November 2013, was the second birthday I celebrated as a working woman, and also the second away from my family. It was not a birthday I was super keen on celebrating since I had lost my grandmother just a week ago, so in a way I was happy to spend it travelling for work. Having finished my assignment, I still had a day to myself in the city of Pune. Besides my flight back to Delhi was only scheduled in the evening. With plenty of time on my hands, I asked my taxi driver to show me around his city. And what an amazing experience it turned out to be. Strolling around in the bright and lovely botanical gardens and then taking a tour of the Shaniwaar wada, the 18 century fort which served as the seat of Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao was surely worth my time . It was while walking between the ramparts of the mighty fort that a realisation dawned upon me: I had never spent time alone with myself, but this was definitely fun!
Then we stopped for lunch. Faced with the prospects of eating without company, I asked my driver to join me. Honestly, it was more an action driven by the situation than generosity. I opted to have a traditional Marathi thali, which was truly wonderful, though I am not without doubts that I left the restaurant heavier than when I entered it. The sumptuous lunch was finished off with a delicious dessert: A large piece of white chocolate forest cake that my colleagues had got for me as part of a midnight surprise. Indulging in some healthy chocolate fantasy, I had an after-thought and promptly offered the cake to my driver.
Caught off guard, he seemed a little embarrassed but after some coaxing agreed to partake of a piece, on the condition that he could cut it himself. Having done the honours, he softly said, “Ma’am this is the first time I have had a passenger’s birthday cake.”
That moment somehow changed equations. He showed me around with more enthusiasm than before even insisting that we stop at the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park. Soon enough, the car drove upto the destination. I was stepping in a zoo after more than a decade. My visit was acknowledged by a Royal Bengal tiger, albino peacock and a Gaur (Indian bison). I simply couldn’t have asked for more. True to my credentials as a besotted animal lover, a couple of hours ran out before I realised it was time to scoot. Day had turned to evening as I left for the airport with a heavy heart.
On the way to the airport, my driver took a small detour into one of the local markets, stating he needed to pick up something. I paid no heed to the slight diversion. In a matter of minutes we were back on track and pulled into the airport. While I was pulling out my baggage and getting documents in place when the driver came out to help. I was pleasantly surprised by what he did next. He reached for his coat pocket and pulled out a bar of chocolate. “Happy Birthday Ma’am,” he said with simplicity.
Today, I don’t remember his name, or what he looked like. But I am sure I will forever remember that day and that gesture. I didn’t get many gifts (or many gifts at all) or have a party thrown for me that day. I had spent my birthday mostly by myself. Additionally, it was the first time I wasn’t spending my birthday with my parents, where I didn’t spend the day just hogging on my mother’s cooking. However, that one small and for many; inconsequential gesture; had me smiling throughout the day and gushing even two years later.
To whoever he was, I would say what I have said to everyone I have told this story to, Sir you made my day! You truly did and I loved the chocolate. Thank you.
Akshita Misra, 26, based in New Delhi, is a social consultant with an international sustainability organisation