It was early March, the season on which the temperature has risen in Thimphu, bringing the first true warm of the year. I waited for taxi near RIM, Semtokha gate after meeting one of my friends from the institute. The dusk had already fallen. Finding a taxi plying to Thimphu from Semtokha after the sunset was really hard, I presumed.
After waiting for 30 minutes an old Maruti-van taxi came. It stopped near me.
“Thimphu?” I inquired the cabbie. And he nodded. The cabbie was a pale, lean but tall man of late 30s. He wore a faded gho without lagey and few of his front teeth were missing. He has got a long chin which reminded me of malnourished-version of Phub Thinley (Bhutanese film comedian).
Mera dilbi kitna pagal hai…Bar shamuney jab tum atey ho, kuch bhi kehainey se darta hu… an old Hindi song from the rusted cassette player on the music box system tied with a plastic rope flared so loudly.
As I entered, I scanned the interiors of the van. It has only right-side rear mirror and no floor mats. Even the road was visible from the holes of the taxi. Battery and tape record’s wires were visibly naked and were clubbed together with brown cello tape. This reminded me of the 1980s-old Hindi song, lean-pale driver and condition-less van.
“You know lad, this is my favorite song,” the cabbie exclaimed as he sped his car. But as he accelerated, the van produced louder terrible sound, hopefully not the speed. Even the fully loaded trucks overtook us.
“When I was young like you this was a hit song. Its lyric is very pleasant and touching,” he added sounding very filmy.
“I don’t like modern songs. They are too noisy and nonsensical,” he justified in stark hatred as if his wife had been stolen by the modern songs.
After changing the second gear, his cell phone screeched in his pocket. It is a black and white phone as the green light blinked on the screen.
When we reached the junction to Semtokha Dzong, two young men got into the taxi. I knew later that they were ILCS trainees as they wore decent ghos and spoke in pure Dzongkha.
In a while, an old man in rag hailed the cab. As he entered, a gust of nauseating smell swept the taxi. A mix of dirt and sweats stomach-churned all other fellow passengers. The trainees covered their noses and mouths with lagey.
Betel-reddened mouth, this old man wore a ravaged brown jacket, a tainted Dhaka Sale trek pant and rubber shoes on his feet. To me, he appeared like an exploited mining labour or a dismayed vagabond in desperate search of a plate of rice.
He looked uneducated, close-minded and definitely without any ambition. All the poverty and adversity of the world were inscribed on his expression.
Apparently, my interest shifted from the comic-like cabbie to this newly arrived passenger and I watched this old man, strangely interested.
He stayed mute, not uttering a word until he called the cabbie to stop at Olakha. I was happy, most definitely, as I would be unleashed of this unbearable torture-the rotten smell.
“Meme, tiru nga,” the cabbie demanded the taxi fare from the old man. The old man foraged his pockets, and told the cabbie he has no money.
The cabbie got angry and threatened the meme to call the police. My mind irked as these two men started fighting for Nu 5, a little amount even a two-month old baby carries these days.
I interrupted these men and told the driver, “Aw, I will pay meme’s fare.”
Then we moved away. But the cabbie stared at me rather hostilely and asked, “Why did you volunteer to pay that old man’s fare?” He grimaced at me and shook his head as if I had murdered that old man.
Uneasy and speechless, I shrunk to the van’s corner.
After a long eerie silence, the cabbie informed, “You know, that old man is not as what you see him. He has four buildings in Olakha and three passenger buses.”
I was stabbed at hearing this. Surprise, disbelief, thrill, all crushed in my mind. I just wondered in dismay that how a man in rag, discontent looks and wholly illiterate having this huge wealth.
“This is not the first time he refuse pay taxi fare. He always does this to cheat the taxi drivers,” the cabbie announced as we reached the town.
For the first time in my life I learned that a man with such a huge wealth can still be pitifully poor and discontent-poorer than poor. I just thought, amazed, that this old man was pathetic rich man, a man who thinks that his wealth remains with him forever.