Mr. Pinto safely landed in Baltimore. Albeit for about fifteen to twenty minutes initially after the take-off he experienced an insurmountable migraine pain en-route while airborne. He was feeling quite uneasy then. Flying wasn’t unusual for him albeit he wasn’t a frequent-flyer either. In addition to the awkward headache he felt nausea too, which he disliked the most. However one of the crew members handed him the required medicine at the right time, which helped him a great deal after some time.
Mr. Gonzalez Pinto, an aged journalist born and raised in Southern Goa, was retired a few years back. However, he would still pen down a column or two quite occasionally. Few months back his wife left the shores of India for Mrs. Pinto was fretting for their only son Thomas, daughter-in-law Camellia and the sweet little princess Rosie, their beloved grand-daughter.
The flight was very much on time. Soon after the touchdown Mr. Pinto proceeded towards the scheduled luggage-belt number. And he paid utmost heed when the ‘belt-number’ was announced before touchdown. There at the baggage carousel he had to stand for a couple of minutes only. Soon he found his belongings having a joy-ride and moving towards him. He collected his baggage out of the conveyer belt. Finding his unhurt trolley-bag and the orphaned rucksack, having dangling straps all over, he was very much elated.
“Thank God! Not much time it took this time in the baggage reclaim area,” he soliloquized. He was in a glad mood. The airport, they call the BWI, the Baltimore Washington International Airport, wasn’t totally unknown to him. Owing to his work he had visited it a few times earlier too. Having arranged the rucksack on his back and holding the handle of the trolley-bag, he was about to start walking. He received a call in that instant. It was from his better-half. He smiled indulgently and the corners of his mouth turned up conspicuously, “Hi, Aimee, What a perfect timing! Very particular indeed, just now I procured my luggage and started walking.”
“Hey you still talk like the youngsters. By the way, how are you? Have you had your signature headache? Did you take some medicines?” Mrs. Pinto blurted out.
While walking he had a brief conversation with her. Most of those were explicit instructions from his spouse, which included the details of dos-&-don’ts on the foreign soil. Both of them had worked as journalists for a span of about three decades. However, Mrs. Pinto would still at times unknowingly ‘time-travel’ and would start giving her invaluable exhortations to her husband as it used to be during their busy working schedule years back. And he would listen and listen albeit sometimes for the sake of listening because there would’ve been no other option left but listen and reply, “hmm… yea… nope… etc.’ and she would blurt out, “Are you listening?”
Mr. Pinto wanted to talk to his little princess Rosie, whom she would address ‘sweetheart’. Mrs. Pinto informed him that his ‘sweetheart’ wasn’t at home. After all, she has been no longer a little-baby; she has been going to school those days. And right at that instant she had been to her dance academy.
While coming out through one of the gates he found some people standing and holding some placards on which some un-cognizable names were printed in English alphabet. He thought, “No matter how much you travel all over the world, you still know very little about the people around the globe.” He stood at a place close to an unoccupied seat meant for the visitors. And then he slowly reached his tired palm inside the pocket of his trousers, where the prized gadget was kept.
He found a message from his wife. It had the instructions of how to do online booking of the Uber for hiring a taxi to reach his destination.
He followed her instructions. To his utter dismay he found that the name of the driver was ‘FNU’.
He called his wife, “Hi, Mrs. Pinto, now tell me about this weird name. What does FNU stand for? The name of the driver the Uber people show in my mobile-screen is FNU.”
“Oh God, he may be a Vietnamese or a Chinese I presume.” She proclaimed. “Don’t you talk to him much? Unnecessarily do not get around in jabbering. Mind it, just the bare necessities, O. K.” she farther continued.
- Oh yeah, don’t you worry, I’ll remember.
- Check in your mobile-GPS, how far that fellow is now?
- Okay, let me see.
- It’s easy to find in an android set. You can find the exact location and the distance even. Have you noticed the same? … Her blurting continued.
They continued the conversation for about a couple of minutes, while at the back of his mind Mr. Pinto thought, “It’s literally hard to engage in a real conversation with the cabbies from those regions. Anyway, this time I’ll obey her words diligently.” He smiled once again. And the corners of his mouth turned up once more owing to his mischievous smile.
The journalist within him would always seek out to exchange some talks to extract some insights about the people of that part of the world. He can’t remain passive while travelling. In spite of ageing-body his gestures are very much lively and vivid.
Mr. Pinto recollected. Once he chanced upon a Vietnamese cab-driver, named ‘Tu’. It was one of the most boring taxi rides in his life. Tu spoke the bare minimum. And Mr. Pinto was left with the sole option of reading a novel of Robin Cook with rapt attention without even lifting his head through the windscreen.
Soon FNU, the Uber-Dude, called Mr. Pinto to coordinate the exact pick-up point close to the BWI, the Baltimore Washington International Airport. And to his utter surprise, Mr. Pinto found that the English-accent of that fellow, FNU, was very much autochthon close to his own native-land. He soliloquized, “Thank God, an indigenous FNU-dude. I’ll definitely have a good conversation on the way. I’m sick and tired of being alone and holding my whisht.”
Soon he came to know from the messages he received from his better-half that FNU stood for ‘First Name Unknown’. In the US there existed the tradition of officially considering a name of any person would include a first-name and a second-name/or surname. One of her friends once jovially remarked that his friend’s ‘nanny’ aka housekeeper, who was brought from India, wasn’t allowed to keep her only name as ‘Jankiamma’ when he applied for her social security. The officials found a simple and innovative way to deal with the name ‘Jankiamma’, as ‘Janki’ being the first name generated while ‘Amma’ being the second name, fulfilled the two parts of the nomenclature issue. Otherwise his friend was also given another option of keeping the name as ‘Unknown Jankiamma’. The first one was found consentient and acceptable to them.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty of the kind of person ‘FNU’ was, Mr. Pinto soon found his cab right near the exact pick-up point they both agreed. Within the next few minutes Mr. FNU’s identity was disclosed. He was Mr. Ramdoss, landed in the US along with an Indian diplomat on a foreign posting. The official was from the Hindi-heartland of the north while he was from the down south. Long hours of working, slave’s wages and on top of all ‘poor & inhuman treatment’, which we Indians come across often in the media, were the key words to describe the first part of Ramdoss’s life in the US. And then as we would often hear Ramdoss too left the residence of his tyrant employer.
And then, he was all alone in the wide open mighty America in a state of apprehension and invariably to fend for himself without any help from others. It occurred within a couple of month’s time. He wasn’t much acquainted with anything out there. He first worked in a convenience store, which was run by an Indian. There too he was badly treated and the weekly-payment was not even the bare minimum. He left that job after six months.
Thereafter, he worked with gas stations, fast-food joints and different kinds of stores. At every turn he was exploited by the Indians, his employers out there. There was no one beside him. Poor fellow was exhausted, his morale was shattered.
And then a cinematic turn appeared in the third part of Ramdoss’s life in the US. A Bangladeshi citizen rescued poor Ramdoss.
He narrated Mr. Pinto, “Sir, it was a Friday evening. A middle-aged man approached me in the fast-food joint where I was working then. And that Friday evening turned all my miseries and bad omen once for all.”
- How did it happen?
- While enjoying the food, they started talking to me. And at one point, he frankly asked me. Will you work for my restaurant?
- And, sir, I didn’t take much time to think over. I agreed immediately.
- There in that restaurant, initially I used to work as an assistant of the cook. When the cook left, I worked as the cook. After a few years his restaurant was closed down, sir.
- What happened then? What did you do thereafter?
- Patience sir, I’ll tell you. Albeit the restaurant was closed down but things got even better sir thereafter. My employer, the owner of that restaurant and his wife would treat me like their second son. Their only son, an engineer, is working in Houston.
- Where did you find this new job then?
- Sir, you are very impatient. I’ll tell you sir. One day aunty called me and said, “Ramdoss do you know driving?” I said, “Yes I know”. Aunty smiled and said, “Have you seen the driver’s seat in a car out here? You have to formally learn the driving here.”
- And then my driving job started rolling on.
Initially Ramdoss worked as a driver for the Uber and Lyft cabs. Whatever he earned in those days he would religiously handover to his aunty. She wouldn’t allow him to spend money extravagant way. She used to be very strict. While saying the same he smiled. But, she would love him like her own son. And his uncle would always remind Ramdoss to send money back home to his parents in India. Then, they bought a car for him. After some time he met a US born Indian woman on the Facebook. Soon he got married in presence of his beloved uncle & aunt along with their son. And then legally he became a US citizen, got his American passport too.
- ‘Sir, I haven’t been to India for the last twelve years.’ While saying the same his voice suddenly changed in deep melancholy. ‘I’d like to take my wife home so that my parents can meet her. Back home they’re eagerly waiting for both of us, sir.’
- When are you planning to go?
- After some time, Sir. But right now, the day after tomorrow, I’ve to go to Houston for the wedding of the only son of my foster parents out here, my dear uncle and aunt. They’d be eagerly waiting for me and my wife very much like my own parents. You know sir, my aunty said to me, “Ram, how could we manage the marriage ceremony without my first daughter-in-law? Both of you must reach on time, Okay.”
Before alighting Mr. Pinto reminisced, “What a superb story. It opened my eyes. Who would have thought the same people whom we in India normally consider as ‘our-hostile-neighbours’ would save a poor hapless Indian soul stranded in the vast & mighty America?”
After alighting just before closing the door of the cab Mr. Pinto grinned and said, “Good bye and take care dear ‘FUN’. May God bless you; you’re no longer ‘FNU’ for me. You aren’t unknown, you’re very much known to me now. Good night my dear dude.”
Saying ‘good bye sir’, he too grinned, waved his hand and drove off in the solemn darkness of the distantly placed captivating ‘LED-lit’ deludedly quiet night.
Life is a journey not a destination