Dubai: British expat Rechel Shah was on a mission. She had met a man she describes as an unsung hero. A man whose selfless courage brought tears to her eyes.
Unknowingly, she let him slip away. Since that day, she could not rest until her mission to track him down was accomplished.
Theirs was a story that began in March this year when Shah hailed a taxi from Shaikh Zayed Road to New Dubai. "I was in a good mood and felt like striking up a conversation with the taxi driver: a 62-year-old man called Iran Badshah."
The first thing she noticed were his grubby fingers and how the moonlight shone on his silver-grey hair. "He told me he'd spent the last 37 years working in the UAE so that his eight children in Pakistan could lead a decent life," says Shah.
Over the next half hour, Badshah spoke and Shah listened. At the end of the journey, she bid the old taxi driver goodbye and stepped out. "The moment I shut that car door, I knew I should have taken his phone number. To me, he was a hero. A man who'd sacrificed his life so that his family could enjoy theirs.
"He told me that in November he would retire and go back to his family. And I walked away without so much as a phone number," says Shah.
That night, the 25-year-old film lecturer made the decision to honour and celebrate this driver; to allow him to be the face of all those unsung heroes that line the streets of our city.
The only glitch: How to find him again.
No stone unturned
Over the next four months Shah searched high and low. She left no stone unturned. From Facebook requests to calling the transport companies and asking all her friends who took taxis to snoop around, Shah tried it all.
"By the end of July, I'd nearly given up. I thought I was chasing a pipe dream. But that Sunday, everything changed. I woke up knowing that today would be the day when I would find Iran Badshah. Relentlessly pursuing the taxi companies, I refused to put the phone down until they located him. There are only six companies in Dubai. How hard can it be, right? Turns out, it's nearly impossible. Staff are listed by numbers, not names," she says. "A few false leads later, a receptionist recalled a 62-year-old taxi driver by that name. Bingo! I knew I had my man," says Shah.
Once reunited, it was up to Shah to form a rapport with this stranger who had become such a large part of her life. "I would pretend to have work in Deira and take a taxi from JLT to the opposite end of Dubai and back, just for a chance to connect with this man. At first, he thought I was crazy. He kept saying that he was a nobody and why should anyone bother to do anything for him."
Over time Shah convinced him that she wanted to organise a community event to celebrate him, as a thank you of sorts, for being a faceless hero.
While the intent was well and good, the technicalities proved a tad overwhelming. "I ignored Iran all of September," says Shah. "I couldn't face him. I'd promised him a hero's farewell, and couldn't even organise a little going-away party. Every door I knocked was slammed on my face. No one wanted to sponsor my event. Unable to show my face, I just wanted to disappear from his horizon. But it hurt. I'd started to care for this man. He was like a father figure.
Making the call
"Every evening, I'd stare at his name on my phone, but lack the courage to call. When I finally made that call, he said one sentence that changed everything: ‘Thank you for not forgetting me'.
"And right there, my mind was made up. I had to see this event through. This man deserved recognition. He's not a nobody and shouldn't have to leave the country with no one even knowing his name," says Shah.
With renewed enthusiasm, Shah went about finding sponsorship for her event. "All of a sudden, the tables turned. Doors weren't slamming shut in my face any more. SAE University, Kabab Rolls and the Pakistan Association all supported my cause with open arms. They believed in my story and in the good of this man who deserved his moment of glory."
Then and Now, a free community event to honour Badshah, will be held on November 16 at Kabab Rolls in Al Barsha.