100 Days in India Project

29/ 100 Gaffar Ali

Leaving a railway station in India is often a hugely overwhelming situation. You know you will need to get some form of onward transport, but the sheer volume of eager suitors waiting for their chance at a fare is hard to cope with. We made some bad choices (the most memorable being a teeny tiny oven with wheels in Pushkar that we physically couldn’t sit in without burning our heads on the ceiling) but sometimes one of the hundreds of Hindu Gods was looking down upon us and guided us to the perfect vehicle and driver.

When we arrived in Agra, after a very, very long and eventful train journey, we emerged from the beautiful railway station and ran the gauntlet of drivers; each asking our destination and shouting out prices even though they had no idea where we were heading to. If they caught sight of the Uber app on your phone they would all tell you that Uber didn’t come to the station (they did). Off to the side of the herd, sat quietly in his bright yellow Tuk Tuk pimped up with the customary Ferrari branding, was Gaffar. We confirmed that he knew where our hotel was, agreed the price and off we went in a painless and pleasant drive across the city.

We pulled up at the gates of our luxurious hotel he offered to be the driver for the remainder of our stay, and thus it was agreed that he should be our leather-jacketed chauffeur for the next four days. It was a great decision and made a relatively boring part of our journey quite enjoyable. He was waiting for us every morning at exactly the time we asked him to be there, and he took us everywhere we wanted to go.

He never left the sights we were visiting, even though we told him it was OK if he wanted to take some other fares whilst we were busy anyway. He instead bought a cup of chai and did what most other drivers seemed to do when waiting. Facebook.

One day we bought him lunch and then, in return, he immediately insisted that we went back to his house to meet his family. Always up for an adventure we said yes, on the condition that they wouldn’t go to any trouble and we would only be there for a cup of chai. It was a brilliant insight into a completely different way of life for us and I have broken down the stories of our encounters with him into smaller chunks.

He came to pick us up on the morning of our visit and we drove away from the main centre of Agra and into the suburbs. The tarmac gave way to dirt roads, for which he was extremely apologetic, then the dirt roads dissolved into a maze of constantly narrowing and flooded streets until we arrived at his home. This was predominantly a Muslim area and there was a mosque in the very centre with all the houses arranged close by – handy when you have to pray there five times each day. Though, he told us, you can send your wife on your behalf occasionally as a kind of ‘get out of prayers free’ card, especially if you’ve got tourists to entertain.

He was very proud of his house, even though it actually belonged to his extended family. Each portion of which had a room each for their own families. He showed us his part of the immaculate two-storied house. It was a single room, smaller than our own bedroom here in our house. In the room were two beds, a single chest of drawers and an enormous TV (everyone there has a TV). He lived in that single room with his wife, son and two daughters. Occasionally, when it was cold, his dogs and goats would also sleep in there too.

When I asked who got the spare bed, assuming he and his wife had the bigger one, he thought it was hilarious and informed us that he had one bed to himself, his son has the other bed, and all the women sleep on the floor with, I assume, the goats.