The Intrepid Mr. Singh
Highway driving in India is a life –threatening adventure. We covered some 1500 kilometers traveling through the northern part of the country. The fact we escaped unscathed is nothing short of miraculous. Every single car we saw in India had numerous dents and scratches. There are no enforced traffic rules. Roads are shared by such a variety of vehicles and beasts of burden that navigating your way safely is a feat of skill and daring. We were lucky enough to be chauffeured about by the intrepid Mr. Singh, a tall swarthy young man with a broad smile, yellow crooked teeth, shiny black hair and a wardrobe of white suits.
Mr. Singh could stop, start, swerve and blast his horn with enough determination to get us through the most snarled traffic jam. On several occasions buses veered into our lane suddenly, but Singh always turned just in time to avoid them. Once a camel loaded down with logs careened across our path. Its rider was talking on his mobile phone instead of watching the road. Somehow Singh anticipated the animal’s contrary movement and pulled onto the shoulder to avert certain disaster. One morning a white haired grandmother in a bright red sari, with spectacles perched on her nose, and four huge shopping bags in her arms, stepped off the highway median right in front of our van. Singh had noticed her out of the corner of his eye and came to an abrupt stop. He had some kind of sixth sense. Every time we were sure a collision with a herd of goats, rickety donkey cart or stray cow was imminent; Mr. Singh managed to maneuver his way out of it.
Although Mr. Singh was a man of few words I managed to find out he had been a driver for thirteen years and had three school -aged children. His job as a chauffeur for tourists meant he was away from home a great deal. Mr. Singh was unbelievably accommodating. One day we stayed too long at a wildlife sanctuary. The guide we had employed insisted we see every species of bird and animal living there. This meant Mr. Singh had to do several hours of night driving. This was a risky venture since there are no lights along the highway to illuminate the potholes, cyclists, stray pigs and teams of boys hurrying home after a cricket match that can appear suddenly on the road. Mr. Singh didn’t complain but stoically smiled when we apologized. He drove us safely and expertly to our next destination a hundred kilometers away. We wanted to visit the family of a colleague in Delhi. Mr. Singh took us to their home. It was in an area of the city far from our hotel. He waited patiently outside for many hours while we visited and ate dinner.
Before we left Delhi on the first day of our journey, our tour organizer took my husband Dave aside for a man- to -man chat about the need to tip our driver Mr. Singh adequately at the end of our trip. After just a few hours of driving we realized what an invaluable asset he would be on our travels. Our complete confidence in him allowed us to concentrate on the marvelous movie- like view of India we had through the van windows while he transported us safely down a highway filled with all sorts of dangers. I have no doubt we owe our lives to Mr. Singh. I suspect no matter what size tip we gave him it would never have been enough to thank him adequately.
Published on 1/1/09