Ramesh Chandra Sharma

A fun-loving cab driver who enjoyed Bollywood music and card games, his main desire was to make his children happy
Alex Ballingall
Ramesh Chandra Sharma
Illustration by Julia Minamata

Ramesh Chandra Sharma was born in New Delhi on July 5, 1954, the second of 10 children raised in a Hindu family in the Yusuf Sarai neighbourhood, which in those days was a poor area of India’s capital.

Growing up, Ramesh, who always took great care in making sure his clothes were perfectly ironed, had a reputation for being the best-looking kid on his street. Neighbours called him “the movie star.” And he caught the eye of Charan Kabba, a girl who lived across the street. “He was very handsome,” she remembers. Over time, the pair fell in love. “He was very nice and he had good manners,” says Charan. “I loved him too much.”

It wasn’t easy for them to be together. Ramesh came from a Hindu family, while Charan’s family was Sikh. Charan’s parents didn’t approve. In 1980, Charan followed her sister to Canada. Ramesh, who had graduated from Punjabi University with a bachelor of arts degree, stayed behind and worked at the Japanese embassy before moving to Oman, where he found work as a security guard. During their separation, Ramesh wrote Charan more than 100 letters. Each one began the same way. “Dear darling sardarni,” he would write, referring to Charan using the religious title for a Sikh woman. In 1982, when back in India for a visit, the two eloped and were married in an unofficial ceremony. Ramesh was eventually able to join Charan in Victoria, where they had an official wedding in 1986.

Ramesh promptly landed a job as a driver with Empress Taxi. It was the start of a long career with the company, which eventually became Yellow Taxi. Ramesh typically began his days at 4:30 a.m., often staying on the road well into the evening, says Sushil Hira, who worked with him for more than 10 years. Despite his work ethic, Hira says Ramesh was one of the most fun-loving drivers around. When a group of them would sit down to play cards, Ramesh would rarely take the games seriously. Sometimes he would even cheat, just for a laugh, recalls Hira.

Ramesh and Charan raised three children in Victoria: Sapna, Sanjeev and Sabina. Sapna, now 24, says her father was “very much into Bollywood,” and would often play music from the Indian movies in his car. He was even known to sing to his co-workers.

Because Ramesh grew up speaking Hindi and Charan spoke Punjabi, their kids learned both languages, as well as English. When it came to religion, Ramesh and Charan decided to take their kids to both Hindu and Sikh temples. “They were both very open-minded,” says Sapna. “They never, ever told us, ‘pick one.’ ”

Ramesh’s youngest daughter, Sabina, 17, says she and her father became very “buddy-buddy” over the years. Ramesh spent much of his spare time sitting in front of the TV watching sports—he loved the Vancouver Canucks—so Sabina would often force him to go out for walks with her in the evening. “I would always make him race me,” she laughs.

When watching Canucks games, Ramesh, who started smoking in New Delhi when he was just eight years old, would smoke a cigarette between periods while out in his yard or watering the garden. But one day, at 50, he quit cold turkey. “All it took was us telling him to stop, and he did,” says his son Sanjeev, now 23. “He never took a puff again.”

Sapna says this stemmed from her father’s desire to do everything he could to help his kids and make them happy. “Everything he did, he was doing it for us, his kids,” says Sanjeev, a mixed-martial arts fighter. Ramesh never missed one of his son’s bouts. In July, Ramesh cut a visit to India short, just so he could make it back in time for one of Sanjeev’s fights. “He would always be there, no matter what,” says Sanjeev.

On July 29, as they often did, Ramesh and six fellow drivers sat around a picnic table at Victoria International Airport. With their cars parked nearby, they played cards while waiting to get a call from dispatch. An 82-year-old woman lost control of her white sedan, veered across a street and bumped over two curbs before going airborne over a small hill. Her car smashed through the picnic table, striking Ramesh in the back and shattering his pelvis, says Sanjeev. Everyone—including the driver of the sedan—was taken to hospital. Ramesh died of his injuries that night. He was 57.