Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wisdom of a Taxi Driver

Airbus A321 from
During a 4am cab ride to Bangalore airport this morning, the driver tells me, “Ma’am, there is no such thing as mother tongue.  We are not born speaking our mother’s language. We learn to speak the language of our mother’s, homes, neighborhoods, and schools. So why is our country divided based on language?  What difference does it make whether I speak Kannada and you speak Hindi?  A Tamilian in India is Indian and a Tamilian in Sri Lanka is a Sri Lankan. India comes first, not language.”


I agree.  Then he goes on to say that perhaps when a person lives and works in Karnataka, they should be called a Kannadiga no matter which part of the country they come from, for this is the state that they work in to make better. So tho’ he was born in Tamil Nadu and would be called a Tamilian, as he works and adds value to Karnataka, he is a Kannadiga.  But above all he is an Indian.


We continue to talk about the other things that create boundaries between people - religion, caste, money etc. All of these he believes were never meant to create differences that divide.  Then he says, “How can I be proud of my language or religion or caste, if I look down at another’s? Pride comes from love.  If I truly, in my heart and soul, love my religion, how can I hate my neighbour’s religion?  We speak the same language, eat the same food, bring up our children the same way, and watch the same movies.  We just pray to a God called by another name.”


Srinivas the driver, is the owner of a fleet of 5 cars in Bangalore. He decided to drive me himself at 4 am in the morning.  Why? First, he had made a commitment to Sue, my friend, that a car and driver would arrive at 4am to take me to the airport. As he had made a commitment, it had to be delivered.  Second, was the grave responsibility of driving a woman to the airport at 4am.  He believed that he was personally responsible for my safety.  Hence he made the trip himself.

This conversation got me thinking.  Here is a man who has found, and lives, an essence thread of his identity.  That is profound.  And it humbles me to meet such a person. To have the conversation I just described.

Our conversation started on the topic of language because he spoke to me in English and when I used a couple of Kannada words he realized that I knew Kannada. The language created the bond. We were communicating in the familiar. It was comfortable.  The divide of passenger and driver fell away.  The divide of man and woman fell away.  We were just two people exchanging our thoughts.  That’s the common language we need to find in our homes, neighborhoods and offices.

This is a man, whose love for Kannada, made him learn Malayalam.  What?? He says that he loves Kannada so much, that, over a 10 year period of visiting Sabarimalai, he learnt Malayalam to be able to find commonalities between himself and the place of his devotion.  And he found that Malayalam is also a beautiful language. It is rich, it is expressive, and it has the same moods. As are all the other languages he knows – Tamil, Hindi, & English.  

I am amazed.  This man has the values and attitude that we search for when we recruit people into our organizations.  The 2 big ones:

Respect. Respect for self. Respect for what I know.  And that respect creates respect for others not like himself.  Respect of commitment and ensuring that it is not just met but goes just one tiny step ahead – he had a cool bottle of water for me to drink in the car!

Passion to Learn.  And the drive to learn on his own.  He does not have the luxury of being nominated to training programs to learn.  He just goes out to learn from others, in a non-work environment, at his own time.  What he learned he uses to connect with passengers and his fleet drivers.

If I was recruiting him for a job in corporate India, I wouldn’t blink an eye!  

But better still, 
I vote that Srinivas stand for election and run the government!!


  1. Sangeeta we often underestimate people. It is lovely to discover such people live in our country. I met a taxi driver last week with whom I had such an engaging political conversation that I felt almost proud. If that makes sense.

    1. Meena - I agree, its lovely to discover such people. I believe that there are many such people everywhere. Its up to people like you and me to have conversations with them, and learn from those conversations.