Gabba Singh - Encounter of a Different Kind

As I boarded the cab at Newark Liberty, couldn’t help but notice the giant of a driver. He was an Afro-American, more than 6 feet tall and 4 times bigger than me. It was 11 PM in the night and drizzling outside. The airport exit was totally empty and bore an eerie look. My mind was preoccupied with many possibilities and one question – will he accept card? The last thing I wanted was to expose my meager forex in front of him.

When I asked, he said, “Sure, just get it pre-approved”. I did not understand what he said till he stopped the car near a booth. He asked me to go out and swipe the card on a reader. It would print a blank receipt where he would put the final fare at the destination. Good idea, but the typical Indian mindset told that he wanted me to get out of the cab to run away with the luggage.

“Do you want me to go out and swipe?”
“Yeah man!”
“My entire luggage is in the cab”
“What do ya mean? I will run away or what?”

Little embarrassed, more skeptical – poor me went out in the rain to swipe. The reader did not work. Meanwhile, two more passengers came running from the following taxis. They got impatient as I started fiddling the reader cum printer to bring it to life. Finally lord Vishwakarma came in the form of an irritated passenger and helped me come out of the ordeal.

I ran back to the cab, now slightly relaxed. After all, the driver was not as bad as I thought and the system of pre-approved receipt was a reality. The cab driver must have sensed my predicament and so started small talk.

“Are you from India?”
“Yes. How do you know?” Duh, from your look you idiot – I told myself. However, he ignored my stupid question and said something that caught me off guard.
“Yadon ki Baraat, Jugnu, Sholay…huh?” The words in typical Afro-American accent, at midnight, with heavy rain outside, sounded crazy.
Unable to believe my ears, I took few seconds to respond and then mumbled, “Excuse me?”

My friend meanwhile was unstoppable. He started rattling out the names of old Hindi blockbusters and their heroes. Dhaaminda and Aamita Vacha started coming alive as African heroes. I came to know quickly that our friend was originally from Ghana. Apparently Hindi movies were a big craze during his childhood in Ghana. Movies like Yadon Ki Baraat, Sholay, Jugnu were released in ‘as is’ condition in full song & dance glory without any subtitles or dubbing; and people still thronged the theaters for repeated dekho. Dharmendra and Amitabh had a cult following. Chris, my monster driver was looking very affable now. We started to discuss hardcore retro Bollywood. He asked me if Dhaaminda and Amita Vacha were still alive. I assured him that they were hale and hearty.

“Do they still act in movies?”
“Yes….roles that befit their age”
“Do they still beat up ‘Sakaal?”
“Sakaals are dead. No more brothers-separated-at-birth movies. We have Shahrukh Khan Brand of movies now”
“Who…Shahru….never mind……Is Gabba Sing still alive”
“Gabba Sing?”
“Yeah….Gabba Sing.….Sholay….Kitane aadmi tei?....Huh Huh?”
“Oh, Gabbar Singh. He died long time ago”
“Oh, so sad! He was such a fine actor”

The conversation went on and on. An over excited ‘Gabba Sing’ told me how much he missed the good old days. He was disappointed that such movies were not made anymore. He marveled at our ability to come up with such fascinating stories (“how do you come up with such stories man?”). Before I could realize, I was at the hotel. It was time to say goodbye between two brothers – separated at birth, united by Bollywood.            

We sang ‘Yadon Ki Baraat Nikli Hein Aaj Dilke Dware’ one last time in our own accents (Bihu rap?) and parted ways. So long Gabba Sing.

More By  :  Sanjoy Barua

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