Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Chinese cab driver, his Sikh friend & spicy Indian food

It was an overcast Thursday evening in Singapore when I boarded the blue Comfort cab to head home. I was hoping I would reach in time for dinner. 

The old Chinese uncle driving the cab gave me a warm smile followed by that all too familiar question, “So, are you from India?”. My reply, “yes, how did you guess?” was a lame attempt at humour given the turban on my head. 
I pretended to be busy staring into my phone. My seven years in Singapore had conditioned me well. Any signs of interest in a conversation will be followed with a verbal primer on Sikh history in Singapore, “did you know Sikhs arrived in Singapore as soldiers and policemen during the British empire?” Or “Did you know there are 7 Sikh temples in Singapore?”.
But this was different. “Very few Singapore Sikhs wear a turban now”, he said. 
“Yes, I am aware of that”, I said, trying to be curt enough to avoid a full blown conversation, yet polite enough to not offend him. 
“One of them was my best friend. My platoon mate from my national service days”, he said.
“Oh, thats nice”, I said, maintaining my balance between curtness & politeness, still looking at my phone. 
“He introduced me to spicy food and I never went back to bland cuisine after that”, clearly my curtness wasn’t working.
“He was my best friend, brother from another mother, as some say. But then he went abroad”
“Oh so are you still in touch with him?”, by now I was mildly interested. 
“For several years we used to exchange letters, snail mail, as its called now”. 
 “Nothing like personal hand written communication”, I said, though immediately feeling a bit stupid as this clearly must have been before mobile phones. 
“Yes but unfortunately that stopped. My house got burnt down and I lost his address. I shifted to another place and unfortunately lost all contact with my turbaned friend” 
"Oh thats a pity", I had stopped looking at my phone now. 
“A few years back I visited Canada to meet my son and his family in Toronto. I also visited Vancouver. One day, in Vancouver, I felt the urge to eat my favourite spicy food my friend had got me hooked to, and was looking for an Indian restaurant. There are many Indian eating joints in Vancouver and I just randomly chose one. As soon as I entered, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was my Sikh friend who I hadn’t been in touch with for 15 years. He had put on a lot of weight so it took me a moment to recognise him but he had no problem recognising me. He was the owner of the place. Can you imagine, out of hundreds of Indian restaurants in Vancouver I walked into the one owned by my long lost friend?”
“That’s so amazing”, I said
“Yes, I believe my friend and spicy food are in my destiny"
“Are you still in touch with him?"
"Yes, I just do three things now. Drive this taxi, exchange letters with my friend and WhatsApp messages with my son in Toronto. My son keeps asking me to shift there and I'm seriously considering it" 
“That will be nice, Toronto would be a great place to retire”, I said 
“Why should I retire?
“What do you plan to do there?"
“Run a spicy food restaurant, after all its in my destiny."