Mr. Singh

My Sikh taxi driver had a small heart attack while driving me and Eddie home from soccer practice this week.   It was Guru Nanak Jayanti, a festive holiday for the Sikh community and a government holiday in India – yet still, he was working.   I could tell the driver was tired, but he dutifully drove us half-an-hour across town to a local school where Eddie’s league plays and agreed to wait for us.  It was dark and chilly 90-minutes later when we left.

About half way home the driver struggled to loosen his seat belt.  His breathing was heavy and he fumbled for nitroglycerine pills on his dashboard.  He said that he was ill and that today was his “last day in this world”.  The sweat on his brow glistened in the headlights of the on-coming traffic.

The car slowed and I asked him to pull to the side of the road.  He stopped the engine.

The driver was clearly in trauma.  He mumbled and swayed his body forward and back.

What’s most important to know at this point in the story is that he survived despite few reliable ambulances or other emergency help in Delhi.  Ambulances here work best when you pre-order them for an event, like a soccer tournament.  But wait for one on the side of the road and you wait forever, if you live that long.

For my taxi driver, Mr. Singh, there were good Samaritans willing to help, including the police. (Surprise!)  I still hear a young man calming the driver, calling him “uncle”… so caring and genuine.  A flurry of Hindi led to phone calls:  Mr. Singh’s doctor; his son.  The son appeared in the crowd Star Trek fast.  Sometimes it seems that time bends when it has to.

Son drove father to the hospital.  Mr. Singh had already survived open-heart surgery and this episode was related to his weakened heart.  When I checked on him at the taxi stand a few days later, he said something about fluid, an infection.  I couldn’t understand everything he tried to share.

How to handle a medical emergency in Delhi worries me, just as it did in Beijing.

In China, ambulances were unreliable and under-equipped.  When Eddie had a seizure in the middle of the night, I drove alone, 18 minutes to the hospital.   I sang through my tears to keep him awake and to keep my mind focused.  (Jim was out-of-town.)

Ask Jim about the time he ate a plate of bees and ended up in the ER of a local hospital in Kunming.  (He forgot that he was allergic!) The staff would have let him rot in the corner had Jim’s friend not threatened his way into the Communist Party wing of the hospital to save my man’s life.

Lala too, ended up in the ER in Beijing in the middle of the night.  With controlled panic in her voice she wheezed at me as I was flipping out because she couldn’t breathe:  “I have to concentrate.”  She had a nasty form of pneumonia.

There was also the harrowing drive to the hospital with the mother of  a boy who drowned in our neighborhood pool.  A lifeguard and a friend of mine performed CPR on his little body in the back seat of my car while I drove.  The mother sat next to me in shock.  To keep her from watching her son being pumped and pushed, I gave her my shirt and told her to hold it out of the window like a flag.  Somehow, the traffic parted between that flag and my beeping.  The child was meant to live – he survived.

Dare I write that in Delhi, my emergency contingencies have not been tested?  God willing, we have at least six months of good health and safety here and continued blessings in our next adventure.

Mr. Singh, the other day was not your last.  Yet even when you thought it was, you showed concern for me and my son:  you wanted someone in the crowd to make sure that we got home safely.  Thank you.

I wish for you many, many more days filled with peace (and less traffic and good fares)…

And may you afford to retire soon.

God Bless.


Mr. Singh.  I took this photo to show Eddie that he was OK.  


Our annual trip to the Ganges:

12 thoughts on “Mr. Singh”

  1. Theo, your post made me cry. Why is it that life/death experiences never leave you?

    I’ve had three in my life.

    One with a girl on Bond Street Tube station. As she bent down to pick up her bag she was hit on the head by the train as it came up to the platform. Being neither a friend nor relation nor even knowing her name, the hospital to which she was taken was unable to tell me whether she had survived. I think she died. I took a small crumb of comfort from the fact that I had been there to hold her hand and talk to her with compassion telling her she would be ok, whilst watching her life blood drain from her head during the 10 minutes or so it took for the paramedics to arrive. I have never forgotten her.

    Another time it was a close ‘cot death’ encounter with Hugo. I thought he had been soundly sleeping for 12 hours. Being taught CPR on your six week old baby over the phone with an absent husband and a frightened toddler is not one I would recommend. Luckily it was in London and within 5 minutes a leather clad paramedic arrived on his motorbike and took over. Hugo was meant to live and I will never forget the sound of his first cries in the ambulance that arrived later and ferried him to the safety of St Mary’s, Paddington (thankfully it was not across the River Hades). I strongly recommend reversing the mantra “never wake a sleeping baby” to “never let a baby sleep for more than 8 hours” (at least until their autonomic nervous system has developed enough to regulate breathing, 6 months is a big step up)

    The 3rd was my own in a freak accident which if I begin to tell you the details will take too long but it preceded both the above events. I experienced the following feelings in what could have been a millisecond or a minute – loss of the pain caused by the accident, a whoosh back through my life as if it was on fast rewind, a desire for my mother and my first love to be with me followed by an intense feeling of loneliness and then a vision of a young girl’s face in a ring of silver light looking up at me. She looked me in the eye and urged me to live. I took a breath, the pain returned and I hung on for 2 excruciating hours whilst firemen battled to extract me from the machine. Oddly the paramedics stood around idly and wouldn’t give me any pain relief until I was freed. I was quite cross about that.

    I always wondered who that girl was, I thought she had really been there and the heavy silver bangles that I used to wear around my wrist had fallen around her ankles but have been assured there was no young girl at the scene.

    20 years later and soon after we arrived in India I looked at my beautiful 4 year old Anna and realised it had been her. Her resemblance to the vision which had saved my life was fleeting.

    I think we all have angels watching over us. Have faith in those angels, my friend.

    1. kate – thanks for sharing these powerful moments. i could here you talking to me as i read… the last story – ah! the beauty, the beauty! (taken from the last line of a book i just read.) x t

      1. what’s the book? would love to read it. have been waiting a long time to share those moments and your post opened it all up so thank you. every moment in life is a gift to be treasured

        1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. He’s a Dominican-American. I recommend it with caution, because it’s very… American. But oh, what a brilliant read. The language is raw, the humanity moving. I moved from that to Lawrence Durrell – a stark transition!

          (Diaz has a collection of short stories just out, This Is How You Lose Her… You might try that before Oscar Wao.)

          Happy Reading!

  2. beautiful, beautiful post, friend (although tough to relive your er trips).

    was just the other day talking about my favored sikh taxi drivers…

    looks like you made the most of your ‘one more time’ rishikesh thanksgiving. love those pictures.

  3. yes, the last of the rishikesh tradition… it takes the end sometimes to soften this place. i’m feeling a bit mushy-er about all now. but still, am ready to move on.

    i always feel safe with the sikh drivers.. though “old cranky” next to ACSA pisses me sometimes. the other night he refused to drive me to Anand Niketan because of traffic…. argh!

  4. theo, i don’t know if mr. singh remembers me, but would you please tell him i hope he makes a full recovery and feels better? he holds a special place in my heart and memory as he was the last friendly face i said goodbye to in India (he dropped me off at the airport and made me feel better about leaving on the car ride over).

  5. Wow. Another amazing tale. Your ER stories in Beijing made me cringe in memory and recognition. And you left one out – driving me and Eli to the ER at record speed, with his foot mangled, bloody, purple and swelling by the second as he cried and screamed and I fretted… And I know for sure you saved the life of that little boy who almost drowned. No one else in Riviera would have gotten him to BJU in time.


    I have no doubt that if Mr. Singh’s son had not shown up, you would have shoved some cops out of the way, run over a few cows and gotten Mr. Singh life-saving help.

  6. jim reminded me of a few more… like when george drank a bottle of robitussin (have you ever seen a drunk 4-year-old?) or when he got the door knob stuck on his finger and we had to call-in the hand surgeon… or when he ate 42 pieces of xylitol-laced gum.

    then there was the accident in Vietnam when George was hit by a motorcycle… that one still gives me shivers….

    1. Good lord… a few weeks after the doorknob incident, John Scales and I were driving Martin Springer to hockey and talking about the crazy sh#$ he sees in an ER and he said, “A few weeks ago, a kid came in with his finger stuck in a doorknob and the mother carrying the whole apparatus.” And we cracked up. “That was George!”

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