Ranjana, or Ranju as she was popularly known was a regular superwoman. A bit of an oxymoron you would think but let me explain. Superwoman because she was one of those women who have to juggle fifty balls at the same time and are determined not to drop even one of them; husband, children, school, homework, tiffin, breakfast, maids, in-laws, parents, friends, birthdays, get-togethers, office, meetings, being the boss, subordinates, schedules, presentations, shopping, doctor’s visits, medicines; I can go on but I am sure you get the picture. And regular because it seems the great metro-machine Mumbai, is adept at churning out such women on a regular basis. She was superwoman indeed but unfortunately not unique, there were thousands like her in Mumbai alone.
So, as I was saying, Ranju the regular superwoman was having a regular morning. Hectic, harried with a lot of pleading, cajoling and shouting involved and forever in a losing race against time. She had managed to pack her husband’s tiffin and kiss him goodbye, had coaxed her six-year-old son Rohan into wearing his shoes and calling the lift and then successfully seen him off in the bus. Now she was back in the house going through her mental list of things she needed to complete before she left home and along with that she was packing her tiffin, checking her handbag to make sure everything was there and ensuring her laptop was in her laptop bag along with the charger for the very important presentation today. She had a few minor changes to make in it which she thought she will do while she was in the cab. The ride itself would be anywhere from one and a half hour to two as she was travelling from Borivali to Colaba and for which she was also trying to book an Uber/Ola.
After a few minutes of ‘No cab available’; she finally got one and decided to wait for it at the podium where the taxis were allowed to come and park. She picked up her three bags – tiffin, handbag, laptop – and was about to step into the lift when her phone rang and she groaned in frustration when she saw it was her cook calling. She knew from past experience the call would bring only bad news. She let it ring and only once she stepped out of the lift, picked up the call.
‘I am not coming today. I have to go out.’ No good morning, no namaste, no asking, just a flat statement delivered in a couldn’t-care-less-for-your-situation attitude. Like a, take it or leave it.
Now you have to understand Ranju was already a little irritated by all the running around as would be any woman and the fact that she always felt exhausted now a days didn’t help either. She lost it, ‘You are calling me now, when I have just stepped out of the house. You didn’t know you were going out half an hour ago. Atleast I could have made something for Rohan. You know he is not supposed to eat food from outside for another month. He is still recovering.’ She was literally shaking with anger and frustration by the time she disconnected the call.
What should she do? If she didn’t leave now, she will not make it to the meeting, but if she went up and cooked something, she will be late and her own tiffin though had fresh chapatis the vegetable was leftover from last night. Rohan couldn’t eat that. She will just have to call her neighbor and ask her to make something fresh for Rohan and the price she paid for it was to swallow her pride and hear that Aunty tell her how women should stay at home and take care of their family. And seriously there were times, like this one, when she wondered if it was all worth it, the guilt at such times was overwhelming. With moist eyes she called the Aunty and sorted out the food issue.
Between the calls and guilt, she realized that she had been standing there for fifteen minutes and the cab had still not arrived. She opened the App to check the status and stared in disbelief at the screen where it said that the driver had cancelled the cab. She looked up at the main gate then back at her phone and then took deep breaths to calm herself down. Last minute, why do they have to cancel the cab at the last minute? She wanted to call him and blast him for it, but knew it was a waste of time. Instead she started walking towards the main gate. Once there she tried to hail three different cabs, but one after the other all the cabbies refused.
Finally, one dilapidated black and yellow pulled over. The driver, well he looked more like a sadhu than a driver, had a beard and had a clump of hair he had tied at the top of his head, looked as if he hadn’t had a bath in a while and was smiling almost inanely as if he was high on something. If it hadn’t been for how late she was and how important the meeting was and the only redeeming quality the cabbie had which was his kind and gentle eyes she would have never gotten in the cab.
Well, she did get into the cab and told him the destination. He eased into the traffic but did not acknowledge that he had heard her. So she again stated her destination at which point he mumbled something which sounded like ‘I know’ to her. She sat anxiously till the cab merged with the serpentine traffic on the Western Express Highway.
Once on the highway she relaxed a bit and opened her laptop to work. In between working on the slides, she kept looking out too. The look-out was frequent till she reached Jogeshwari and after that she got deeper and deeper into her work and her mind wandered in work-direction. During this time, she kept taking calls too. From her boss who wanted to know where she was, if the presentation was ready and if she understood the importance of this client and that if she did well how it will help shape her future in the company. She kept replying appropriately. She also fielded calls from her team guiding them where they needed her help, her mother-in-law who wanted to remind her that tomorrow was Mahashivratri and discuss what each one of them would be doing, her friend who was planning a day out for the kids and wanted to know if she could take Rohan out with them.
At one-point Ranju just wanted to switch off the phone, close the laptop and weep. She looked up and found the cabbie looking at her in the rearview mirror. She really wanted to snap at him, ‘What’, but her instinct to ignore took over as she was used to people staring at her, for she was a beautiful woman. She just resolutely went back to work, then the phone rang again. It was Rohan’s school. Her heart skipped a beat even as her mind screamed; Please no I can’t handle anything more today, and she picked up the phone. She could hear Rohan crying on the other end.
‘Mrs. Singh, Rohan got hurt today in school. He has scraped his knee badly and even though the nurse has applied the ointment, he is saying it’s still hurting. Please talk to him.’
A sobbing Rohan came on the line, ‘Ma, I am hurt. Please come to pick me up. I want you.’
Ranjana’s heart squeezed with pain and guilt yet again. She squeezed her eyes shut willing the tears away. But this time they were not going away and slid down from under her closed lids.
‘Mrs. Singh, you there?’
Clearing her throat, she replied, ‘Yes Mam, I am actually on my way to town and cannot come back and even if I could it would take me one or one and a half hour atleast. I am already past Worli. But I will ask Rohan’s nanny to come as soon as she can and she can take him home.’
‘Well, if that’s the best that can be done, please drop us a mail giving us permission to let Rohan go early with his nanny.’ She could hear the condescension in the teacher’s voice and hated her for judging her. She reminded herself that she was a good mother, just that some times things were impossible. She tried to control her emotions and called the nanny and made the necessary arrangements. The nanny said, ‘Didi, don’t worry I will take care of him. I will take him to the shop and buy his favorite ice-cream. He will settle down then. I will call you once we are settled at home.’
She disconnected the call and brought her hand down. Slowly the sobs, that till now had been controlled with fierce determination, fisted their hands and banged on her chest wall to be let out and this time she didn’t even try to stop them. Her body shuddered under their onslaught. She didn’t care if the cabbie heard her or saw her. She just let herself cry.
Belatedly she realized the cab was not moving any more. She looked up and saw Girgaum Chowpatty up ahead and to her right the Babulnath Mandir. The cabbie got out and came around to open her door and said ‘This is your destination, you needed to come here.’ And then waited patiently for her to alight.
Ranju sat there stupefied wondering what to do. It was almost as if she was being called to the temple. In a daze she picked up all her bags and got out and by the time she adjusted her bags and looked at the temple entrance and got around to opening her handbag to take out her purse, the cabbie had gotten in the cab and driven away. Literally, with her mouth open she looked as the cab disappeared around the left turn towards Wilson College. She crossed the road and made her way to the temple.
She sat in the temple looking at the Shivling with a far-away look on her face. After seeing her sitting like that for sometime the priest walked over to her.
‘So, you have finally come today.’
‘So, you have finally found your way to the temple today.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You have that haunted look on your face which says that you needed to be here and it’s a good thing he got you here.’
The priest smiled, ‘Yes, He. The cab driver. The one who drives that dilapidated black and yellow.’
There must be thousands of dilapidated black and yellow. She thought.
The priest continued, ‘The one that has a Shivling on the dashboard.’
Not many will have Shivling, generally people have Ganesha or other deities.
‘The one who has a beard and a hair-do as a sadhu, and wears a blue scarf around his neck.’
How does he know, are the two involved in some scheme?
‘The one who has a leopard print cloth covering his seat which looks old and dirty’. Said the priest understanding Ranju’s cynicism. ‘And has a crescent moon tattoo on his forehead.’
Ranju just stared at him. She didn’t know what to make of it. The priest was saying, ‘I have known of him dropping off lost souls for the last 23 years I have been here and so have my predecessors. And how do I know this, because hundreds of people have described him thus.’
Ranju let her heart believe what her mind refused to accept, that even though she had wanted to go someplace else, she needed to be here. She felt a great sense of calm pervade her entire being and she kept reflecting back to those kind and gentle eyes.
* Sadhu – Monk
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