My son wants to be a engine driver.

According to my Gmail account records I created this blog on 3rd November 2012 (392 days). And that was it. I was embroiled in a deep conundrum for more than 2 years, “wordpress or tumblr?”, “oh wait, looks appealing”, “msqureshi or msaifq?”, “free or paid?”, “I do not like that typeface :-/” and on and on it went.

Until, a few things in the last 4 weeks woke me up. I cleaned my closet and gave away more than half of my belongings, after gentle (angry) requests from my dad I let go of my procrastination and bought the battery for our digital weighing scale and after a lovely afternoon of interesting talks in New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village I took an Uber ride home.

After cleaning my cupboard the realisation struck (once again) that I had too many unused possessions and I was born with certain privileges. When I finally checked my weight I was stunned; 16kgs of fat added in a year (another proof of the privileges I have been given and of the complacent life I am living). And finally on the evening of Saturday 29th November I met Davinder Singh.

Davinder, a son of a farmer, is from Ludhiana, Punjab. He is in his late 30s and drives a white Suzuki Swfit Dzire with Uber.

Davinder Singh

I had assumed this cab ride to be like any other; I greet the driver, give him my drop off address, have a little conversation about work and if that dies down return to reading something on my phone. But this was different, from the beginning Davinder seemed energetic, jovial and bright. Hence, I naturally assumed I was his first customer for the day (it was 6pm on a Saturday evening). Turned out he was driving since 4am and he had lost count as to what customer number I was.

He had some doubts on using the Uber app and I helped him with it. Then, I asked on an ideal day how much does he make driving the cab; Rs.3,000 – 4,000! He was making a lot more than the majority of Indians, even those with a post graduate qualification and I voiced exactly this. “I too am educated and have a BA from Delhi University”, was his reply. I was surprised and wanted to know more, and he was eager to share his story.

“I too am educated and have a BA from Delhi University”

I had so many burning questions, didn’t know which to ask first. The conversation for the next 30 minutes went something like this (it was in Hindi, I have taken the liberty to translate).

Me: “Which college did you graduate from?”

DS: “Deshbandhu College, Delhi University. My performance in school was good so I was accepted in the regular morning batch. After graduation I was offered a job with APL. My girlfriend at that time was from the same college and was also offered a position at APL. I worked for a week and left, the closed office atmosphere, sitting in front of a computer screen was claustrophobic. I began driving a taxi for a company. I enjoyed automobiles and had previous experience so it was fun.”

Me: “So what about your girlfriend?”

DS: “She was still working at APL. We decided to get married but my father declined, stating she was from Bihar and I should find a Punjabi girl. I then asked her father and was expecting the same response. Surprisingly he agreed but said, “If your family is not open to this marriage, do not go ahead. You will be living in isolation and will be unhappy.” I asked her what to do and we decided to part ways. Now I am happily married to another woman and have 2 kids with her. A son who is in Grade 4 and a daughter who is in Grade 5.”

“The admissions officer saw my residence address and declined to give me a form. Said the people from my locality are not very civilised.”

Me: “Wow this is interesting, yet so typical. Which school do your children attend?”

DS: “I live in Govindpuri, hence wanted to send them to Summefields School, the admissions officer saw my residence address and declined to give me a form. Said the people from my locality are not very civilised. Then I tried for DPS R K Puram, they asked for a donation of Rs. 3,00,000 per child. I could not pay this hefty an amount and had to pull out. Then I was suggested Mata Gujri Public School. They too asked for a donation, since it was Rs. 20,000 per child I accepted and got them admitted. My children are very bright, they now know 3 languages, are fluent in math and science. I plan to buy a laptop soon. For now I give them my smartphone when I return in the evening. They access content and make projects using it.”

Me: “So how did you end up coming to Delhi? What do your parents do?”

DS: “My father used to be a farmer and wanted me to follow his path. I just could not work on the farm and as kid wanted to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet. Someone suggested I come to Delhi. I had just finished school, I got admitted into Delhi University. I also learnt how to drive a car on my own and began working with a cab company after college hours. In a few months I had enough money to purchase the motorcycle, which I did and went back to my hometown. I was still naive and had not figured out that I need to save up for the cost of fuel! Upon realisation I sold the bike and returned to Delhi, but this time I had another urge. I saw a ‘maut ka kuaan'(Well of Death) in a travelling circus and wanted to drive a car in that. I went up to the owner and asked him to teach me, he repeatedly declined stating it takes years’ of practice to master the skill. I was persistent. He finally relented, on the condition that I travel with the entire circus, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep and follow his instructions. I agreed and within a month had mastered driving inside the well. I was satisfied, and returned to Delhi.”

Me: “This is fantastic. I rarely meet people who are so passionate and have followed their dreams. Do you have specific ambitions for your children?”

DS: “Yes, I want them to do what they want to do. I have told both of them, study till you want to and can study. I will back you financially and won’t let finances ever come in between your aspirations. The day you want to stop studying, tell me and I shall be fine with it but you will have to start working then. Work for someone or start something on your own. Just work.”

“My son wants to be an engine driver. He has this fascination for trains and which is good.”

Me: “This is amazing, I have actually not meant such open minded people. I know your children are very young now but do they have any particular career ambitions? You know how children tend to have multiple of aspirations and dreams at this age, what are theirs’ ?”

DS: “My son wants to be an engine driver. He has this fascination for trains and which is good. I have told him that I will ask him what he wants to do in life when he is 15 and if he still wants to be an engine driver I will do everything in my capabilities to make him one. If he changes his mind to something else, I will help him with that. You know I have already looked up what it takes to be an engine driver, the training didn’t look tough and the salary is very good. (And he went on to explain the process). One more thing, I would personally like him to be a pilot but will enforce that. Do you know how one can become a pilot?”

Me: “Yes, yes. I was going to get just that when I changed my mind and decided to pursue Aeronautical Engineering. I actually have a part license, someday I shall complete it…(then I went on to share the process of getting a pilot’s license).

DS: “So do you work as an engineer?”

“I have learnt that forcing children to do something outside their behaviour or liking is futile. I would prefer that children do what they enjoy.”

Me: “Ummm actually not. I stopped a little past midway. I now teach in schools, work with teachers in helping them doing their jobs better and help make the overall learning experience much better. I basically work with a few friends, we run our own organisation.”

DS: “You know I have learnt that forcing children to do something outside their behaviour or liking is futile. I would prefer that children do what they enjoy, only then will they develop an interest in it and only then would they get good at it. And by the way, my wife failed in Grade 10th, can you imagine she is a teacher now? Cause she is good in her subject and is able to make things fun.”

I am awestruck.

Me: “This is exactly what we believe in and are attempting to do. So what does your wife teach?”

DS: “She takes after school tuitions for Punjabi language. Almost 50 students come to her daily. She makes enough money to run the entire household and pay all bills. So all the money I make is being saved in Fixed Deposits and Savings Accounts in the names of my son and daughter. You see I won’t let money ever be a problem between their dreams. My wife has her own scooter and I taught her to drive, when she goes back to her village she is the one driving this car.”

I have almost reached home. Have many more questions but not sufficient time.

Me: “I forgot to ask, what subject did you graduate in?”

DS: “I did History and Political Science. If nothing else I would have studied History further, it is the most amazing subject.”

We then go onto discuss Indian History, Mughals, Hitler, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. I have had such a diverse conversation with very few people. 

We have reached outside my house. We talk for 5-10 more minutes, I show him interesting online educational resources he can use. I give him my number, we shake hands and part ways. He is going to add me on Facebook.

I walk away. Awestruck, humbled and inspired.

PS: More facts about Davinder:

  1. He owns a 2 bedroom apartment in Delhi.
  2. He owns the car. We will be completing the loan repayment in a year. After which he plans to buy another car and hire a driver for the old one.
  3. He has life insurance, medical insurance and is car/home insured.
  4. His father does not work any more, his farm is on rent and Davinder also supports him financially.
  5. He is a passionate and ambitious Indian. 
  6. He believes in his children. 
  7. This nation needs more citizens, fathers and husbands like him. 

Do you know more Davinders? Do share their stories.


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