Ahmed looked younger than his age. His broad face, long beard, and dyed hair made him unique. Paan was over his face like a lipstick. I wonder if he was waiting for a passenger or someone he could talk to at midnight. I was smoking Godan Garam, beating Delhi’s winter after finishing a plate of chicken-changezi at Al-Jawahar near Jama Masjid.

Ahemd: Saheb Munirka ke 350 rupeyee. (350 rupees for Munikra)
Me: Theek hai bhaiya, 320 aur Ek bidi. (320 rupees and a Bidi)

Asking for Bidi from an auto driver brings a smile on their face. I am yet to understand why? Our auto crossed the dark gallis of Chandni Chok and headed towards Cannaught Palace. Ahmed switched off his FM and started to make a conversation.

Ahmed: Saheb, Kitna kama lete ho? (how much do you earn?)
Me: Ahmed Bhai, khane pine layak. (enough for my end meets)

Ahmed was eager to know my salary. But why? I understand when the bride/groom’s parents, but why was Ahmed asking all these? After much hesitation, I told him. After some time, he stopped the auto, and my heart sank.

Ahmed: Mere bachee apse Jada kama lete hai saheb. (my kids earn more than you)

I gave a broad smile and asked about Ahmed’s kids. Ahmed’s son is a veterinary doctor in Delhi Government, and his daughter is a lawyer at Tis Hazari court.

Ahmed lit two bidis and passed one to me.

Why are you riding auto at midnight, when your kids are so well off?
Ahmed: Saheb, is auto ki he Kamai hai na. Isko Kaise chor dun? (I made them successful while earning from this auto)

As our journey and conversation progressed, Ahmed mentioned about passing away of Noori, his wife. Being on the road makes him alive with people all around. The chit chat with fellow drivers, sharing happiness, and banters brings back youth in him.

Ahmed complained about the new generation and how the mobile phone has ruined conversation. Some passengers being rude, drunk never paid him after reaching the destination.

Our auto stopped at the JNU gate, we had another bidi, and we exchanged goodbyes. The road had gone empty and silent. It had mostly dogs, fat rats, and some cars headed to the airport.