The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lessons from an auto driver
- The writer is baffled by Santokh Singh’s behaviour

The author narrates the aftermath of a visit to a Delhi red light district

The visit to the brothel was followed by a fracas. I somehow extricated myself and hurriedly made for Santokh Singh’s three-wheeler.

He was perhaps angry because he couldn’t quite understand me. How could he know that I wanted to peel off layers of my mind and body' It wasn’t easy to rid oneself of the various layers that accumulate and cover one.

His sweat drenched shirt let out a whiff I found very manly. The three-wheeler surged forward. Santokh Singh manoeuvred it through tongas, three-wheelers, pushcarts, trucks, tempos and an assortment of other vehicles and took me up to the ridge.

On the way we had to cross a gurdwara in front of which soldiers were gathering. We also saw two armed policemen on horseback. At a number of places, the police had put up roadblocks and checkposts. There was no noticeable excitement on GB Road, where the sex workers lived. But everywhere else there was a suppressed excitement in the air. At the door of the gurdwara a glint of kirpans appeared, as if caught in mid-motion.

I don’t know what happened but suddenly, Santokh Singh drove into the road that ran through the ridge jungles. My heart started beating fast. It was almost evening. Traffic on that road was not heavy. What was he up to' Abruptly, he halted. Why should he stop here' In front was the sky-high pinnacle of the flag tower. It was erected in memory of the British and Indian soldiers killed in the uprising in 1857. Someone had erased the British names and had written instead, in black letters: Victory be to Rani of Jhansi, Tantia Tope and Nana Sahib!

Why should he drop me here at this haunted place' My heart kept pounding. Again I was overcome by a feeling of remorse.

Santokh Singh got down and said rudely, “Out.”

“But it’s a long walk home from here, Santokh Singh.”

He simply repeated, “Out.”

“Are you playing a game with me'”

But the look in his eyes frightened me terribly. Was it the same Santokh Singh who had said, “I have given up everything for her. I have taken out my heart and set it aside for her'”

I couldn’t look up at him.

“Out, I say.”

“But the road here is not very good.”

“I’ll keep a watch. I’ll be here.”

It was the ridge. On both sides, there were thorny bushes and tall jamun trees. It was deserted, a very different place from the bus terminus, barely 3 km away, which was a veritable cauldron, and Kashmiri Gate. It was here that the Delhi resident, William Fraser, used to walk with an Indian woman...and it was here that Karim Khan had shot Fraser dead! This was the same wooden ridge. And besides Fraser, many others must have died here.

What was Santokh Singh trying to do'

To be concluded

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