The God man cabbie

On my way back from Little India last evening, I expected to be stranded at the taxi stand since it was ‘shift’ change time. Cabs in Singapore are scarce between 4.30 and 5.30 any evening since that is when the morning shift cab drivers hand over the cars to the next shift drivers, so they are busy driving to their respective drop off destinations. That is the only time when a cabbie in Singapore may refuse to pick you if you are not headed in his direction.  In India, we are familiar with this treatment irrespective of the time of the day.


The red trans cab that pulled up. Image Courtesy:

With these thoughts in my mind, I lugged the six plastic bags loaded with vegetables, flowers and sundry ‘Indian’ grocery , when this red Trans Cab pulled up  and the cabbie beckoned me to hop in. I thanked my stars for the good fortune to have found a cab without wasting time at waiting and gave him the address.  He heard the address and quipped if I was stopping on my way to meet the God fatherly first PM of Singapore, MM Lee.  Cabbies in Singapore love to strike conversations with you, especially if they sense you are up to one.  Now who doesn’t like a cabbie with a perfect sense of humour, especially when he also showed up just when you needed a cab. So I indulged. I mentioned that the gentleman in question and we were practically neighbours.

Ten minutes into the drive when he had warmed up to me, he said I wasn’t going to believe him if he told me who he really was. I sat up to peek into the rear view mirror to get a better glimpse at him. He was an aging bald man and definitely a local of Chinese origin.The only people I would have recognized were Jackie Chan, Donyen or Jet Li, even though I seriously doubt if these men were balding.  Incidentally, I had just read about Norway’s PM who was in the news and wondered if it was Mr.Lee Hsien Loong himself! He did not remotely resemble any of them. So I asked him to humor me.

My frame of reference

My frame of reference

“I am a God man” he proclaimed. I had the strangest conversation with the friendly, aging bald cabbie from that moment on.

He had just asked me about why I was carrying back fragrant flowers. I educated him about the daily puja ritual at home and that my husband was a religious man who believed in offering flowers to the Gods as a way of being thankful for favours received (If you have ever had to explain bhakti to a non Hindu foreigner then you would know my predicament). He frowned and asked me how I could equate offering prayers as religiousness. That was a profound statement if ever there was one.  He continued, while I was busy gathering my jaw from the floor of the car, if I believed in karma.  Now those of you, who know me well, would understand how these philosophical conversations confound me. I waited for the revelation of who he really was. My next question was to egg him to do just that – Are you a religious man, I asked.


The Yin and the Yang of Taosim

“I am half Buddhist and half Tao. I have mastered the 18 sciences of medicine. I am not a college educated doctor. But I can cure diseases. Autoimmune diseases like Lupus. You know what I am saying?” He had this uncanny sense of knowing when I was looking at him directly in the rear view mirror. I nodded frantically.

He then told me about his visit to America to meet his Master. “I had to just see  Lake Calgary and I understood everything; everything about medicine.”  I was slightly in awe of him, while I wondered if Lake Calgary was in America. His eyes met mine in the rear view mirror. “Do you believe me or not?” If you have ever been asked by someone if you believe them or not while they stared into your eyes, you know how I felt right then. I nodded noncommittally, while I looked outside the window to see if we had reached destination.

I nearly jumped out of my skin with his next question. “Who is the God man who died in India recently? ” Saibaba?  I whispered meekly and he almost smacked the steering wheel , “Yeah, Uncle Sai. He was born to Indonesian parents and learnt from my Chinese Master”. Now, that was incredulous! I may not be a pious Sai bhakt but I would surely know if he was Indonesian.

By then I was almost home. I would have wanted to find out more if the ride had been longer. But as I got off the cab, I asked him who his master was. ‘ Maashaloo ’ he said. I quickly made a note on my iPhone and promised to look him up on Google. He gave me a thumbs up and drove away.

As soon as I got home, I set about finding out what I had heard from the God man, to establish the truths.

I found out that Lupus was an autoimmune disorder and there is a Lake Calgary in Canada and not the US. What was not true was Sai Baba’s Indonesian heritage.

And as for ‘Mashaloo ’ the God man’s master, I found out that it was Master Lu Sheng-Yen , The Living Buddha. Maybe the God man really knows something about Saibaba that the World is yet to discover.


The case of the mystery wedding invite

A few weeks back, in our mail was this ornate maroon and gold envelope that contained an invite to a wedding reception at a prestigious hotel in town. No one we knew was planning to host a wedding reception in Singapore and so even before we opened the envelope, we wondered if we had missed making a note of it. We read the names of the groom and bride to see if it triggered a forgotten memory. The names looked unfamiliar but then again, that was not unsettling. We flipped the invite over and found in neat print the name of the hosts, with details of their contacts. The host names were unfamiliar too. So the case of the mysterious invite just grew curiouser and curiouser.

Then began a round of deliberations; Could it be the second cousin of your mother’s sister in law? Or is it the nephew of your uncle’s son in law on his mother’s side? See, that is the problem with us Indians. When there is a wedding being planned in the family, we plan it on a macro scale. We don’t miss inviting all distant cousins and their extended families and include the people we meet at family weddings even if they are not remotely related to any distant cousin of ours. At the European wedding I attended last November, the hosts had invited the immediate family and a few friends. They knew that the church in Amsterdam could take only 100 guests. So they drew up their list of invitees and made sure everyone RSVP’d their attendance. On the day of the wedding there was no scope for additional guests accidentally showing up at the door of the church. But I am digressing, back to the mystery invite.

The envelope carrying the ornate invite was encased in a see through plastic envelope that had our address stuck on it. What the envelope or the names lacked in familiarity, the address sticker more than made up for it. On one end of the sticker that had our printed address, was a familiar registration number. That is when it flashed on us that our names have been randomly picked from the address book of a religious community we were members of. It baffled me that someone could include us in the list of invitees to a personal event like a wedding, without even having met us.

So I imagined the scene on the evening of the reception.  To suit the occasion, so we would have turned out in proper attire. As we entered, we would unsurely beam and nod at everyone at the hall, wondering who the host was and when we would be stopped on our tracks to be welcomed. And everyone else would be nursing wine glasses, looking content and happy. And then someone would tap us on the shoulder and ask if we had lost our way. Shudder! It was like a bad dream.

Anyway, we decided to rip the envelope open to check the contents of the invite and found two invites enclosed; one for the wedding in Chennai at a very fashionable address and then one for the reception the following week at Singapore. I have to confess, that I am a grammar and spell check Nazi when it comes to wedding invites irrespective of their caste, creed or colour. Have you noticed errors which are almost certain in the many invites that are printed?  A classic one being, Mr and Mrs XYZ cordially invite you to the wedding of our son or daughter and the versions of spellings for occasion, marriage, auspicious, cordially… and the list goes on.  Who can stop chuckling at some of the foot notes that some invites carry. (With best compliments from nearest and dearest, anyone?) So I eagerly scanned the card to see if this family had proof read the invite before it went to print. I froze when I reached the end of the invite. It said in italics, No boxed gifts please.

No boxed gifts please!

No boxed gifts please!


That was a first. Wait. Did they mean don’t carry anything boxed because they would anyway throw the boxes away? Or did they mean bring cash or cheque only? Maybe the couple had two of everything they wanted to set up home and did not want a replica of all things they already possessed? Maybe they wanted to give away the cash to a charity they supported? Maybe the newlyweds were relocating to a new country and it would be cumbersome to lug them boxed gifts along to the new place. Those italicised words jumped at me and triggered so many thoughts in the few minutes that I spent looking at them over and over again.

I wish we had more couples who could voice what they needed to start their lives that could make a thoughtful wedding gift. Most establishments offer vouchers and gift coupons and that should be easy. The European wedding hosts pointed to an online store that had a list of things the couple wanted for their new home. The guests had to log in and choose what they wanted to gift from that list. Why couldn’t these guys opt for something as simple?

Anyway back to the mystery invitation card. A few days after we had received the card, the host called up on the phone to confirm if we had received the invite. It was awkward to cheerfully thank him for the invite but the job had to be done. I was restless and decided to call the lady of the house to let her know that we were uncomfortable attending the reception since we had never met them and we didn’t know the family. When I called to speak to her, she was quick to apologize that our address was chosen by mistake and was meant for a namesake family friend of theirs.

A wave of relief rushed through me when I realized that all the deliberations, the analysis of the fairness of it all were such a wasted exercise. Just as I was beginning to thank her for clarifying, she asked me about us, what we did and how long we had been in Singapore. At the end of that conversation she said,”Since you anyway have the invite, why don’t you attend the wedding reception?!”