In 2010, I was looking for a new driver, when a friend sent Rajendra Singh Jangid (name changed) to my office.
I was a bit hesitant as his previous job was a fifteen year stint at the Chinese Embassy and I wasn’t sure if he’d accept the salary I was offering, accustomed to, I was certain, a fairly higher one.
But Rajendra it seemed was looking for decent hours, proximity to his home and a major change …
A slight man, almost frail, he looked older than his years but proved to be punctual to the dot and a skilful, alert, patient, responsible driver. He was also highly intelligent, articulate and travelling from one project site to the next, very good company.
Slowly, as we became comfortable in our space, he opened up a completely new world in a Hindi that I envied, of rustic, traditional cooking, rural practices, the challenges of new city identities and bringing up children in an agressive, hostile urban environment.
However his experiences working for the Chinese Embassy 1995-2010 were novel and most interesting to me.
So I learnt that every diplomat and junior staff in the Embassy was given a plot to grow vegetables. The smallest one was from thirty six square feet to about a hundred and fifty square feet, depending on the seniority.
It was news to me that the grounds of the Chinese Embassy are the largest in the Capital, with Jawaharlal Nehru having given them land at Rs.1 per acre.
The plot holders worked on it during any free time they had. Then taking the produce they went to a large modern, industrial size kitchen with well stocked freezers of fish, shrimps and meats brought in from China and cooked lunch for themselves.
Sitting together in an equally large dining room with drivers and local staff they enjoyed their mid day meal. Occasionally making a point to remind them that the Chinese did not believe in the caste system and hence everybody was as important and privileged as the next.
When an extension to the main building was built, the architectural team, workers, supervisors and foreman came from China. They worked through rain and sunshine, day and night to put up the structure. A one dish meal was prepared three times a day in the kitchen and served by the Embassy staff themselves.
During Diwali and Chinese New Year the drivers were designated Embassy cars with their CD number plate to deliver gifts to Ministries. However cars with local number plates and cabs were sent to the residences of civil servants, members of civil society, bearing the more lavish gifts.
What pained Rajendra the most, as an Indian, when he sometimes drove back professors, writers, bureaucrats home after an Embassy do, was their inability to hold alcohol and the fool they made of themselves.
This was always discussed with some derision by the Chinese at lunch the following day. The known culprits were quite the joke.
The one he was particularly embarrassed about was a then Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture who not only drank himself silly each time but also occasionally wet his pants.
Rajendra took away from his tenure with the Chinese, a resolution to keep his family limited to two children, a legume and vegetable patch on the terrace of his forty square yard plot that catered to the needs of his family, an ability to understand, compare, assimilate and reject aspects of a different culture and most important, to respect dignity of labour.
Why did he quit I asked him ?
He had begun to note that as China opened up economically, its Embassy officials seemed less eager to be seen as egalitarian. Local staff was shunted to a separate dining room. Saturday afternoon beer with the boss was discontinued. A certain agression that comes with new money seemed to be creeping in.
Also the occasional IB guy hanging around his house asking probing questions had begun to irritate him.
He always had the latest on Doklam through old contacts and we discussed threadbare the Gandhis secret meetings with the Chinese notwithstanding that special snort he reserved for Rahul Gandhi…..
~Ma’am, kya bekaar aadmi hai yeh Mani Shankar Aiyar~
He always said ~Woh toh karenge jo unhe karna hai par hum aisa kyun karte hain ?~
About three years ago when we had begun to make it a point at work not to buy Chinese goods such as lights, compressors, tools he had questioned whether it made business sense to reject cheaper products?
Recently, the stress of contracting COVID 19 took its toll on him and the confinement of the Lockdown made him angry at his former employers for having callously changed the world he knew.
However, his own final break came when he called to tell me that he had removed all Chinese Apps and his family had resolved never to buy Chinese products.
With the phasing out of the Lockdown he resumed work with some trepidation but soon asked me to be relieved of his duties.
~Kabbi kabaan ek cup chai ke liye zaroor aaoonga Ma’am aur politics discuss karne, par duty se maaf kar dijeeye ~
His well earning sons didn’t think he needed to risk his health at this stage of his life.
What I will value most is driving through familiar streets and environs of a city I have known most of my life but being made aware that ~When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at, change ~
Thank you Rajender Singh Jangid.