“A good fight is sometimes necessary for a healthy relationship!” came the soft voice from in front of me.
No, this was not a marriage counsellor’s advice to his bickering clients. It was just a casual observation made by an ordinary cab driver in Abu Dhabi.
Wait, let me start from the beginning.
It was early 2000s. I stood on the kerb of a street in Abu Dhabi, me and my two little boys, trying to hail a cab, when one cruised gently to a stop in front of us. It was those years when cabs ran at a minimum fare of Dhs 3/- a km and our only means of transport to get us to wherever we were going and back home.
The three of us piled into the back of the vehicle and I gave the driver the location, hardly giving him a second glance. He was just the driver of the cab. Who notices cab drivers anyway?
As usual, the boys had hardly settled in when they began bickering; and typically, it was over some silly issue. Soon, it had escalated into a full blown fisticuff between the two, with me reduced to a useless audience after vain attempts at sorting it out. I finally sighed and gave up, turning to look out of the window. It was then the above words came floating in at me from the front of the cab. I turned and met the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. He nodded sagely and repeated, “A healthy fight between bhai-bhai (brothers) is a good sign. Let them be.”
I studied his face in the mirror, or whatever part was visible, the rest covered with a flowing beard. He attire looked old but clean. He appeared to be middle-aged or thereabouts. I automatically smiled for want of anything to say and he immediately smiled back, a slow gentle smile that spread across his face like a gentle ripple on a calm lake. “It’s a natural growing-up phase. Enjoy it when you can.” He added.
Enjoy my boys fighting like cats and dogs? Like duh, I said to myself. He probably guessed what I was thinking because he continued with a twinkle in his grey eyes. “Yes, sister” he said. “You should enjoy it when you can. Look at me, even if I wished for it, I cannot see my children grow up, let alone fight!”
A thoughtful conversation
That began a conversation between us — the cab driver and me — which lasted through the duration of the ride and the effects of which lasted much longer for me. The man had left his wife and children back in Pakistan, children whose ages ranged from 15 years down to a 1 ½ year old baby boy, all of whose childhood he had missed, living as he did far away in a different country in order to afford a decent living for them.
He had missed their first baby steps, their first word, the first day at school, so many precious milestones. He was like a stranger in the house he himself had built for his family. And every time he went back home once in three years, he had to get to know the family all over again and by the time they had begun to warm up to his presence, it was time for him to leave.
Suddenly, the man was no longer just a cab driver, someone who whizzed us around the streets of Abu Dhabi in a state of anonymity. He was human too. He had a family to take care of, he had his good days and bad days, he had aspirations, hopes and dreams. As do all the other cabbies, window cleaners, gardeners and the other myriad people who spend their life away from home and family just to earn a respectable living.
In 2022 let’s try and acknowledge such wonderful people, with a smile. A simple chat sometimes with a person can teach us a lot and make a huge difference.
Radhika Acharya is a freelancer and author of two books Adventures of JP family and Girl from Goa