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Arindam Nath

Generally, I prefer to have a round towards Bishalgarh every year during Durga Puja. This year, as well there was no exception. On the Maha Navami evening, with my wife I went up to Jangalia, Bishalgarh. Lots of construction work is going on presently in that area. Apart from the construction of Flyover, the widening of the Highway to four-lanes is also in progress. There have been some evictions and demolition. The road surface is uneven and dusty at places. Together with some local issues these factors might have cast some shadow over the Puja celebration. It appeared a bit lacklustre to me on either side of the National Highway up to the point I had touched. 

Keeping apart, while returning I came across Taj near the Badharghat CNG Station. Tajul Islam is an Auto driver. He was standing in the queue for filling gas in his vehicle. Then, probably he would ferry passengers throughout the night. Middle aged Taj is a resident of West Pratapgarh, located just at the outskirt of Arundhatinagar Police Lines. It’s about six seven years ago I was staying in a quarters inside the complex with my family. My son was a Madhyamik candidate. In Tripura, we still depend upon private tuitions for quality education at Secondary level. It was not an exception in the case of my son as well. I have an Alto car. Till that time I had very little opportunity to run the vehicle, hardly it would travel five to ten kilometres in a day. So, I engaged a permanent driver.     

Mahadev was in his early twenties, till unconquered. With his thin blackish complexion, one would always miss him in the night except under proper illumination. Our police drivers always boast for their experience. My driver and PG took Mahadev’s test on driving skill. They placed flower tubs to mark the edges of a zigzag lane, and then asked him to cover the distance, first forward and then reverse without disturbing the tubs. Mahadev Sarkar cleared the test with ease. He demanded four thousand bucks per month as salary which I agreed upon without a single word. Everything was smooth for about a week and then the car’s mileage came down drastically. Alto generally gives mileage of sixteen to seventeen kilometres per litre, but within two months it reduced to ten to eleven kilometres. Initially, I was of the opinion that the culprit was traffic-jam. But, a new development forced me to change my views. One evening Mahadev said, “Sir, the battery has become weak. Self-starter is not functioning.”

A new battery was installed in the car along with announcement of an inquiry commission headed by my official driver with PG as member. The committee gave its findings in two days. It opined that Mahadev was stealing fuel. According to the committee, it’s difficult to siphon out petrol from Alto car through its inlet. So he worked out a device by removing the clip of outlet pipe attached to the AC pump of the car for filling a plastic bottle, drop by drop. For this he had to switch on and off the vehicle in static condition and thereby draining out the battery. After dropping my son for tuition, Mahadev always cherished a nap with AC on. This further aggravated the drainage of battery power. I didn’t disclose the report; instead I sealed the petrol-tank cover and bonnet with cello tape. On the third day Mahadev took his wages and bowed out stating that he would not serve in that ambience.

Another driver was engaged. Pradip Chakraborty is a ward of an aged constable. He is a married person and from an orthodox family with no scope for taking non-vegetarian food in his house. He couldn’t overcome the peer group pressure, especially the taste of non-veg fast-food. He is good driver but completely indifferent of his duty timings. Pradip used to make lame excuses and most of the time I had to perform his duty as a proxy driver. Another thing caught my attention was the sticky perspiration he left on the steering. Some opined that he regularly took drugs.

We were relieved from this awkward situation by Auto driver-cum-owner Taj Islam. He charged rupees hundred per trips with a minimum of thirty-five outings in a month. We realized that the things were moving smoothly, spending less than what we would pay earlier for keeping driver. Taj is very responsible and whenever he was on any other urgent assignment he made an alternative arrangement of his own. 

One day, I noticed him in a friendly chatting with a young promising leader from an indigenous group. The approach of the youth leader surprised me. In fact, he saluted Taj. He is a highly educated leader and even experience of visiting abroad. He was once arrested for his suspected link with underground elements. I raised the issue out of curiosity when I met Taj next time. He grinned and narrated his association with the leader.

More than a decade ago, Taj Islam was earning his livelihood as a Maruti Van driver. Insurgency was at its peak in the State. The youth leader was also very influential that time. He had tacit link with the party in power in the hills. Almost day in and day out tribal insurgent groups were unleashing terror in Tripura. Initially, their target was the Hindu Bengalee population. Probably they had a fear if they caused harm to the Muslims they might not get safe harbour in Bangladesh. But, soon they targeted both the Muslim and tribal population. It was during this interim period Taj was engaged as driver. In course of this association Taj had become privy to some weak points of the leader especially his hobnobbing with the suspicious elements. On one occasion the leader tried to embezzle rupees ninety thousands through sheer forgery by adding extra zero to a ten thousand rupee cheque and managed to withdraw the money. The banker was a tribal gentleman and when he realized his fault, he had to run from pillar to post for the recovery. It was only after the personal interference of the President of the political group to which the young leader belongs, the refund was possible. However no case was registered.

That day I realized a truth, ‘Members of middleclass families can only see the actual earthy world’. 

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