118. A cheap ride

Flinders Station

Flinders Station

I just got back from the city, a few hours ago. I went there to try out some night photography. It was nice to wander around those places in city that I never knew existed. Anyways, it was getting late and it was time to get back home.

I hailed a taxi from a spot near the above station. As I climbed into the car, I immediately concluded that the driver was from Punjab – his “bangra” music was on. And loud.

Me : Hi…
Driver : Hello…
Me : I need to get to…..do you know the Hare Krishna temple?
Driver : Ummm…yeah…no….let me see the directory….
Me : Its at….
Driver : Is it at Port Melbourne or South Melbourne?
Me : South Melbourne
Driver : Albert Park?
Me : Yeah…
Driver : I think I know where it is…

And he moved the gear, released the breaks and we zoomed past the wild Valentine’s crowd that was building up on the streets. I decided the time was right to check my pending SMSes on the phone and I left the driver alone. Half way into the ride, I glanced up and I noticed the fare meter.

Me : Why is the fare blinking?
Driver : Oh…don’t worry about it.
Me : But the fare is not increasing…we still have a bit more to go
Driver : Oh…its OK…I turned it off.
Me : Really? Why did you do that?
Driver : Because you are going to the Hare Krishna temple

I was surprised. I was delighted. I was moved. Also, I love when concessions and freebies come from nowhere!

Me : That’s very very nice of you…are you sure..the fare is not a lot. It’s almost half the actual rate.
Driver : It’s alright…exactly 2 years ago, I came to this temple when I first came to Melbourne…
Me : Really? That’s fantastic…Did you have prasadam then?
Driver : Yes…I did…
Me : It would be great if you continued your visit here…
Driver : Yeah…
Me : If you come, I will give you 2 extra gulab jamuns during the prasadam time !
Driver : Ha ha ha..surely I will come now !

With that, I reached the temple. It was getting close to midnight. The driver happily accepted the low fare, said good bye and went away. I stood there watching him go. And I couldn’t help thinking about the incident and if I would have done the same if I was in his position. Perhaps not. In that respect, that taxi driver was far more advanced in character than I will ever be.


56. The prasadam link

Touched down Melbourne!
Phew… I am back down under after a very busy April trip to India. Will write more on that later but I had a memorable taxi ride yesterday in Chennai while on my way to the airport. The hotel porters had managed to place my lugguage well in to the taxi hoping that I would give them some money as tips.

Me: Hmmm…I am sorry but I don’t have any change to give you all…..
Porters (in a disappointed tone) : Its ok Sir…next time
Me: Tell you what…I have some prasadam from a famous place…care to have some?
Porters (surprised) : Ok sir…sure sir..

I start to distribute my last packet of prasadam that I had managed to get from my trip to Mayapur last week. I had intended to distribute them to my friends in Melbourne..but now that I made this offer to the poor porters, there will be no more of that. After making sure that all the porters get some share of my prasadam, I climb into the taxi and we soon move into the the packed streets of Madras.

Me (to driver) : O I forgot…would you care to have some prasadam too? 
Driver : Sorry?
Me : I have some prasadam remaining from what I gave your porter friends at the hotel…do you want some?
Driver (surprised) : Yes Sir…please give me some
Me : Take this big piece…its tasty!

The driver starts to eat them as he somehow speeds through the heavy traffic of autos, buses, scooters, bulls and pedestrians.

Driver (in English) : I am liking Hare Krishna Hare Rama prasadam ver much.
Me (shocked) : What ????!!!!!
Driver (in Tamil) : I really like this Hare Krishna Hare Rama prasadam
Me (super shocked) : How did you know this is Hare Krishna Prasad??? I never said so….
Driver : Ha ha…I know… I am 52 years old…I have been around….
Me : Tell me really…how did you know that this is from Hare Krishna’s?
Driver : No other temple makes this kind of prasad in Chennai…I go to the Hare Krishna mandir also
Me : You mean the one on East Cost Road?
Driver : Yes…I go there once a month as its far away from the city here…a friend of mine asked me to go there…I went there…it was very beautiful….they also gave me a pouch…
Me: Oh…so you chant too…how many rounds?
Driver : Yes..yes..the pouch had a string of round balls and I put one finger out through this pouch they gave me and I count..16 times….either in the morning or after I finish my work….
Me : Hari Bol !
Driver : They also say this..”Hari Bol”
Me : This prasadam is from Mayapur near Kolkata…I was there last week…
Driver : Oh Mayapur….I read about the place in a book the temple gave me…but actually I ate this kind of prasad many nears ago at a gaudiya vaishnava group in Gopalapuram…near the Chief Ministers house…I recognized this taste immediately…
Me : I see…you must go to Mayapur when you get a chance….have you been to Vrindhavan?
Driver : I haven’t been to any of these places…Sir..I am a very poor man…I have been driving a lorry for almost my entire life between Chennai and Kollam (Kerala) and now I drive a taxi. I have no money at all to go anywhere.
Me : I see…can you save Rs.5 per day? Can you do that for a year?
Driver (after some silence) : Yes…perhaps I can spare more…
Me : Good. That way you will make enough money to get to Vrindhavan. Don’t worry about anything else…keep your faith in Sri Krishna and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, keep going to the temple and continue the chanting….it will all work out…trust me….
Driver : Yes Sir…I will try saving….

We continued speaking about Sri Krishna for the rest of the trip and also the Mayapur temple. Finally we reached the airport and he rushed out the door to get me a trolley. As I climb out, I can’t believe my luck in having a met a complete stranger in the form of taxi driver who had a connection to ISKCON. Infact, the entire day I have had some ISKCON connection or the other…earlier I had passed by a pharmacist in Chetpet called “Hare Krishna Medicals”, stayed in a hotel next to a semi-sky scraper business building called “Chaitanya” and read an article in the Jet Airways inflight magazine on Mathura which spoke about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 6 Goswamis & Sri Krishna. Nice feeling. You take all this as a sign.

The driver had managed to find a working trolley and placed all my luggage on to it and was ready to depart. 

Driver : Ok sir…we will meet later
Me : Ok…it was nice talking to you…you gave me a pleasant shock today….here take this 100 rupees..
Driver (with beaming eyes) : 100 rupees?? 
Me : Yes..keep this..and this is not for your food or petrol…but the first Rs.100 towards your savings to go to Vrindhavan….let it be from me..
Driver (slight tears in eyes) : Sir…thank you..thank you very much….
Me: Its ok…take care..Hare Krishna
Driver : I will surely save…I will definetly go to Vrindhavan…and I am sure I will meet you again….
Me : Ha ha… that will be another pleasant shock…anyways, whats your name?
Driver: Mohan
Me : Ahh..very appropriate name for you. Bye…Hare Krishna

And I left the driver there as I wheeled my trolley into the crowded Chennai airport. As I turned to look back, I see the old poor driver with dirty cloths still holding the Rs.100 in both hands and looking at it. He then touches it to both his eyes and continues to look at me till I disappeared behing the walls of the new airport. I am looking forward to yet another pleasant shock from that driver…and it will be in Vrindhavan for sure!


20. Haste makes waste

I was in a hurry to get to a meeting at Federation Square at 8pm. It was 7pm and I had a good 45 mins of taxi ride to get there from where I was. Enough time to complete my chanting rounds. So, I get in the taxi and off we go. I pulled out my bead bag, put my hands in and just told the taxi driver, “I am so sorry but I have to complete my chanting so I wont be able to talk to you but if you are lost dont hesitate to ask”. The driver looked absolutely surprised. He turned off the radio, turned off the air-con and put his mobile on silent! And said, “Oh..not a problem mate”. And I started my chanting of the remaining rounds. Once we got to Federation Square, it was 7:50pm and I was in a hurry to get to my appointment. I just about got ready to open the door to run away after paying….

The taxi driver asked, “I am sorry about asking…..but which country are you from?”
Me : “India”
Taxi driver : “And what religion?”
Me : “Hmm…hindu” (without thinking)
Taxi Driver : “Oh so…you have to say those words that you just did…like everyday….in the evening?”
Me : “I have to do 16 rounds of this 108 beads…preferably every morning…just before sunrise..or I try to finish it before sunset” (sunsets at 9pm here)
Taxi Driver : “Oh…….”
Me : “Ok….see ya mate…I gotta go”
And with that I stepped out, put my bead bag into my jacket and ran to cross the street. Just then, the taxi driver passed waving at me.

Thats when I realized my mistake. I had all the time in the world before I got out to mention about Krishna or ISKCON Temple or about the mantra…so many things. And all I could say was that I was a hindu doing 16 rounds. It didn’t even strike me that perhaps this driver was looking for some guidance on God and spirituality. I could have helped him and many more through him. I felt miserable. The entire evening I spent thinking about this. Its 1am now and I still can’t get it out of my head. I hope I get a second chance. I have learnt a nice lesson that we should never miss an opportunity to talk about Krishna. Everyone should be given the chance to know about Him without any prejudice or personal obstacles.

7. Gods, Life, Bills

I was taking a taxi ride from the station tonight. It’s about 9:30pm. After picking some Indian take away, we resumed our journey. The Taxi driver was from Afghanistan and he said that he had also spent some 3 years in India. He was proud of his 400 Indian movie collections, appreciation of the Indian biriyani which has its roots in the Afghan heritage and the many hard working people there. He called it, “the best time of his life!!”. I asked what happened now to which he said, “I am married now”. 

He didn’t love his married life. He said that his wife and kids wanted something new to buy every other day. He was fed up and tired of working 90hrs, driving people around all week so that he can pay the phone bills for the whole family, the loans and the ever growing need of birthday gifts for his children’s friends. As you know, I am contemplating marriage sometime in the future and I asked him whether it was a good idea to get married. He said it was a 50-50 thing. He first enjoyed it 100% and after 5 years it’s come to 50-50 and by the time his kids put him in an aged care home, he will be 100% sure he shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. He was sad and he nearly ran the red light as his thoughts wandered away. Then somehow or the other, the discussion came to religion. He asked me what I was.  

Me : “I am a Hindu…I pray to Krishna” 

Taxi Driver: “Oh, K-r-i-s-h-n-a”, as he beautifully said the name with an Arabic twist to the pronunciation. “Krishna” sounded familiar to him yet not very sure. There was curiosity but hesitant to ask like so many…very scared to ask about other’s culture and gods. 

Me : Yes. We say Krishna, other say Allah and so on. 

Taxi Driver : Yes…all same bro.

Me: Yup…like water…the Aussies call this water, I call it “Paani”…Arabs call it “Moyaa”…but its the same thing…but people fight on this…they say that “Paani” is the right name, others say its “water”…and so on…. 

Taxi Driver : “Yes, yes…all the time…fighting…creating problems…how can there be 2 Gods….not possible” 

Me: “Not possible…but people are saying this all the time..mine is better and greater than yours…there is no education. In schools, they teach chemistry, maths, physics but they don’t want to teach about God or religion. How will they know? Muslims says “Allah Hu Akbar”…Hindus says “Krishna or “Bhagawan or Ishwar”….they all mean in a way the same thing…”greatest, all attractive”…there can be only one greatest….not two…but we create teams…and then like sports we challenge each other”

 Taxi Driver: “All same. They are saying the same thing…so many problems in life and world…what can you do?”, carefully stopping at the last traffic light before we turned a left to the street where I live. 

Me: “Everyone’s wasting their time. Life is too short…before you know you will reach the end…and we will wonder how fast we got here…we were born in a hospital and we will die in a hospital….we won’t remember all these things we do now then but we will remember all that we haven’t done….better make good use of time thinking about God and less on phone bills”

The next couple of minutes were utter silence. He was thinking. Looked like he wanted to give up everything. We both were looking at the road ahead illuminated by the car head lights. The taxi stopped in front my flat and as I was paying him, I could notice that he was much more relaxed and relieved. Yet he was very quiet. He was probably thinking about the conversation we had…he was unwilling to drive away…he was grateful I think. In the coming weeks of 90hrs of driving round and buying his children’s friends gifts, he would surely start thinking about something else. And me on the marriage part.