This happened in 2006, when I chucked up my long-time, full-time job at the Times of Oman. I had just then started freelancing for various publications. I normally travelled all over the city by cab for my various assignments. Working on my own meant that I didn’t have the luxury of threatening colleagues to drop me wherever I wanted to go or arranging interviews according to my convenience and only when the driver was available.
I once got into a driven by an old Omani gentleman in his 60s. There was another old lady in the cab. When I told him my destination, the driver very nicely asked whether he could drop the old lady first. I was in no hurry and said it was okay. The old lady got off at a lovely Omani-style house in a crowded Ruwi bylane. Till then, I was a silent spectator, or rather listener, as the driver and the old lady babbled in Arabic and me trying to catch a word or two that I understood. With the lady gone, the driver directed his conversational skills at me, that too in broken Hindi.
Here is how it went, with an English translation which however does not do full justice to the tone of the interesting tete-a-tete!
Driver: Tum Bangladeshi ya India (Are you Bangladeshi or Indian)
Me: (in a deadpan voice as this is normally the conversational starter) Indian.
Driver: Tum Indoo ya Christi (Are you a Hindu or Christian?)
Me: (who normally flares up at such questions quickly realises it is just a harmless query) Hindu
Driver: Tum Kaam Karti Hai? (Do you work?)
Me: Nahi (No!)
Driver: Kyon (Why?)
Me: (raise my eyebrows in surprise and just about manage to answer): Pehle Karti Thi!
(I used to work earlier!)
Driver (makes his own conclusions): Tumhara Pati accha kaam karta hoga. Accha pagar milta hoga. Isliye tum nahi karti kaam? (Your husband must be in a good job with a good salary. That’s why you don’t work!)
Me: (Chuckling by now) Mein ab ghar se kaam karti hoon (I work from home)
Driver: Ghar ka kaam? Woh to sab aurat karta! (Housework. That all women do!)
Me: (guffawing inside, if there is something like that) Nahin, mein ghar se likh ke jareeda ko deti hoon (I write for newspapers. Jareeda I presume is Arabic for newspaper!)
Driver: (suddenly sights the name sign of a famous Indian company) Tum Padi Likhi Aurat Ho. Kaam Karna Chahiye. Ye Company Accha hai. Do sau rial milega! (You are an educated woman. You should work. You will get 200 rials!)
Me: (resigned to the conversation by now!) Haanji!
Driver: (quite relentless about my job prospects) Aajkal sab aurat kam pe jaati hai. Accha Hai! Tum bhi try karo! (Today all women all work. You should also try to get a job!)
Thankfully, by this time, I reach my destination. And learn a lesson in women empowerment. From a 60-year-old driver who was changing with the times!