Posts Tagged ‘Bhapa’
They were in the habit of having a little fun at the expense of Sikhs. Bastards! I had been fuming with anger
“Sardar Ji, tuseen kithay jaana ey!” (Sardar Ji, where do you want to go?), inquired the rustic voice from behind. I turned around with a reply, “Bus Adday”, matching his tone. I eyed the Bhapa with suspicion. He fit the stereotype with his untrimmed but neatly kept beard; starched maroon turban wrapped in the funny bhapa style, cream-colored and un-tucked shirt, dark pants, and chapals in his feet. The Bhapa seemed upset and wore a troubled frown on his face. He admonished me in his scruffy tone, “Then what are you doing on this side of the street? You should have waited on the opposite side of the road. I saw you switch the sides twice”.
“Why was he watching me?” I wondered. Yes, I had twice switched from one side of the road to the other side. He had noticed me trudge across the potholed road with a heavy suitcase and two backpacks. He had probably seen me on his way to the Gurudwara around the corner in Sikandra. I had stayed there during my visit to Agra. When I had asked the locals for directions, they would tell me to go to the other side of the street to find a conveyance to the main Bus Stand. Either the idiots did not understand me, or they were in the habit of having a little fun at the expense of Sikhs. Bastards! I had been fuming with anger. The June heat, mingled with the pollution and dust, had added to my irritation.
“You won’t find any conveyance today,” he told me. “On a Sunday, it will be difficult to find a suitable transportation especially with your luggage”. I had been waiting for an hour, so I thought, “He must be telling the truth”. How pitiful – a tourist town, that boasts the world famous Taj Mahal, without a reliable transportation system. “When will this nation progress?” I scowled. I guess, either he is an agent working on a commission for a taxi driver, or he will help me hire a three-wheeler or a rickshaw. He spanked his bicycle seat, “The Bus Stand is not far, and I will drop you off”. On a bicycle with the baggage, I looked in disbelief. He grabbed my suitcase. I tightened my grip on the backpack.
He insisted, took the stuffed backpack and tied it to his cycle’s handle bar. I was apprehensive at what was transpiring. What is his motive and what does he want in return? Why is a Bhapa being so good to a stranger? These money minded Bhapas are known to work for profit only. The infamous bhapas are orthodox cowards; unscrupulous businessmen, heartless moneylenders, and they married first cousins like muslims. These bhapas had way laid me in Delhi. They would intentionally give incorrect information and directions. There is a rule followed by most Sikhs visiting from Punjab, “Never ask or trust a Bhapa for any information in Delhi”. I too carried my share of prejudice against Bhapas. What does he want? Money? Yes, the money minded Bhapas want money! I will give him a reasonable amount if he demands compensation. My mind was clouded with unsavory thoughts.
He cycled slowly towards Agra. Heavy with burden, the bicycle wobbled on the rough road. He navigated laden cycle in the traffic chaos the best he could. Strangely for an Indian, he never spoke a word to me. The Indians are inquisitive about strangers and ever eager to exchange personal details. Once in a while he would stare at people and curse “Ma Chod, Bhen Chod”, and used other furious words and mumblings I did not understand. The recipients of this abuse ignored him. “He must have a lose screw”, I suspected, or perhaps he was one of those unlucky souls who suffered during the 1984 Carnage. I had seen a few of them. They couldn’t bear the loss. The trauma caused them to mumble or yell incoherently. Only God know what misfortune caused this strange and disturbed behavior in him. Many silly thoughts raced thru my mind.
“How much longer?” I pestered him. “Not far; just a few more minutes”, he replied. His answer annoyed me; he had said the same thing a few minutes back.
Suddenly, he jumped off the bike. He requested, “I am tired, please pedal for a spell”. He took the bag with the valuables from me. What if he runs off with the bag? I had been warned by acquaintances about con men that prey on unsuspecting tourists. They used such tricks to rob the visitors. I have his bike! What if the bike is not his? I tried my best to pedal. I wasn’t used to cycling – let alone cycling a bike laden with a passenger and luggage. I couldn’t control the bicycle and it fell a few times. He jumped off the carrier seat and returned the bag, “I will pedal”. I was embarrassed that despite my youth, I failed to control the bicycle, while he at twice my age, had cycled without much effort. However, I was relieved that my bag was back in my hands. I sat on the uncomfortable carrier seat and he began pedaling again.
I had not noticed that his shirt was torn – a small tear. Aren’t the bhapas supposed to be rich? He probably suffered during the Carnage and became poor. No, can’t be, these bhapas stash money. The shirt was drenched with sweat now. He had been cycling for a good 15 minutes in the stifling heat.
We left the traffic and town of Sikandra behind. The cycle chain creaked a monotonous sound. I did not remember the desolate landscape during the earlier trips to the town center. “Is this the right way to Agra”, I asked warily? “Yes. Not far”, he reaffirmed. I am younger and stronger, and agile. I will be able to tackle him if he tries any tricks. The pastoral expanse gave way to Agra suburbs. I gave a sigh of relief. Now, I am safe. He can’t do anything with people around. I looked for signs to verify that he is taking me to the correct destination.
“Only a couple of more minutes”, he volunteered. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily from the torturous cycling. I felt sorry for him. I will offer him 20 rupees. The amount is about right – I pondered. On a second thought, NO, he may feel insulted. I will ask him to have lunch or a snack with me.
“You’ve arrived at your destination”, he hopped off the bike and pointed towards the bus stand.
“Koi cha paani, yaan Sewa” (Any tea or service), euphuism for offering money? I asked reluctantly. “NO”, his face broke into a smile for the first time – albeit an embarrassed and shocked one. “Sharminda kar ta” (You’ve embarrassed me). “Hor koi sewa”, he humbly asked with folded hands, and asked for my permission to take leave. “Sat Sri Akal” was all I could mutter. I bent down to gather my luggage. When I looked back up, he was gone. I tried hard to find him in the traffic, but failed. I slowly moved towards the bus stand heavily burdened with guilt and remorse.
Bhapas are sikhs who hail from West Punjab (especially Rawalpindi and Pothohar area) and NWFP. They are Khatris who converted to Sikhism. They are strict about religious symbols. Most of them excel at commerce. ‘Bhapa’ is how they address their elder