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Sunday Sentiments

  • A long overdue correction

    Posted On April 10, 2000

    By Karan Thapar

    Patwant Singh says I’ve started dropping names and perhaps he’s right. I cannot deny a certain fascination for people with handles to their names. But the bit that cut into the quick was what he said next.

    “The problem with you” Patwant claimed, twirling his moustache and pushing out his chest, “is that you can’t see good in ordinary folk. There are good people all over but you’re blind to them.”

    I want to remedy this lapse. Patwant’s casual comment has provided me an opportunity to tell you about someone you know nothing about and, in all probability, will never meet. Yet he can be every bit as enthralling as the social butterflies this paper features so prominently on its other pages.

    Today, Sunday the 16th, my driver, Tularam, who worked with me since 1992, has left. Yesterday – Sachurday as he calls it – was his last. This morning he starts his new ‘bijness’ and I wish him luck.

    How will I remember him? First as the best driver I know. I would regularly fall asleep in the back seat fearless of what might happen. He would slow the car to a crawl concerned that speed would wake me up.

    “Arre Tularam daftar nahin phoche!” I would exclaim when my eyes opened.

    “Sirji aap so gaye” Tularam would respond. “Magar phikar na karen. Do minute me phonch jayenge.”

    Usually we would. My other memory is of Tularam’s language and perfect manners. He prefers the westernised and classless ‘sir’ to ‘sahab’ and I must

    say I like it too. If I ever thanked him – and to begin with I was less than thankful – he would respond with a warm ‘welcome Sir’. At first I was slow to notice it. Perhaps because I did not expect it, it escaped my ears. But once I heard it I realised how frequent it was.

    Somewhere in between I recall him using the phrase ‘no mention’. In those days conversations would go like this. We would arrive at our destination and he would jump out to open the door.

    “Thank you, Tularam” I would say.

    “No mention” he would reply with a cheerful smile.

    It lasted six months and then I suppose he realised that ‘welcome Sir’ was a more apt response. This ability to learn and improve himself is perhaps the most striking thing about Tularam. When I first saw him in 1992 he was polite yet unsophisticated. But he rapidly acquired the values and qualities middle class Indians aspire to. I don’t know how he did it, but within a few years he had developed the discretion of a Jeeves, the sympathetic banter of an old granny and the sartorial style of a minor bollywood actor. Of course he still sulked, hated to return money and is a terrific hypochondriac. But then who’s perfect. I’m not. Are you?

    I have two other memories that will never fade away. The first is from last winter. Tularam in the driver’s seat, white gloves on his hands and the conversation – which he engineered and manipulated far better than I ever could – about the ointments and lotions the doctor had given for his blisters. He had developed them all over his fingers and they refused to go away. Tularam tried every conceivable remedy but in vain. He had to wait for the weather to change.

    The other memory is of school exam time. Something similar happened every year. I helped his children get into the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Vasant Vihar – well, actually Mr. Arjun Singh did; I must not lie – and Tularam was understandably concerned about Vijay’s and Neena’s performance.

    “Kal phir school jaana hei, Sirji ” he would say.

    “Kyon?” I would ask as only a foolish bachelor might.

    “Principal ne bulaya hei.”

    The next morning I would ask how the meeting had gone. His answer never varied.

    “Kya kahain Sirji?” Tularam would say deceptively. Actually reticence was as far from his character as it could be. The story that followed was long and involved and made more complicated by Tularam’s penchant for detail. But each time it would end with Tularam’s determination to add half an hour more to the private tuition he arranged for the kids. I don’t know any father who does more for his children.

    In 1997, after I left Home TV and was briefly between jobs, Tularam despaired for me. He probably feared I would stay unemployed forever.

    “Sirji ” he would say, his voice deliberately soft and gentle.“Sab kuch theek ho jayega. Uparvale pe vishwas rakhe.”

    This morning I want to use his words to return the reassurance. He’s embarking on a courageous new course and an awful lot depends on it.

    “Tularam” I want to say, except he’s no longer around to hear me, “Sab kuch theekh ho jayega. Uparvale pe vishwas rakho.”

    Oh and one other thing. Let me give you his new ‘bijness’ number. If you ever need a safe car, a reliable driver and you’re game for a fun, if garrulous, journey give him a ring on 620 9792.

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