Rajinder Chand Katoch (61) is perhaps the only Delhiite who has never faced traffic snarls while driving on the Capital’s roads. But then he doesn’t drive just about any other car either.
Katoch, who retired a few months ago, had been the chief driver of the President of India for the last 30 years. Though given a choice, he finds it easier to drive his Maruti SX4 on the most congested of Delhi’s roads than the customised and armoured official limousine of the President.
“The armoured car is so heavy; it’s like driving around a building,” he said. “The car can go up to 260kmph but with the President as your passenger, you have to drive very carefully. I had to take care of anyone suddenly jumping in front of the convoy or any other chances of an accident,” he said.Apart from the honour of being the President’s chief driver, the Katochs also got a ringside view of Delhi’s development into a mega city. Katoch senior, Malik Chand Katoch, was the chief attendant of the last eight Viceroys of British India and the family has been part of the Imperial capital even before the Rashtrapati Bhavan, then the Viceroy House, came up and the Capital was inaugurated in 1931.
“My father used to work in the Old Secretariat and the Vice Regal Lodge (now in Delhi University),” Katoch said. “Where New Delhi stands today was a dense forest and he used to come here sometimes to see the construction work. Delhi ended after Paharganj and there were huge banana orchards in that area,” he said.
The Katochs moved to the staff quarters behind the Viceroy House, which is now the Presidential estate. “We would go to the shahar to buy household goods or watch cinema at the Imperial theatre for 31 paise,” he said.
Katoch junior got a driver’s job in 1968 after going through a gruelling test by a board of government and defence officials and engineers. “I became part of the President’s envoy. I loved driving to the airport,” he said.
“Before 1984, you could easily go inside the Delhi airport and drive up to the porch. The airport was just a small building with a lobby,” he said.
“We also loved going to the ‘at home’ organised at Rashtrapati Bhavan for all the staff members and their families,” he said. “These functions stopped a few years ago but I cherish the laddoos sent by Mahamahim (President Pratibha Patil) on makar sankranti last year.”
Katoch also says that he has driven the President’s car to the past 23 Republic Day celebrations. “I wouldn't have received so much respect and honour in any other job,” he says with a hint of pride in his voice.