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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Raju and the baby elephant

Whoever thought a man like Raju could exist?

Yesterday in Jaipur, returning to our hotel after a spell of shopping for some lovely ladies, Chandrahas and I hailed an auto. Some gratuitous bargaining was done, and then we duly sat inside. Hash asked me something about the manufacturing sector. I replied. Then the auto-driver's head turned around, without any perceptible movement of his shoulders, as if his neck was a screw.

"Your English is very excellent, sirs," he said.

The head swivelled back. Hash and I looked at one another. Then the head turned around again. "My name Raju, full name Noor Khan. Where are you from?"

"From Bombay," said Hash.

The head looked at the road in front. Only vehicles and people. No problem. It turned again, as the auto kept charging forward.

"I had business in Bombay. Diamond business. I used to supply diamonds to the Taj. But I left." The head looked ahead again.

"Why did you leave?"

The head turned. "Because I was robbed. I bought diamonds from Surat. Some thief stoles my diamonds. Then I decides, enough. Enough! So I leaves."

There was a pause, as he looked at us, and the auto kept moving forward. Then he said:

"Now I runs bellydancing company."

We burst out laughing, rude as it was. "Bellydancing?" says Hash. "Where do you get the bellydancers from?"

"I makes them."


"I makes them. I takes bra, panty, and I puts beads on them. Glitter, you know. I will show you."

There were a few moments of silence, as Raju looked ahead of him, and we tried to figure out what he meant. Then he said:

"I have a wife from English."


"Yes, I have a wife from English. I have also been, England. I have lived there. My wife is in England now, with my daughter. I would also join them. But I do not join them because I have responsibility here."

"What responsibility?"

"I have a baby elephant to look after."

We burst out laughing at the thought. Raju's head turned around, looked at both of us, then swivelled back. He suddenly stopped his auto in the middle of the road. He leaned out, and gestured to some waiting Japanese tourists to cross the road. They crossed, bewildered. Raju started the auto again.

"Everybody knows me here," he said. "I speaks 18 languages." As if to demonstrate this, he leaned out and shouted at a cow.

"And I will show you pictures of my wife. She is from English."

We reached our hotel, and Raju took out an album of photographs. Instantly, his tall tales became just an unusual truth. There he was, with his arm wrapped around his "wife from English." There they were together, in a landscape that is clearly in England. There was Raju playing with his pretty daughter. There they all were, a happy family. So he's a bedraggled, skinny autodriver, but he told the truth. Why didn't we believe him? How fascinating his story really must be.

He started taking out birth certificates of his family, and xerox copies of their passports. Embarrassed, we asked him to stop. I asked if I could take a couple of photographs and write about this. "Yes, yes," he said, delighted. He posed with the pictures you see below. We paid him for the ride. We shook his hands. And then, as we were leaving, he said:

"Next time you come to Jaipur, I will show you my baby elephant."

amit varma, 5:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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