In India, the upper middle class and up get to experience the luxury of being driven around by a chaeuffer. Most people who prefer not to drive themselves have a full-time driver.
(Picture : Sunil driver on way to haridwar)
The driver is typically a youngish man anywhere between the age of 22 to 45, someone who has been with the family for years even. The responsibilities of the driver may include anything from dropping/ picking kids to their
school/ classes, taking "madam"/ "memsaheb" to shopping/ kitty parties/ work, to picking up
laundry/ milk/medicines- you name it. And if that isn't convenient enough for you, the system evolves
to create greater conveniences for you in India. For example, seniors who have long stopped
driving but own a car, can hire part-time drivers to drive them around. These drivers either already
have a full-time office jobs (in which case they are available after work and weekends) or take-up
multiple part-time assignments. My dad in Delhi has a very convenient arrangement set up with a driver
who has brothers and cousin drivers- among them somebody is always available to take on the duty
of providing chauffeur service to my parents- if and when they need it, which is almost daily
for a couple of hours in the evening. Here starts my story. We plan a road-trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh
and one of the brothers, Sunil, is available to drive us. Since coming to India, jet-lag has ensured barely a few
hours of sleep at night for me and so I'm looking forward to taking a nice long nap in the car. Little did I know that the road-trip will turn out to be an excellent experience of catching up with news in India as Sunil,
(I think he mentioned that he is 22... or 25?), who has driven several times along the route with his
brothers and cousins, has his own plans. He takes it upon himself to not only be our driver
for the trip, but also our guide. I find myself wide awake and intrigued as my lessons begin, almost
immediately, as we begin our journey from Noida to Haridwar. His sentences mostly begin with "Didi,
appko pata hai ..." (literally translated as- big sister, did you know ...). My dad joins in often to fill in the blanks or to provide more information, seeing my perked interest.
As we drive through Noida, located in Gautam Buddh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh state, Sunil points
at the various buildings under construction. The development was put on hold for about four years and
had recently resumed. He talks about how land was acquired cheap from the farmers for industrial
development by New Okhla Industrial Development Authority
(hence the name NOIDA) in the Noida and Greater Noida region between 2006 and 2008 under the
then Mayawati government, but instead was sold off to private developers who planned huge
commercial and residential complexes on the land. The farmers eventually sued the authority causing all
such construction to stop for about 4 years. The case was recently resolved
in favor of the original land owners when they were granted 64 per cent extra
compensation. With that the various construction resumed as well, causing lakhs of apartment owners to
breathe a sign of relief.
Sunil talks of the much awaited Eastern Peripheral Highway that will help in decongesting the roads in
Delhi by reducing through traffic heading to Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ballabhghar, Sonipat, Panipat, etc.
We are passing through Ghaziabad. Sunil points out the Passport office in Ghaziabad. This is an option for people living close by and avoids the journey to Delhi for passport related work. It was started in June 1997 and provides service to thirteen districts- Agra, Aligarh, Bulandshahar, Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Mathura, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur among them.
Ghaziabad district continues on. We are now passing Modinagar, midway between Ghaziabad city and Meerut city on the Ghaziabad Meerut National Highway 58. Sunil informs me that Modinagar has been known for Modi Mills for over 50 to 100 years. I later visit their website to find that Modi Sugar Mills Limited was indeed founded in the year 1932 and subsequently changed its name to Modi Industries Limited (MIL) in 1964. Over the years, MIL grew into a multi-unit company having its registered office at Modinagar (U.P). The company consists of nine manufacturing units namely Modi Vanaspati Mfg. Co., Modi Paint & Varnish Works, Modi Arc Electrodes Company, Modi Gas & Chemicals, Modi Soap Works, Modi Lantern Works, Modi Sugar Mills, Modi Distillery and Modi Steels. All the divisions of MIL are located at Modinagar. The region has since developed as an educational hub with the establishment of many institutions in and around the city due to its location in National Capital Region (NCR). Sunil informs that the original Modi, Raj Bahadur Gujarmal Modi, who had founded the city, had then given free land to live to all his workers. I couldn't verify that but did find a related story (Source: A Vision Of Karmayogi Gujarmal Modi, via Wikipedia). Post World War II in 1945, the British government in India recognized Modi's contributions in the area and decided to confer knighthood to him. However, Modi preferred the Indian title of Raj Bhadur, a title that was reserved for big landlords. Not satisfying the required criteria, the British instead officially renamed the city, then called Begumabad, to Modinagar.
As we drive on, in spite of the recent hot days, I see hariyali (greenery) everywhere. It's because there is nahar pani, (stream water) Sunil explains. We are soon passing Meerut. Or should I say by-passing Meerut, since as per Sunil, the route to Haridwar by-passes Meerut since the creation of the NH 58 Meerut Bypass in the 1980s, thus saving about 2 hours of drive time. We see many well developed institutions on the highway- Swami Vivekananda Subarti University and several other private groups of institutions. So far since we have moved out of Noida, we see no sign of anyone showing any inclination what-so-ever of following the traffic regulations or any indications of any even existing. As yet another vehicle unceremoniously cuts past our car, Sunil comments, "Didi, kuch logon ko jaldi hoti hai jane ki. Main jane deta hoon. Par jab Hondo city mein jane wale log sadak mein kachra phekten hain, tou mujhe bahut dukh hota hain kyun ki yeh tou padhe lekhe log hain". (Didi, some people are in a rush always. I let them pass. But when people traveling in cars like Honda City litter on the road it makes me very sad because these are educated people). I absolutely agree.
Right after Meerut, Muzaffarnagar district starts and there are lot of eating breaks options- Cheetal Grand on both sides of road, KFC, McDonalds, Haldiram . It is soon time for lunch/ restroom break. Sunil suggests we stop at Cheetal Grand in Muzaffarnagar. He tells us that the place provides clean washroom services to travelers and the best part is that the food is not only good but there is a restaurant on either side of the highway for the convenience of travelers on both sides. If you are a meat-lover, this area is your chance to eat some before entering the holy city of Haridwar where no restaurants on river Ganga serves non-vegetarian food. We stop at Cheetal Grand and sure enough the restrooms are spotless with an on-site janitor. We don't dine here though as we have our own poori- subzi that we all share.
Sunil informs us that we're now passing Manglour city and here starts the Haridwar district. Next up is Roorkee city that is largely a cantonment area known for Roorkee Engineering college. Since my father-in-law has his degree from here, I look around with interest. Sunil is right, you see army posts all around and army style residential blocks extending neatly in rows.
Sunil takes us to Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar city, one of the largest Yoga Institutes in India founded by Baba Ramdev for the purpose of practicing/learning/teaching/developing yoga, ayurveda and ayurvedic medicines. It is on the outskirts of Haridwar city. He swears that the shudh-ghee urad dal halwa is a must-try. We like the campus, love what it is all about- reviving and promoting age- old practices from ancient India. However, the eating area is not that well maintained, so we decide to pass on the food. We drive past the Crystal Water World near Patanjali in Uttarakhand. It is nice to see that water worlds have been developed in quite a few places in India.
We spend the next two days in the holy city of Haridwar. Sunil is our official guide, showing us places and seeing it with us. And when my cell phone's camera conked out thanks to the crowd that jerked it off of my hand, he took on the role of the official photographer as well, using his cell phone and promising to give us the pictures in a pen drive later. Haridwar stay is one to remember forever and deserves a separate article, as does the following two days that we spend in Rishikesh afterwards. Suffice is to say that it was a teerath (a pilgrimage) for me.
he drive back home from our 4-day Haridwar- Rishikesh trip is just as informative as the drive to the destination. First up with respect to topic of conversation is the DLF land deals of Robert Vadra (son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi) commonly believed to be in return of favors in Haryana, ruled by Congress at the time, led by the then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
I am informed about the SIT, Special Investigation Team, that was set up as per the Supreme Court order but went into effect by the Modi government on its first day in office to bring back black money stashed away in foreign accounts. The Augusta ghotala (under-handing)- brought forth by Subramanian Swamy comes up in the conversation next. I find later that in 2010, India signed an agreement with the UK-based AgustaWestland (its parent company based in Italy) for 12 high-altitude-flying helicopters. It was a $530 million (Rs 3,600 crore) deal that spiraled into a scandal with Congress at its center much like the Bofors deal in the late 1980s. As the Italian government investigated the VIP choppers case, the trail of the commission money, supposedly in the range of Rs. 200 crore, apparently led to Indian politicians - Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Of course, the AugustaWestland case is still in courts, will probably remain there for couple of decades, but I find the discussion interesting and think of the Bofors scam where unlike this one, Swamy was with the Congress on that one.
As we near Delhi, next on the discussion agenda is the Dadri khand (story) where a Hindu mob killed a 52-year-old Muslim man in Bisara village, near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, as the news spread in the village that the man had killed a cow. The sad event had occurred in September of 2015 and had rocked India and abroad as India was being painted or rather tainted as 'intolerant'. The general feeling among the majority Hindu community was that the media was covering only the victim's story and not the police brutality that followed on Hindu youngsters of the area apparently to appease Azam Khan in Akhilesh Yadav's ministry (U.P Chief Minister)- who "owns" 70 MLAs and so threatens to withdraw support. Sunil informs me that such is the power of Azam Khan that once his buffaloes were stolen and found within 24 hours by the entire UP police force- in a place where humans are never found. "Hum ab bhi haste hai us chor ki himmate pur", he laughs. (We still laugh at the courage shown by the thief). The next "didi, did you know" that comes from Sunil (and I didn't know) is that Greater Noida has earned the reputation of dismantling the government. Of course, I find that intriguing and want to know how is that. Mayawati's government and Kejriwal's government were both ousted and now merely holding a rally in Greater Noida is believed to bring bad luck. "Issi leye Akhilesh Yadav kabhi nahi aata yahan. Agra jane wali Yamuna Expressway inaugurate karne ke liye bhi Ram Gopal Yadav ko bheja" (That is why Akhilesh Yadav never comes here. Even to inaugurate the Yamuna Expressway to Agra, he sent Ram Gopal Yadav). I later find that Akhilesh Yadav did indeed throw open the expressway via a video link while sitting in Lucknow and he did send his uncle and Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav to inaugurate it at the Greater Noida end. Next Sunil takes it upon himself to educate me on the lifestyles of kissans (farmers) who became rich by selling their lands to the Greater Noida development Authority. He tells me about the Rs. 250 crore wedding of former independent MLA Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria’s daughter in Haryana’s Jaunpur village. He even gifted a helicopter and a farm house to the newly weds. Sunil tells me that Jaunpur village has several farm houses and all the villagers were invited to the wedding. I later read about the wedding in Hindustan Times and find interesting bits like- 2000 guests were gifted silver biscuits weighing 30 gms, the groom’s tika was done with Rs. 2.5 crore, and the families’tika was done with Rs. 1 crore for 18 other members.
The conversation moves to cricket. We talk about Yuvraj Singh who was bid at 16 crore even though his market value is at a mere 3 crore. Yes. Yuvraj Singh, who carried a base price of Rs 2 crore, was sold for the highest ever price in IPL history- bought for a record Rs 16 crore (USD 2.57 million approx) by Delhi Daredevils in 2015. In 2016, he was sold to Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs. 7 crores. We talk some more cricket. "Rahane best hai. Shekar Dawan hero ban gaya hai pur Rahane ko jis bhi position mein bhejo, woh achcha khelta hai. Ladka bahut acha hai", says Sunil (Rahane is the best. Shekar Dawan has become a hero but Rahane plays well at every position he is asked to play at- the boy is very good).
We are nearing home and I feel that the only topic left un-discussed is Bollywood news. I ask (addressing nobody in particular) if anyone has heard anything about rumors circulating couple of years back that Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra secretly did nikaah. Nobody had heard anything about it. I'm not really surprised since barely anybody in India covered it (if at all true). I had read about it in the Indian Telegraph (based outside of India). My dad expresses sadness over the news (again, if at all true it is). "I always had great respect for Shah Rukh. Hope this is not true", he says, looking actually disappointed. This is what Sunil has to say, "didi, mein Bollywood news bilkul nahi dekhta. Hum paanch bhai aur dost log roz shaam ko teen- char guhnte political news dekhte hai tv mein". (sister, I don't watch bollywood news at all. Five of us, my brother and some friends, sit together and catch up on political news daily.) I am impressed. I think about the item songs in Hindi movies and the leching/staring/touching/groping that is common on the streets of India and I think to myself- wish every youth would invest time in educating himself like these young men.