a lesson. Moral and social responsibilities take a backseat when life is in danger. He convinced himself. Though the decision pinched him, he was quite firm about it; or at least, he thought so. 

It was a dark, cloudy night and Mohan was feeling a little low. He felt weak and tired and as he completed his last trip, he thought of having a hot cup of tea in the nearby food joint. But suddenly there was a heavy down pour and visibility had become almost nil. He remained in the taxi, feeling exhausted. It appeared as though heaven’s were let loose. An hour passed by, the rain water started flowing high on the roads, making the movement of vehicles difficult. The highway lorries, buses horns filled the air. It was like cacophony. Unbearable honking sound. Mohan tried taking it reverse to move out of the traffic which was increasing by the minute. Somehow he managed to squeeze through the gaps and come into the clear road. He looked around for a shelter. To his immense relief he saw  an independent house with a basement garage. Quickly he drove into the open basement without a second thought.  It was only after he entered the garage that he realised he had driven into a pool of water. And what’s worse the taxi was gradually losing its contact with the ground! He was in a taxi, in a pool of water and the level was increasing; it would start floating and then…..

Mohan realised with a shock that he was stranded and trapped in a garage surrounded by water and the rain water was finding its way into the basement filling it rapidly. The force with which it flowed made him shudder. And suddenly the garage plunged into darkness. The  power was off, and he knew this was a testing time for him. He tried calling the police emergency number and to his dismay, he found the phone battery was down and moreover there were no signals. The taxi was now floating making it impossible to keep it steady. The water started flowing into the taxi and the engine made a whirring sound and stopped. 

Death! He was surrounded by THE END. 

***

Death looked into his face and challenged. “Will you dare to defy me?” He seemed to ask. He remembered his parents, responsibilities, his dreams and aspirations, his promise to his friend, his…………..

What does it feel to be in the jaws of death? Now he knew the answer! When faced with death, think of the reasons for which you want to live, clutch on to hope, NEVER GIVE UP. 

Mohan said to himself, “If there is one truth that life could end here, a bigger and more precious truth is that I WANT to live. Life has always been quite kind to me, it will not let me down in this hour of crisis. I know my instinct to live is stronger than the fear of losing my life. That’s enough to make me come out of this predicament.”

He remembered Shiv Khera’s “You Can Win” – if the urge to live is strong you will conquer all obstacles. He smiled. ‘I know I can win.’

The taxi, now filled with water, bumped against something and started tumbling and turning upside down. He told himself NOW OR NEVER. The door was jammed; he couldn’t lower the window. He took out the tool box from the dash board and tried to break the glass. He felt too weak to hit it hard. 

His body was going limp, his breath seemed heavy and he couldn’t see anything in the dark. Where had his courage gone? Why couldn’t he hold on to the straw of hope? Will he manage to come out of the taxi car? 

His survival instinct was intact, he was certain. ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’, he said aloud. He used all his might and hit the window with the small hammer from the tool box. It crashed and broke. The water gushed in without a pause making him gasp for breath. He felt choked and tried to expel the water that was quickly filling his mouth and nostrils. He squeezed himself out of the window and tried to find a grip on the floor of the garage. He was floating and going ……. He couldn’t figure out where he was heading for. He just held his breath to keep himself afloat. He felt something solid touch his hand. He held on to it. It was the gate. He didn’t let his grip slacken. His Savio. ur! He climbed on to the gate and took a deep breath. Ha! It feels so good to breath air! He had never realised the value of air, the value of every breath we inhale and exhale. 

Life does teach you lessons worth remembering. 

When he opened his eyes, he saw magic around him. The rain had ceased, water in the garage was receding, and the clouds were scattering giving way to the sun to spread its wings and embrace the earth. 

Mohan, still in a state of disbelief welcomed the warmth of the sun. Did it really rain heavily last night? Was he stranded in the garage? Did he meet death eye to eye?

It felt so good to be alive, to feel the air around and be able to breathe…Tug of war between life and death! He had witnessed it!

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* Prompt: Taxi driver; gets stranded/ trapped; garage

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3 thoughts on “Death! Thy Name is Life

  1. A filmy take. But the prompt adherence came towards the end. So, I leave that to the jury. There were some tense mismatches, which can be ironed out through effective editing. The events of the ‘gang’ and his final’ struggle looked disconnected, but I liked the description of the escape from garage. And a happy ending 🙂 Thanks for sharing this

  2. Shashikala steps are firm in sketching the story matching with incidents of real life, deceitful persons who hurt the hero that would destabilise his faith in helpful attitude.The ending was with justice that would boost his faith in continuing to be good. A story with a message. Good luck Shashi!

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