I had a lecture at 9:30 am and it was almost 9:10 am and here I was, still sitting at home, waiting for the Uber driver to arrive with his car. On arriving, I got in and immediately instructed him, “Bhaiyya, thoda jaldi chaliye, OT attend karna hain.”
He started the car and asked if I was a doctor. I told him that I am a med school student. He gave me a broad smile and said, “Meri beti bhi doctor hain.”
Honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to listen to him and hence, didn’t bother replying. He continued, “Wo Delhi mein AIIMS hain na, waha neurosurgeon hain meri beti.”
Dumbfounded would be an understatement to describe my reaction then. AIIMS is a dream institution to every med school student and thanks to my disgusting habit of stereotyping, I found it difficult to accept the fact that an Uber driver could have a neurosurgeon as a daughter.
What follows is the story of Ashok Singh, a Kolkata-based Uber driver who has raised a neurosurgeon daughter and an IIM grad son despite all odds.
Ashok hails from the Chhapra district of Bihar. “Hum sab land sell karke chaale aye, mera biwi apna kangan sab bech k chali ayi Kolkata. Us paise se humne taxi kharida.” (We sold all our land and my wife sold her ornaments and moved to Kolkata. We bought a taxi with that money.
Ashok is now in his late 60s. For almost two decades of his life, he has worked 12-15 hour shifts driving cars. He used to drive an ambulance for 10-hour shifts followed by his taxi for 3-4 hours every day. Whatever money he earned went into the children’s education.
His eyes shine when he tells me how his chaachi had discouraged the education of his daughter. “Beti hain, padh ke kya karegi ye…MBBS toh nahi banegi na?”( She’s a girl, what is she going to do by studying? It’s not like she’s going to get an MBBS degree). Well, the joke is on chachi, I guess. Dr. Aditi Singh, elder daughter of Uber driver Ashok Singh happens to be one of the top-ranked neurosurgeons in India.
He tells with mirth in his voice that his daughter never needed telling to study. In fact, his son (who got into IIM Kolkata last year) often had to be given a slap or two in order to make him study, but Aditi was always on point with her studies.
Aditi stood second in the state in her class 10 exams and again third in her class 12 exams. Ashok is now the grandfather to a two-year-old angel who happens to be a real smarty from the videos he showed me in the car.
After hearing all this, I asked the obvious question: why are you still driving an Uber?
The answer I received was an eye opener on so many different levels. He said he might be old, but not withered. He slowed down the car and proudly explained to me how he has not taken any monetary help from his children till date.
Ashok Singh believes in the religion of work and explained to me there’s nothing to life without work. Working gives him a sense of purpose, an opportunity to carve out an identity for himself. The word retirement does not exist in his dictionary and he wants to work for as long as he can sit up.
“I go and stay with my daughter occasionally but I have performed her Kanyadaan and it would be extremely disrespectful to live on her money now.”
We millennials will find it easy to explain this off as patriarchy, but there is more of an old-man’s-pride than patriarchy in his choice to continue working.
There is something which Mr. Ashok told me that day that I hope to never forget. I love tolearn from people and it is one of the finest things anyone has ever taught me.
Insaan ki zindagi mein na jasbaad hona chahiye; bina jasbaad ki kaam kabhi safal nahi hota. Safalta ki koi short cut nahi hota.
(There has to be some spirit in a person’s life; unspirited work is never successful. there is never a short cut to success). Mr. Ashok went on to explain how people want everything easily in life and how that is harming the social construct.
I got to see endless photos of his daughter and grandson on his phone and hear funny anecdotes of his experiences at AIIMS while going to visit his daughter.
By this time, I no longer cared if I could make it to the morning lecture. Some of the most important lessons of life are learnt outside air conditioned classrooms and the Uber ride on the 5th of July, 2017 was one of the best 50 minutes of my life till date. Thank you Uber for this invaluable gift!
The only regret I have is not having a photo of him. I contacted him later and he could not supply me with photos as he is outside Kolkata and has no Internet. He said he will send me lots of photos on returning and once he does that, I will upload the photos here.
Please note: Mr. Ashok may be contacted via my social handles and I can provide you with further information, if you so wish.
Image credits: Google and phone screenshot
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