Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rickshaw man

He is thin, a parallel line, and I wonder what kind of body he packs in such a degree of slimness. The t shirt clings to him, a deep orange sleeveless! This is teamed with black cotton pants and a black cap [to ward off the sun, so he tells me later]. Yes, this is the cycle rickshaw guy whom I have flagged at noon to go about my work. He rushes through the crowd and the traffic and then , when I arrive at my destination, since he does not have change for Rs. 100/-, he says its his bohni , (first business of the morning), and he could wait if I was to return and I said it would take 15-20 minutes and he said he could wait upto half-hour, and so I said fine and hurried off.

Harried by the end of the hour, but finished with the business at hand, I hurried out to spot him in the afternoon sun, the bright orange of his t shirt an easily recognizable sizzler/beacon. In the strong sun a combination of orange and black! And yet he did not appear to be uncomfortable at all.

He said he refused 20 sawaris (clients), and expected me to believe that, but I shrugged it off, and said, let’s go! And then on the way back, an auto grazed the mudcap of his left cycle wheel, and then I notice it— that it is a strange peach colour!

The traffic is a snail so we strike up a conversation.

I tell him that once the Nano is here, a car for a lakh of rupees, the motorcycles etc. will disappear and we will have traffic that will not move at all. We will return to the bullock cart stage only this time the carts will be motorized and the bullocks will be men. He laughs and says yes, and the first things to go will by cycle rickshaws. I tell him they have already been banned from Chandni Chowk, the old delhi area, and he then says, the advantage of rickshaws is that they can go in any gali, any narrow alley. Don’t we know that, I say.

He smiles and I see that his teeth are stained with orange— tobacco stains. But the smile is sweet and I smile back. Encouraged by my smile, perhaps [!], he gets off the cycle and gives a piece of his mind to the auto driver who had earlier grazed his cycle and had now accidentally come up beside his cycle once again. He tells him to come ahead and have a talk.

I look at the dented mud cap…I point it out to him.

He says, it is a small thing, can be okayed, no problem. Then he asks me, “Should I give him a piece of my mind up ahead. There is a policeman there. I can complain to him. This guy will have a tough time then.

Instantly, I say, “No, no, leave it.” more to save my skin, than anything else, from burning some more in the midday sun. All around its traffic and heat and crowd and impatience and this guy wants to stop and have an altercation for half fun and half vindication of his rights.

So he smiles and deigns to let this opportunity for asserting his self go. We trudge on till the traffic clears as we turn left. On the way I spot once again the trees laden with polythene and old clothes on the side of the bridge that we are crossing. For once I give in to my need to photograph these and tell this guy to stop as I click pictures. He does not understand why in the beginning, thinking I am just clicking trees and then when I point it out to him then he starts pointing them out to me himself, all over the place, like an excited child. He actually wants me to get down from the richkshaw and click away but I tell him its okay, I can do it from my seat.

We are on our way after ten minutes of clicking and then he says, oh so you will put this in a newspaper, sudden comprehension dawning on him. “The land is not dirty, we people are making it so,” he says wisely.

On the way, he also haggles with me about his payment and though I pretend to argue, I have already decided o pay him the extra ten rupees for waiting for me to return from my work. The mudguard of his left wheel has begun to make an infernal noise and I mention it to him. This I do when I have reached home and am paying him. He removes the mudguard with a flourish, and twists it to attach it like a tight necklace to the rod at the back of his rickshaw!

Problem solved for the moment. He grins, and I say thank you and we part our ways.