by Nidhi Mahesh

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I told you, I would like to share the experiences I gathered as a journalist... people I met.... common men and women... their lives and their emotions...

Today I will tell you about Gobindo.... a driver...

We, that is me and my camera crew headed for North Bengal for a package of news stories... it was probably 2001 Sept or October... As usual we had no prior plans and suddenly one evening we decided to go for these stories... we had plans to cover Siliguri, Cochbehar, Darjeeling and Sikkim.... So as we landed without a proper plan or logistic arrangement at New Jalpaiguri station early morning, we started looking for a car hire... a driver who would know the area around and who would give us a bill...

Our search brought us to a young man about 25 years of age... dark, intent eyes... a rough and unkempt persona... something about Gobindo made me notice him immediately... my mind got a beep... there is more to this man than what meets the eye... but I kept those thoughts aside and went about business as usual...

It was decided that after we check in and freshen up we will finish off meetings in Siliguri and drive through the night to Cochbehar.... The day progressed as scheduled... and as the evening neared we could feel Gobindo getting restless... Every half n hour he will pop a question... what time we will start for Cochbehar? How long will we stay there? Is it necessary to travel by the night etc...

We had a tiring day and his continuous nagging was becoming bothersome every passing minute.... I started loosing my cool and asked my crew to tell him we can get another driver for our trip if he is uncomfortable with the timing and traveling around! This kept him quiet for a while. And, though he was not voicing his irritation... I could see his eyes breathing fire in the rear view mirror...

As we finished the last shoot for the day, we decided to finish off our dinner early and head straight to Cochbehar... but we were taken by surprise when we found our vehicle moving towards a down town locality... lined tin shades and concrete bare road... kids running around and women combing their hair sitting on the dehleez of their shanties... I was annoyed at the detour and some what apprehensive... what were we doing here? Suddenly Gobindo stopped the car, turned around and announced with a large smile... "aamaar baadi... bou ke bole jai ko ek din phirbo na..." (my home... came to tell my wife won't be home for a few days!) ... and before we could say anything he was out of the car and lost in the rows of tin sheds!!

We fidgeted in the car for almost half n hour... waiting for Gobindo's return. When he came back his eyes were smiling... his face relaxed. I kept back words of reprimand on this sudden trip... I decided this relaxed Gobindo was better than the sulky man behind the wheels!!

We were finally on our way to Cochbehar... two hours into the drive and I could see his eyes getting restless again... now what, I wondered!! To lighten the atmosphere I tried engaging him in conversation. I asked if he married in his childhood, as was the custom in the area... and this opened the flood gate... out came his whole life story or should I say love story!!!

Gobindo had married five years back... against the will of his family and village head. He was ostracized by his community and stood to loose a small fortune... now a father of two sons... he was in a financial fix.... but he had a solution to all these problems...

"the gram pradhan has said I will be welcomed back in the community and get my share of land and house....all I will need to do is to marry a girl from the village...." he said... emotionless.

I was shocked... how can he even think of it... he has a wife... two sons.. It is immoral and it is definitely illegal!!
I started getting angry... his comments had woken up the feminist in me… while I was grappling with our driver’s immoral designs, my crew was happily dozing off... oblivious to the tension in the space of this moving car.

Gobindo was driving fast... his eyes fastened on the road, face expressionless... I was still to come to terms with the story he rattled off... and as was becoming a fashion with him... he stopped the car suddenly. Ruffling his hair.... making it all the more unruly... he turned around... eyes blood shot... "bhalo laagche na..." (Don’t feel good) he said... and got out of the car...

Words of reprimand formed and then died on my lips... what good a shouting will bring!! I looked at my crew... snoring.... without a care… I looked out of the window… I could trace the silhouetted figure of Gobindo puffing heavily on a cigarette… the quiet of the night resounding with his labored breathing… we were in the middle of nowhere…or so it seemed… there was no light for miles altogether…. The road probably was less frequented… more so in the night… the area was getting notorious for growing Kamtapuri movement… the Rajbanshi community inhabiting a sizeable part of North Bengal and lower Assam was raising demands for separate state…. Asking for recognition of their language and culture… their movement had two fronts, political and militant… and we were here to find out just how wide the social support structure was for the movement…..

Social status and language have been very emotional issues in Bengal… revolutions have been generated revolving on these… there have been leaders who rose to the position of messiahs by championing causes for social upliftment… fighting caste and customs… dogmas and malpractices… a whole renaissance was born here… centuries ago… showing path to the entire nation… but then the awakening still alluded many… what would you call a man like Gobindo… willing to trade his love for material gain!!

Gobindo returned in a few minutes... relatively cooled down. Getting into his driver's seat he looked at me and flashed a grin... I could not quite figure out why. He was quiet for a few minutes and concentrated on the road ahead. Then he started again... "You know didi... I will get a second hand car and thirty thousand rupees in dowry..."...

This was outrageous... how could a married man think of dowry from an illegal second marriage!! "Do you know what are you talking about?" I asked sternly but he went on… ignoring my curt comment...

"The car will ensure a good livelihood... I only earn a paltry sum driving this monster... if I have my own car I will have a lot of extra money... all our financial problems will be solved..."... his eyes were intent as if actually visualizing his dream of prosperity... his voice calm... his face set...as if he was concentrating hard... weighing each word before speaking... "I can put the thirty thousand as fixed deposit for my wife... she always complains I never gave her anything...."... there was a naughty smile on his face... eyes suddenly lit up... he turned and said, "she had ran away from her father's house in the middle of night... and in her haste to meet me had forgotten to carry the bundle of clothes she packed...it was days before I could buy her a change of sari... I had no job... but she did not fight over it...' his face showed how treasured these memories were to him. By now I had developed a keen interest in his story. So I decided to keep my views aside till I heard the end of it.

"She has been rock solid... standing by me all through the bad times... good times... well they were few...".... he went on... "She even took up work as a maid but had to leave when our first son was born... she was pregnant when we married".

I was being made privy to some very personal affairs of a stranger... I knew I was not comfortable with it and I should ask him to stop relating his life story to me... but I could not. There was something about this man that made me want to know more... to hear the account of his life.

So, that is why you married her in hurry," I prodded.

"If her family had come to know of her pregnancy things would have gone much worse... we went through some very tough times...but all that can change now... I will earn more with the car and plus she can have the security of thirty thousand saved in her name... the children will have no worry for education..." he went on...

"So who is this girl... getting you so much of dowry?" I asked.

"Who cares...? I have not seen her... I have not been to my village since my marriage... have not seen my parents... did not attend my sisters' marriage... how am I to know who she is?" he showed signs of being irritated again. "...but his father is ready to give me a fortune... it’s a good deal is it not?" he said... half annoyed half amused.

"So you will marry her for the dowry!" I accused.

"I married once for love... and what did I give my wife? Not even two decent meals a day!!" he was angry with himself. I did not prod any further. He also lapsed in a subdued silence.

I must have dozed off because I suddenly woke with a start... Gobindo had applied sudden break and we were all hauled off from our seats. My crew was swearing and Gobindo was muttering to himself... "What happened?" I asked... No one answered. I looked at Gobindo. He was back at his grumpy best.

"I do not like being away from home..." he muttered.

'We told you in the beginning that we will travel at odd hours... why did you come?" one of my crew guys argued. Though they had slept most of the way, my team members too were getting familiar with the histrionics of our chosen driver and obviously not liking it.

Gobindo was quiet till we reached our destination. We scampered to bed to rest for the night... or whatever was left of it.

The next day we traveled around the country side and shot extensively. For the wrap up on the story we were shooting around Cochbehar palace. Gobindo, thankfully, was in better mood this morning. He tagged along the crew while they shot. We were taking tea in a roadside stall when a hawker approached us to sell digital wrist watches. At Rs. 20 it seemed to be a bargain and a free pen made the offer all the more attractive. Gobindo was sold to it and chose two watches with care. You could see the joy written over his face as he made that small purchase.

We went back to the car to head back to Siliguri... it was past noon and we wanted to make it before sunset. I needed to sign some bills and I was looking for a pen... Gobindo promptly offered one from his recent purchase. But as the luck would have it, the pen did not write. I said "Gobindo you have been cheated... why did you not check it there?"

"How could I, I do not know how to write?" apt came the reply.

"What? You do not know how to write? Why did you buy these then?" This man had managed to shock me again!

"For my sons! They go to English medium school.” He said proudly. I looked at him sternly but could not hide the smile that had come up in response to the innocent grin that flashed on his face. I could not decide if I was angry or amused. Here was a man as full of surprises as any!!

Our journey back was relatively more relaxed. Gobindo had overcome his foul mood... maybe because he would meet his family again...

"So, you will marry again... good yaar.... you get all the incentive for remarriage... we would be jailed if we as much as thought of it..." chuckled my cameraman... by now they were also briefed on the fortune this illiterate driver was on the verge of getting!

Gobindo looked at him... took a deep breath and said... "hain kortam... abaar biye kortaam... taka petam gadi petaam... kintu ki korbo dada... ei salaa bou ke chede thakte hobe... parbo na.. bhalobeshe biye kora i uchit hoy ni"... (Yes would have married again... would have got cash and car... but what to do... will have to live away from my wife... won’t be able to do that… one should not love and marry...”)

Everyone laughed at his innocently spoken words. Gobindo was smiling too... I was left wondering... Here was an illiterate, impoverished bloke tempted with the prospect of a decent life and livelihood but tied to his love with bonds that hardships could not weaken…. I was damning him for being a chauvinist… for being immoral… thinking of pocketing dowry by an illegal second marriage… but for him this was the way to care for his first love…

Love certainly has strange manifestations!!


Other Stories by this Author :
* A Sentational Story
* Lost and Found
* Ajmera
* Gobindo
* Mirage
* Mithun's Mother
* Resilience
* Defending the Indefensible…

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