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Punjabi by nature: Banta Singh’s taxi

Thanks to the actors, the great Sir Ben Kingsley and superstar Akshay Kumar, the Sikh taxi driver has been making headlines.

punjab Updated: Oct 04, 2015 15:06 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
Sir Ben Kingsley,Akshay Kumar,Singh is Bling
Akshay Kumar in a still from the film ‘Singh is Bling”.

Thanks to the actors, the great Sir Ben Kingsley and superstar Akshay Kumar, the Sikh taxi driver has been making headlines. But funnily enough, the spotlight on him has not been because of his behind-the-wheel skills but for his humanitarian values. Is it because the Sikh taxi driver is that quintessential ambassador of fine human qualities and all that his faith espouses - good value system and hard work?

Well certainly, if you go by what Akshay Kumar had to say when asked about the use of the aphorism ‘Sikhgiri’ in his latest movie ‘Singh is Bling’, that released on Friday (October 2). “In a taxi lane if you are looking for a taxi for your daughter, wife or sister you try to look for a Sikh taxi driver because you know that she will be safe with him.”

A super duper description indeed, which even the religious organisations may find difficult to frame objections against. Akshay Kumar’s account notwithstanding, who can forget the story about Australia’s most honest cab driver, the 47-year-old Lakhwinder Singh Dhillon of Melbourne? Lakhwinder Singh, in a rare gesture, returned 110,000 Australian dollars to the passenger who forgot his bag of money in Singh’s cab.

Interestingly, the Sikh taxi driver other than just being the virtuous man who drives yellow cabs on roads, is also a one-stop-shop to get the true pulse of politics, current events and socio-economic trends. I usually try to make conversation with the taxi driver and have always come out enlightened at the end of ride.

It was in July that I took an Uber to the Day and Night television office in Chandigarh, where I work as a consulting editor. The driver, a baptised Sikh, was a graduate degree holder. He kept directing questions at me, but his last one was a stellar one.

“Sir, what did the government want in return to let you run this channel in Punjab? It was a good channel.” Steering away from a direct answer [except using the word draconian], I countered, “You look like a typical Akali voter to me. But since you have asked me this question, does it mean you are not fully satisfied with the government? Where would you vote, since you appear to be so politically aware?”

His answer should bother the faction-ridden Congress and the overconfident AAP. “What to do sir. We have to vote for the Panth. How can you ignore Baba Nanak’s Takdi (weighing scale) on the voting machine? It’s like passing by a gurdwara without bowing your head,” he replied. His reply gave me a fresh insight into Punjab’s voter.

The other incident pertains to a taxi ride in Los Angeles in 2008. The driver, immediately sensing that I was from Punjab, started talking about the clashes between the Sikhs and followers of Baba Ram Rahim after the latter in an alleged blasphemous act had imitated the Tenth Sikh Guru.

“You have cut your hair like me and are clean-shaven, but your views are very radical,” I remarked. “Bhaji you can call me a bad Sikh. The only difference is between good and bad Sikh but I’m still a Sikh.”

The answer clearly indicated the anger even the most unorthodox Sikh carried against the Dera Sacha Sauda sect’s head, fuelled by politics of course. Don’t you agree that it is a good idea that the Akal Takht Jathedar has pardoned the Bollywood-smitten baba, even if the pardon has its roots in a political compromise? They aroused it for votes and are dousing it for votes, but peace harmed no one.

The third incident pertains to another Uber ride where I got into a discussion about the desire of the youth to go abroad. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the young man’s views when he said he was happy with his job as Uber had made taxi driving not only well-paid but respectable too.

“Who wants to leave home if you are getting a good salary,” he said, his statement breaking the myth that every Punjabi wanted to leave home and go abroad. His statement is a slap on the face of successive governments who have failed to provide proper employment opportunities to the youth of Punjab, whereas a single taxi cab company has managed to create excitement. However, a note of caution to Uber because they have started the salary cutback game, which will only backfire in Punjab.

The other incident which left an indelible impression on me was this particular taxi ride in Delhi during the Anna Hazare movement. “Every politician who is nabbed should not be served food in the jail. They should serve them currency only (‘Jina khana hai kha. Raj key kha Bh...’)

I can’t vouch for his driving skills, but yet the safest and most telling journeys happen in Banta Singh’s taxi.

First Published: Oct 04, 2015 15:06 IST