Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Happiest Day of My 'Career'

And you thought that the project was over! Well for me, yes but for you (if you care to read in the first place) it's not gonna end so soon. Because there are still a lot of experiences stored in my memory (surprising indeed!) and many more written in my little diary that I would like to share here.

But today, after a long long time (12 days to be precise) I would like to share a good news. In fact, I can easily anoint 12th Dec as the happiest day of my entire Ricikshaw-walla life, if not the entire life. I also realized that one must not give up the pursuit of happiness because some things have a habit of giving you a delayed gratification - in my case, the delay was by 12 days. And I was lucky to get it only when I egged on it.

I don't know how many times I have mentioned in my blogposts about the utter chaos one witnesses at the Vishwavidhyalaya Metro Station. Its an ideal place to make the worst opinion about a rickshaw-walla which sticks with you for a lifetime, tough to be overridden by any pleasant experience subsequently.

Ironically none of my rickshaw-friends like it, nor want to do this "aao-ji aao-ji" ritual but collectively they all are involved in it. Its like the current scenario of Indian Media. Ask any individual Media house about their  views on Paid News, Private treaties, Advertorials, Blackmailing, Editorial bias etc and they all banish it in the harshest possible manner but then it's also a mystery how a minister gets favorable coverage in Newspapers and TV channels before a major election despite embroiled in half a dozen corruption cases if not murder and rape, how some very pressing issues are suppressed while most other never make it to main-stream media!

As an ex-rickshaw-walla, I was catching up with all my friends and colleagues at my favorite adda - Gwyer Hall Hostel when this gentleman came. Its a shame that I don't know his name but taking into account his seniority and the profound knowledge, wisdom and experience he has, the name that comes to my mind is "Bhishma Pitamah". So let me call him Bhishma sir! :)

He enlightened me on the freak accident that happened two days back with a DU girl sitting in a rickshaw and the huge fuss in the morning between a Traffic Cop and the Metro Security Guard at the Station. But we soon digressed to our pet peeve - falling income and 'rule of the Jungle' at the Metro Station.

Its not that nothing has ever been done to bring some order among rickshaw pullers. Can't say much about the measures taken since the inception but a lot of attempts have been made during my own 'tenure'- by metro security guards, by traffic cops, by local Police (and once by me as well). But the status quo never changed and even if it did for a while under the force of a 'danda', it quickly regained its dubious equilibrium.

But today was a different day. There was no external force but and internal resolve to change. Championed by one of their own men - very sensible and highly respected! My presence, probably acted as a catalyst (if anything at all) for this 'endothermic' reaction. An endothermic reaction consumes heat and cools down its surrounding!

One of the most prominent feature (if not a cornerstone) of Democracy is - equal opportunity for everyone to do or aspire anything. In this respect, Metro station is not a very democratic place. The Campus-special buses are the first among equals. The entire width of the exit gate is panned by the bus while the rickshaws are relegated far away from the gates whenever line system is cracked down with brute force. Otherwise the rickshaws are simply juxtaposed with the buses creating the much-talked-about chaos and leaving almost no space for a person to go across the road.

So once 'Bhishma' sir sold the idea to his colleagues and got them on-board I went ahead and talked with the Bus Driver. It was one of the most sensible talks I ever had with a bus driver. We hardly disagreed with each other's opinions. He welcomed the idea of a disciplined line and agreed "in-principle" to my request to halt the bus only till middle of the exit gate and leaving the other half free for people. The deal was sealed when the Manger of this Special Bus service also agreed over the phone to my request! I gave a personal guarantee that the extra space thus created wont be cluttered by more rickshaws bringing everything back to square one.

The rickshaw line started from the other end of the gate giving them a fighting chance to be spotted along with the Bus and the Auto the moment a person comes out of the gate. Now it's the person's prerogative which one does he chooses. An equal opportunity to all.

The metro security guard also volunteered to assist in the implementation of the newly conceptualized discipline. He monitored that the proper sequence is followed, the free space remains free and nobody enters the metro station to woo a customer leaving his rickshaw unmanned.

It was going great. The rickshaw-wallas were happy because they were getting customers without belittling themselves, the bus-wallas weren't complaining either and the people were smiling too because nobody was pouncing on them. Everybody had a last laugh! :)

But is that sufficient reason for me to call it the happiest day? NO.

The reason why it's the happiest day is - the experiment survived the test of the time! It came into existence at around 3 PM. But when I returned to the Metro station at around 6 PM, the system was still in place WITHOUT THE SUPERVISION OF THE GUARD! 3 hrs might not see long enough to you but trust me, it takes them just 3 seconds to return to their old ways. After all, that's their comfort zone! But everybody was still following the line and peacefully taking 'sawaris' as per their order.

This was unprecedented. A truly WOW moment for me. And that's why it's the happiest day of my entire rickshaw-walla career. A long cherished happiness which came long after my "retirement" !

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Final Day (hopefully not!)

Justin Timberlake's famous song from the album "Future Sex" - what goes around...comes around - is playing in my head right now which is occasionally shuffled with an equally awesome "Life in a Metro" song - Alvida.

Because, if everything goes according to the plan and promise, 30th November should be my last day of being a Rickshaw-walla! Its a very emotional moment in many respects and as it happens with most of the things in life, the wave of emotions are often very weak on the 'D day' but hit much harder and make you nostalgic long after the day has gone.

The only silver lining is that I am a horrible planner but the dark cloud is that I am not a good ditcher! I promised my mom on the day of my homecoming (21 Nov) that I will end this project by November end and now it would be very difficult to give up on her. I guess I need to talk about my plans with my parents. If they understand, I hope to write a similar blogpost without the bracketed words on the new year day. Inshallah!

Its very easy to tender resignation for a job which you do only for money, a job in which you complain burnouts despite sitting in an AC chamber the entire day, a job in which you celebrate weekends more than weekdays ... oh wait, i guess it's not easy, else 90% of India (if not world) would be jobless!

But its very hard to bid adieu a job which you took up because you wanted to do it. Where there was no external pressure but internal motivation. Where you even worked on Diwali because that's the best way you could find to celebrate the festival of lights!

Just like Diwali, I tried to make my final day special in all possible ways and to the extent my job allowed. Which means I couldn't hug or at least thank from the bottom of my heart each an every rickshaw-friend of mine for giving me these awesome three month because it would seem so weird. But I did make it a point to meet as many of my friends as possible and shake hands with them or at least do that patented salute - raising the right hand partially with a gentle nod of the head and ear-to-ear smile - from a distance while crisscrossing each-other while pulling the rickshaw.

I tried to reach early. This is exams season in DU, and the exams start by 9:30. Hence there is a mad rush of students from 8:45 to 9:15. I arrived at the metro station at 9 AM - like a drop in the ocean of students. But by the time I reached the garage, picked my rickshaw and reached the station again, it was 9:25 already. The ocean had dried up. The Metro station is very unforgiving - if you are late you are late. Aren't there pleasant ways to learn lessons on punctuality?

There was an Indo-German conference on semiconductors going on in 'Faculty of Arts'! Goes without saying that I wanted to attend it despite the grave risk involved of dying due to boredom! The security guard of Arts Faculty has some special regards for me so when he saw me, he shook hands with me, talked for a while and asked me to park my rickshaw in the vacant space next to the main gate. Of course it's not allowed. So I asked him, "would this put you in trouble?" To which he replied quirkily, "I will sort it out. If somebody will object, I will say, 'sahab aaye hain seminar attend karne'! (A gentleman has come to attend the seminar!)

Hours passed by. Light gave way to darkness and warmth gave in to unfriendly cold. My friends who still pull rickshaw in a shirt start feeling the chill by 5ish in the evening; more if they have to wait for a sawari because standing idle cools them down further. But something warm was also brewing alongside - a plan to celebrate my last day !

My best friend, Sanjay, knew that it was probably my last day, and hence readily agreed to this impromptu party plan. But before we could crystallize it, he had to leave for Indira Vihar (girls Hostel canteen) with a box of oranges for a meager sum of 30 Rupees. I was so infuriated that I thought I would slap that 'Honda city b**tard' for paying so low and Sanjay as well for accepting that money. He deserved Rs 50!

In the meantime I talked with Tomas - an exchange student from France, once my sawari and now a very good friend. It didn't took him long to offer me a beer when he learned that it was my last day. His hostel-mate Kishan from Bangladesh also joined us and an awesome 'threesome' was on!

But Sanjay hadn't dropped the plan and neither had I. So like a witch hopping clubs on Halloween night, I was hopping my own farewell parties on my last working day! But I wasn't complaining. I reached my friend's 'villa' at around 9 PM and he was already done with cooking rice. I must tell you that he is a very nice cook. Once I even asked him why doesn't he work in one of the hostel messes and he said, "the life there is very restricted, much like a prisoner!" Wow, I never thought rickshaw-pulling had that huge an advantage over a regular job. 'Freedom to work' should be made a fundamental right, I guess!

Not prolonging the climax further, I should tell you that we bought 1kg fish and had a sumptuous dinner. I simply love fish and to have it on my last day with my special rickshaw-friends was certainly a memorable experience.

Talking of climax, I recall that there are few condoms available in the market that come with the promise of giving you 'extra time'. I wonder if there is something available out there for me to prolong this 'climax' and give me some extra time!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Epic Speech

Today, in the evening few DU students came to conduct a survey on Rickshaw-wallas. They claimed to be doing it on behalf of Govt. of India! This exercise was part of their project at the end of which they would send their recommendations based on which the government will make welfare policies for us. Wow, finally the government talking some cognizance of the Rickshaw-wallas. Sounds so Utopian!

But this is just a frivolous introduction, the real stuff is the speech of this legendary rickshaw-walla whose name I don't know.

The ritual of form-filling was going on at its full swing when I reached the Metro station. I had no idea and hence I asked, "what's going on?" and what followed was this epic speech. He said -

It's some kind of a survey. What survey man... it's yet another attempt of the government to rob us poor of our livelihood (gareeb ke pet par laat). These people promise us a parking lot. hah... they will give us a parking lot! Bullsh*t. A similar survey was conducted a few years back promising us the world, they started the Campus-Special Bus instead! This time around, they would probably start Helicopters!

(Unlike U-special buses which ply on specific routes, the Campus-special is a circular bus service from Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station touching most of the colleges. It charges a flat fare of Rs 10 for any destination. It came into existence approximately 2 years back and has considerably eaten up the earnings of a rickshaw-walla)

They ask us how much do we earn. Now if we tell them honestly that we earn around Rs 400, the govt's eyes will go wide immediately. *a rickshaw-walla earns so much in a day* instead of doing something for us, the first thing they will do is "how to stop them from earning a respectable income, how to keep them in perennial poverty."

Aisa kyun? (The honesty and conviction with which he asked me that question was quite moving and that's why I put the words as it is instead of translating them. It means - why is it so?)

What have they got against a rickshaw-walla? Are we stealing or robbing somebody? Is earning an honest living a crime? This metro security guard beats us up?
Aisa kyun hota hai?

A man (i guess he said FAT!) gets down from the bus and screams "oye rickshaw" and the rickshaw-walla takes him on board. A bus drops him on the bus stand, Metro drops him at the Metro station but where does a rickshaw drops him? ... on the stairs of his house. If there were a way to take rickshaw from his stairs to his room, a rickshaw might well have dropped him on his bed! and yet people abuse a rickshaw-walla?
Kyun bhai?

When a person bleeds on the road, a car doesn't stop to help him. You call just once to a rickshaw-walla and he takes that guy to Hindu Rao Hospital (the nearest govt. hospital of that area). He doesn't charge you a fortune, even in case of extreme emergencies. He saves lives. And yet people have least amount of respect for us!
Aisa kyun?

He took a long pause when another colleague snapped, "ho gaya?" while pressing a button of his mobile phone. He was apparently recording his speech! Worth recording indeed. Everybody burst into laughter.

You know what I want to ask the government? I want to ask, "why this distance sir? why this indirect path?" Survey...delay...recommendations....more delay... committees formed....eternal delay.
You hold MCD elections, you hold Assembly elections, for what? If you really care, just send down that representative to listen to us. We will not only let him know our ailment but the medicine to cure it as well. We don't expect to get the exact dosage but the suffering would certainly subside even if half of the prescription is met.

But please don't pull this wool of survey over our eyes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Homecoming of a Rickshaw-walla!

Who says courts only prolong matters? Sometimes, they expedite them as well although these are "Rarest of the rare" occasions!

Today I had to go against my will to Dwarka distt. courts as part of a family land-dispute case (dont worry I havn't filed a case against my dad for my share! :P ). I have realized that courts are like your best friends. They don't give a s**t when you are hanging around with them but they miss you a lot when you are not not there. So much so that they issue warrants, sometimes non-bailable, to fetch you!

At 10AM I was at the court where I came face to face with my mom - first time since the news broke of me being a rickshaw-walla 4 days ago.
She asked me to explain. I declined (as I believed there was nothing to explain beyond the Navbharat Times news-report.
She persisted with some emotional-atyaachaar (main teri maa hoon, agar mujhe nahin samjhaayega to kise samjhaayega? et al)
I tried to explain. she didn't understand... once...twice. I gave up.
She asked me to explain once more - my motive, my objective, my aspirations.
I tried again. finally some ice was broken, some dark clouds were scattered.
it turned out that she was particularly miffed for two reasons -
1) she didn't know until when this 'experiment' will continue. the report didn't mention that "I hope to end it by November"!
2) the report mentioned "Girls in DU ask me that I don't look like a rickshaw-walla", alluding as if only girls ask me that ...further alluding that I am doing it to score some brownie points with girls ! ;)

The court hearing was over with the usual practice of giving another date and my mom said, "tu ek baar aa to sahi ghar" (which sent chill down my spine). I asked her to explain what she meant. She didn't.

Interestingly, my Dad was quite chilled out all this while, In fact, he hasn't even once asked me what the F*** I was doing and why. While returning from court my mom noticed my cracked heels n lumped feet and said to my dad "look what he has done to his feet" and he said, "so what?" ! hahhaha... that was awesome! I guess I should gift him a bottle of Heinekin ! ;)

Nevertheless, I picked my cycle (whom I missed the most) from the parking of the metro station and went home. I wasn't asked any further question, not locked up in a dark room nor thrashed with a wet chappal ! :P
On the contrary, I was give a sumptuous lunch! for someone who had to borrow money this morning to buy even a Parle G (not exaggerating even an iota), that was pure bliss. The party didn't end there.

I slept for three hours (although I intend to sleep only 30 minutes!) in a cushy bed, with a soft furry blanket and a pillow... yes, a pillow and not my bag stuffed with worn clothes! trust me, a pillow is a luxury. Infact, planning commission would come up with far saner policies based on "Pillow-line" rather than poverty line!

I was home and I was doing what I do best - screw up my time on Facebook! also, read random stuff online and occasionally write a blog. I was back to the world to which I had practically said goodbye for good. In fact, I made some initial investments (which swallowed all my savings) for my new life - a towel (Rs 40), a tooth brush (11), a toothpaste (10), a soap (10), washing powder sachet (2), and a makeup kit (Rs 5 vaseline!). In the coming days, I was planning to buy some Lux Cozis (or even anonymous ones from the roadside vendor) instead of Jockeys and that was cringing my heart (and something else as well!) the most!

I was also preparing myself to bathe with ultra-cold water for the rest of the winters. (although not bathing for most of the season was a partial solution). In fact, I never knew I was such a meticulous planner before these three & a half days. I was making lists, balancing my needs (not wants) with my resources. I was planning ahead...weeks ahead. Although, all the three days I ended up a nillionaire !

Sadly, all that futuristic planning has now gone down the drain. I am back to my home. a place which looks too plush to me now. 3 months back, I would have made a million excuses to dissuade you from visiting it!

So, it was the homecoming of a rickshaw-walla after only 3 & a 1/2 days of 'Vanvaas' (or RainBsera Vaas as my friend puts it)! Should we light some lamps or burn some firecrackers to celebrate? Naah, chuck it. Lets go green! ;)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Being a "Celebrity" - effects & side-effects

the Internet charges are too steep here so I have to write it quickly, So apologies for some not-up-to-the-mark blogpost this time. (As if I was writing literary masterpieces earlier!)

I was in Chandigarh when I received the call from my Mom with the opening words, "Chandigarh main bhi rickshaw chala raha hai?". I couldn't say anything, I was just laughing. But she wasn't amused at all. She followed it up with "Achi bhat piti hai hamari". I dont know how to translate those words but a close-enough meaning is - "you have demeaned us to no extent". I wasn't surprised though; the blast was impending. 

But her call was quite late in the evening, the string of calls started right in the morning. With every call I was faced with the dilemma - to pick or not to pick ... cuz I was in Roaming and my balance was low ! But I guess price of coming out as arrogant was higher that the price of the call, so I picked.

I was back in Delhi the next morning at 6:30 and I was on the job at 7:30. on other days, I would have earned handsomely if I had come that early but alas.... it was Sunday that day!

I was on my way to the garage, barely outside the Metro station, when I noticed a beautiful girl staring at me! If the matter was restricted to just staring, I might not have noticed... I look weird enough to be stared! But she was smiling too; that was startling! So I asked her, "do we know each other?" and she said, "I read the article about you in NBT". She introduced herself and when I introduced myself, she said, "I know"!!!!

Wherever I went - the garage, the metro station,Kamla Nagar, Girls Hostel, Stephens college gate, Gwyer Hall Canteen, Ande-walla ...... the article followed. If nothing else, I realized the readership of NBT yesterday!

But I was in no mood to go home that day, courtesy that candid talk with my mom yesterday. So I was desperately searching for a place to stay. My friend at Model town was out of station and my current garage wasn't as cozy as my previous one, so sleeping under the sky wasn't an option.

I once saw a "Rainbasera" (a place where destitutes can stay at nominal price) in Kamla Nagar but was utterly dissapointed to see a big lock on its gate. But from there I came to know about another one in Malkaganj. The information was right and in Kabir Basti, Malkaganj, I did find one.

Afte spotting my refuge, I was going back to my garage to park my rickshaw when I spotted a little boy walking beside me with a piece of paper. He said, "I am reading about you". I was able to make sense of what he was saying when looked at the paper-cutting with my photo. It was simply an awesome feeling. I asked the boy to sit in my rickshaw and read the story for me since I hadn't seen it myself. He read it for a while and then got off the rickshaw bidding adieu. Wow, if start of the day was bright, then the end of the day was probably brighter than Diwali!

The Experience of spending a night at "Raibasera" is a story in itself so I shall share that with you in a separate post.

but the next morning (ie today) I got a call from my mom again. She asked my location .... exact location (I am not sure if she could track me via GPS!).
"Hindu College"
"you are still pulling the rickshaw!"
"yes mom, that's what I do, I am sure u know it by now"
"why? couldn't you find any other job"
"if you are still not clear why I am doing this after reading that article, I don't know how to answer your why"
"us article se to tune hamara mazak banaya hai" (you have only humiliated us through that article)

I am totally disillusioned now. Facing a dilemma again - to return or not return to a place where people feel humiliated because of me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rickshey-waley Dulhaniya le jayenge?

While you might accuse me of Plagiarism because this story appears to be a rip-off straight from Bollywood (who rips off Bollywood stories anyways?), let me assure you that it's neither a rip-off nor a fiction. However, to pay tribute to Mr Yash Chopra, the man who gave us DDLJ, I names it so.

The name of the protagonist of this Love story is Krishna - a 32 year old dark, short but well-built Bengali guy, my colleague and a good friend. Before coming to Delhi in search of employment and end up pulling rickshaw, he used to live in his village in the Kooch Behar district in West Bengal.

The mythological god - Krishna was a Butter-thief (Maakhan chor) in his childhood. But apart from butter, Lord Krishna used to steal one more thing - the tender hearts of gullible, doting 'gopis'. Our hero seems to have taken some inspiration from the 'god' on this front as well (apart from his name and colour!)

Although his village was predominantly Hindu, but just to complicate the matters a bit, the "most beautiful girl" of the village didn't belong to the majority religion. She was a Muslim. Her's was one of the 3 Muslim families in the entire village. Amidst frenzied whistling and hooting, let me introduce you to 'Munni' - our heroine.

Of course, my friend can be biased about her beauty - after all she was his first love - but I am taking his words as the final authority because they were coming straight from his heart.

As he puts it, every unmarried guy in the village was after her openly (and maybe, married guys clandestinely!). Some of them were really handsome while some of them were really rich and few of them both. Yet, out of that crowd of suitors, she fell for my friend!

It took her three years to woo him (so pricey he is!). The first year, it was just the eye-contacts. When he returned from Delhi to his village the next year, things went a step ahead but still on a very 'friendly' level. It was only during the third year when their chemistry intensified and their relationship deepened!

All his friends used to ask him with bewilderment,"what the hell did she find so irresistible in you?" (just like the entire country and especially media, was raising aspersions on Priyanka Gandhi's choice). May be Robert Vadra was aware of his 'salient features' but my friend wasn't. So one day he himself asked her, "tune mujhme aisa kya dekh liya?" (what did u notice in me that appealed to you?) And what she replied is actually an education to all the clueless guys out there.

She said, "I always wanted my man to be a hard-working guy." Now in an urban-setting, the word 'hard-working' may very well be extrapolated to 'passionate'. One who is chasing his big dreams most of the time and not girls all the time. She said, "The way you walk, your 'body language' appeal to me. I don't care much about face or money."

One fine day, when they were enjoying some time together, an old budhiya (yeh, she doesn't deserve any respect to be called anything else) spotted them and broke the news. News of affairs spread faster in a village than the 'Gangnam Style' video went viral on the net and are more devastating than Arvind Kejriwal's exposés. The entire village was in a state of pandemonium. (Are you thinking of playing the legendary item-song from the movie Dabangg? if yes, please go ahead!)

His own family was against his love. His mother said, "I won't let a Muslim girl enter my house."
He replied, "if you won't let her come in this house, why do you eat with them in their house?"
Unfortunately, this simple but jolting reply of my friend didn't cut any ice with his mother.

I am not really sure to what extent did they go to convince their families but I guess, eventually, they both realized that there wasn't any future of their relationship and hence went their separate ways. The wall of religion was simply too high for them to surmount with just love. Eloping, though a very celebrated phenomenon in Hindi movies, is not a very easy thing to do after all.

That was pretty much the end of his love story. Or should I say, end of his first and most colorful love story. Few more girls came in his life; the last one of course his wife and now mother of his two daughters.

(PS: when he went to his village a month back, he met with her! Although she is also 'happily' married now!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Secret in Their Eyes

In my previous posts, I have highlighted the level of cut-throat competition that exists at Metro station. It's more like a ‘jungle’ where the fittest and the meanest survives; where no trace of cooperation exists.

But there is a world beyond Metro Station where the same people exhibit the highest of the human qualities without the involvement of any ‘quid pro quo’ (unlike the alleged Vadra-DLF deals).

Let me share with you two such incidences where I was 'flash-flooded' with unilateral generosity. And I wasn't even able to thank them properly.

1) “Carry on”

I was standing in a line at Kirorimal college when two student from FMS (right opposite KMC) came to me and asked how much would I take for Khalsa College? I said 30 rupees which they were reluctant to pay. According to them, 20 rupees should be good. But then a third friend appeared and said he had to go as well. Now suddenly 30 rupees seemed reasonable. They said, “Ok, let’s go.”

No sooner did the third person arrive than I hiked the fare to 35! Now in my heart of hearts, I knew that I have over-quoted. Going by the fare standards that prevail in North Campus and my own experience for over a month now, no student would be willing to pay more than Rs 30 for that distance; notwithstanding how many or how heavy they were!

And I was right. They started nodding their heads in unison and moved on to the next rickshaw-walla. If I was sure that I had over-quoted then I was surer that he would invariably agree for 30.

But, to my and their disbelief, he quoted 40! Usually, when the sawari moves down the line, the fare either remains constant or falls but something weird was happening here. Dejected, the three students returned to me. I was smiling ear to ear but it had a sense of confusion as well.

However, everything dawned upon me in a flash when he winked and raised his head with a slight tilt signalling “carry on” with bright eyes and broadest possible smile!

2) “He will go”

This time around, I was queuing up at Daulat Ram College – on of the two all-girls’ college of North Campus. Here, rickshaws line up on both the sides of the exit gate. But the problem is – they don’t open the entire gate. A mini-gate at one corner is generally used.

Now this gave a clear advantage to rickshaws at one end. It was like the mini-gate had created two zones - Windward side, where all the girls were 'raining' and the leeward side, where the scenario was near-drought. And I unfortunately was standing on the leeward side. Out of 10 girls coming out of the gate, only two would drift this way and that too if ‘lured’ well in advance by calling or gesticulating or both.

While I was eagerly looking at the gate with expectant-eyes, a beautiful tall girl with big eyes (and eyes means eyes here, no euphemism!) emerged out of it. The thought - “I wish I were at that side of the gate” - flashed my mind. The girl asked the first rickshaw-walla in that line, “Metro station?” and he said, “Vo jayega” (He will go), pointing towards me!
I guess he intercepted my thoughts.

While the girl was coming towards me, I was looking at him with bewildered eyes (I should have been looking at the girl!) and asking “why” in my thoughts. I don’t know if he intercepted my cluelessness as well but his eyes didn't disclose the secret.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Unwritten Pact of Discipline

Over the years, Rickshaw-wallas have earned a bad reputation for themselves, especially at the Delhi University Metro Station. We are seen as a nuisance and unfortunately, they can’t be out-rightly rejected for thinking so.

Call it the charm of Delhi University or the popularity of Metro among the students, the number of the rickshaw-wallas at the Metro station far exceed the number of passengers coming out of it at any given time (except the morning hour 8:30-9:30). Therefore one has to either actively 'hunt' for a sawari or sit idle on his rickshaw. You can see how rules of Economics (Demand & Supply) and Evolution (survival of the fittest) work in tandem here.

To stay ahead of the competition they have a motto - Catch them 'young'! A person, especially a good-looking girl, may find herself flooded with 'offers' from more than a dozen 'suitors' even before she has crossed the automated exit-gates; each going out of his way (and blocking her way in the process) to ‘woo’ her attention and take her to his ‘home’.

They have a patented way of calling. I am going to have a tough time describing it but let me still give it a try.  Oozing with confidence, they walk straight to her with their right hand stretched out as if performing the ‘Hitler Salute’ and their index and the middle finger flickering like the tongue of a King Cobra.

With their powerful ‘eye-scanners’ and ‘cache-memory’ they instantly compile her profile with just one look and start uttering the names of the colleges she might be studying in, while they are walking up to her. This is important too. I have had some painful experiences of losing out a high-paying sawari to a 'competitor' because I said Stephens and he said Miranda!

One girl, one rickshaw-walla; ideal scenario. One girl, two rickshaw-wallas still manageable. But one girl, ten Rickshaw-wallas; it’s a mess. It’s like a Prime time ‘debate’ in which Manish Tiwari, Digvijay Singh, Navjot singh Sidhu, Suhel Seth, Baba Ramdev and ... Arnab Goswami are all hollering together! Poor viewer!

And we must not forget the flickering fingers here. Often they come so close to the face, they can jab the eyes out and sometimes, go 'down the neckline' as well, knowingly or unknowingly. (I must clarify that I haven't been an eye-witness to the latter, however I have heard of such incidences couple of times)

This is a serious matter and I appreciated when the police took cognizance of it. On one such day, when the rickshaw-wallas bugged a girl too much, the police constable reprimanded them. Everybody was on the defensive, saying they didn't do it. Some going to the extent saying that they didn't even go inside the station!

Mob is a very strange thing – It comprises of honest and upright individuals who do anarchic things when together. While anarchy would be a very strong word but we certainly make a bedlam out of the Metro Station. When I asked people why they go inside, their standard reply was, “If you don’t go inside, you won’t get any sawari”.

“What if nobody goes inside?”
“I won’t go but who will convince others? I am here for the past xyz years. This ‘gandgi’ (chaos) has always been here and it always will be. Nothing will change. Nobody will understand.”
“Maybe, if you understand, others will too.”
“Ok. I won’t go inside but would you take a responsibility that others don’t”
“I guess, most of the people here already agree (they didn't  and I would try to convince any new rickshaw-walla coming this way”

And so it all began. An unwritten pact came into existence which said - nobody would lay foot on the floor of the Metro Station (Stairs were the ‘grey area’ though).

The biggest factor pitted against this pact was - there was no Metro Security Guard manning the exit gate that day. So there was no ‘threat’ against going deep inside the station. It was just mutual respect and self-restraint that was holding it together.

It didn't have a flying start either. In the beginning, nobody took it seriously and the moment the metro came, most of the ‘convinced’ guys rushed in. But few stayed out and that was the 'critical mass'.
Giving reference of these people was for more effective in convincing the ‘non-conformists’. Their number fell drastically when the next Metro arrived. The pact was catching up momentum!

"Abbe o, andar kahan ja raha hai @#$%* ? neeche aa ja" (where the hell are you going in, @#$%* ? come down), were the words of a hitherto vehement opposer to a person trying to get in. Now the pact had become self-sustaining. I have noticed that staunch opposers are generally ‘influences’. Once you get them by your side, half of your job is done. They will then convince/coerce others. And that's exactly what happened. It’s a snow-ball effect.

And then the magic happened – nobody went inside! Standing on the last step, just off the floor of the station, they were doing their ‘pick-up routines’. It was a very exhilarating and satisfying moment!

I must confess that there were occasions when a new entrant, unaware of the pact, simply walked in, enticing others to follow but there were occasions as well when they called (along with expletives!) that guy back. 

This pact was signed at around 11 AM and it remained in effect till 4 PM (beyond which I couldn't skip the lunch). During this time I couldn't earn anything.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Metro Relief Camp

The EXIT GATE of Delhi University Metro station appears to me like a RELIEF CAMP.

The people coming out of it are like "food packets" on which the rickshaw-wallas hog like desperate hungry refugees, shoving & pushing each other to be the first one to grab; trading their self-respect for survival. 

And those idiots (like me) who don't, starve to death waiting for the packet to fall in their lap or flee to less green and more hostile pastures !

Friday, October 12, 2012

A mirage called FIR

There is an old saying, “nip the evil in the bud”. It seems that Delhi Police has taken it to its heart. In fact they have made it their unofficial motto which is why they don’t file an FIR - The very first thing needed to initiate an investigation. No FIR – no case – no investigation – no conviction. A tight slap on the face of crime!

In a previous post I told you how my rickshaw was punctured with a big needle by a police constable. Unfortunately, that time I wasn't around so I couldn't do anything about it except mending the punctures.

But in the life of a rickshaw-walla, history repeats itself with amazing frequency. So barely 4-5 days down, the traffic cop again decided to play ‘puncture-puncture’ and I appeared to be an easy prey.

I was turning my rickshaw around to drop my day's first sawari to St. Stephens college when the ‘angel’ arrived with his ‘magic wand’. Without any warning, Mr Vinod kumar, the Traffic Police Constable, jabbed his needle with all his might into the front tire. However, apart from brute force you also need precision to deflate a tire (after all it’s not an ordinary tire, it’s my rickshaw’s tire!). Making use of this opportunity, I asked him why he was doing that, for I was leaving in any case. But it’s condescending for a constable to listen to a rickshaw-walla. Though a constable, he is still placed higher up the hierarchy.

He abused me, thrashed me and eventually did puncture my rickshaw. Realizing that he is deaf to my reasons and arguments, I dialed 100. At that moment he gave a final blow to the rim of my rickshaw and left to hunt afresh.
There was no trace of a PCR van even after 20 minutes. I dialed again. They had their patented reply, “it’s reaching in 5 minutes”. It finally arrived after another 15 minutes.

“What happened?” they asked. I narrated the incident. Their on-the-spot-verdict was, “agar galat jagah khada karega to vo sooaan nahin marega to aur kya karega? (if you stand in no-parking, what else would he do if not puncture your tires?) I was baffled and amused at the same time. Who the hell needs courts when we have such brilliant, just and instantaneous cops!

But as per my experiences, whenever a dispute happens the police take both the parties to the police station. The traffic constable was standing right at the next red-light so I said, "the traffic cop is right there, lets get him to the police station and file an FIR". The PCR cop replied, "why should we catch him, you get hold of him!" “If you are injured I can get your medical done, else go to the police station and file a complaint”, he added. There was no ‘injury’ so it was pointless to go for a medical.

I was getting the puncture repaired when I got a call from Sub-inspector Randeep to come to Maurice Nagar Police Station. I entered the police station with my rickshaw. The lady constable at the entrance was so ‘alert’ that she didn't even notice me until I was well inside.

Another women constable was at the 'Reception' (or whatever they call it). I could actually feel drops of cons. H2SO4 burning my skin every time she spoke; so loud and vitriolic were her words. But I still went ahead with my rant.

“I want to file an FIR.”
“For what?”
“rickshaw-cop-puncture-beat-abuse (the narration)”
“SI Randeep is seeing your case. Talk to him.”

I narrated the story again to Randeep and he sent me back to her to file an FIR. They kept playing table-tennis with me for a while. They did every possible thing to deter me from filing an FIR but I didn't relent. So to kill time they asked me to write an application.

“likhna aata hai” (do you know how to write?), she asked with a scorn. “I can try”, I said. So her junior started giving me dictation. “Likh maan neeya SHO sahiba” (write respected SHO ma'am), she told. After mulling over the structure of the application for a while I started writing…. in English. She had the expression on her face as if I was stripping in front of her. I haven't seen the steepest water-fall in the world but I did see the steepest tone-fall that day - from ear-shattering to inaudible! In the meantime, the sub-inspector left the station and I was told to come in the evening.

I always thought that I am the biggest procrastinator that ever walked this planet but Police beat me at my own forte hands down! My patience ran out and I decided to meet the SHO, Ms Azad. She looked considerate and understanding but as they say, looks are deceptive.

She was one of the most ‘loopy’ persons I have ever seen; talking in infinite loops. After recounting the story to her in detail one more time I requested her to register my FIR. She said, “sure, you can file your complaint”.
“Thank you. I hope complaint means FIR.”
“That’s up to your interpretation.”
“What interpretation? All I want to file is an FIR. It’s my right.”
“I never denied that. Give your complaint to her (the constable)”
“But that’s not an FIR.”
"....BS BS BS...and more BS"

And the loop went on and on and on until I asked, “will you give me a 'receiving' to my complaint?” she said YES. Finally an affirmative! Thinking that I can always escalate the matter, I struck a deal.

The only reassuring thing was - I was not the only one with whom they were word-playing. A girl whose wallet was stolen was asked to replace the word “stolen” with “lost” in her application for obvious reasons. When she held on, the ‘vitriolic-woman’ spewed all sorts of ridiculous and bizarre questions on her.  Two north-east student with a similar complaint were also given a similar treatment.

It appears to me that their sole objective is to torture a complainant rather than help him/her. The magic bullet that they have resorted to - to show the crime is going down - is not register an FIR in the first place.

What worries me though is, when they treat women, north-east students (there exists dedicated ministries for both these sections of the society) and an educated rickshaw-walla with such disdain, what level of help can a real rickshaw-walla, a street vendor, a rag-picker, a beggar, an illiterate and other weaker sections of the society can expect from them?

(PS: 3 days back, I met SI Randeep to know the 'developments' on my complaint. Surprisingly, he did some investigation (good job)! He had written statements of two eye-witness rickshaw-wallas. However, according to those eye-witnesses, the traffic constable didn't punctured my tire, nor did he misbehaved with me. On the contrary, I was threatening the cop (saying, "main tujhe dekh loonga") when he politely asked me to take my rickshaw away!)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gandhi's Birthday Gift

He never knew his birthday
would cause so much misery
Honestly speaking, I didn't really want to work today. I mean, cummon, the entire country is holidaying and I slog, what sort of a justice is that?

But I couldn't have borne the burden of being a Hypocrite! Last year on Gandhi Jayanti, Shashi Tharoor tweeted about how illogical, rather insulting, it is to not work on the birthday of a man for whom work was worship (or something like that, I can't recall his exact words!) and I sided with him. Now when I had the choice to work or not, I couldn't have backed off my own (OK, borrowed) stand.

Before leaving home I called a colleague to understand the status quo. He painted a gloomy picture for me. That was more of a reason to go!

When I eventually reached at the Metro station at noon, it was literally deserted but for the army of rickshaw-pullers. With the day being a national holiday, passengers were as rare as good, logical policies in the UPA-2 regime!

Kamla Nagar is very close to my Garage (and my heart!). Being the hub of Girls' PG (paying guest accommodation), it seemed an Oasis to me! I thought, maybe the girls will venture out to shop or meet their friends/boyfriends giving an opportunity to earn something. But so 'caring' are guys these days, they don't even let their girls to move; they come to the PGs on their Pulsars and FZs and Bullets.

In the movie "Shawshank Redemption", Tim Robbins said, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." I am almost sure that none of my friends has ever seen the movie or even heard the name but somehow they just know these immortal lines.

Despite knowing fully well that it's Gandhi Jayanti and everything is closed today, they still hoped that they would be able to earn enough to eat and pay the rickshaw rent. And that's why, while questioning my decision to come so far to pull the rickshaw on a holiday (and calling me an idiot in the process), they themselves played the bet in which the odds were pitted heavily against them. And I know they will be hoping the same thing again and again for this entire week (1st-7th Oct) when the Delhi University is vacationing.

"How much did you earn so far", I asked my friend kallu, at 1:30 PM? "Rs 20", was his prompt reply. Make no mistake, he is my idol when it comes to 'picking-up' customers at Metro station. He is prolific at the art. On other days he averages 500 rupees if not more!
Another Bengali friend, who was playing game on his mobile to pass time, hadn't even done his 'boni' (the first earning of the day!). He was waiting for the glimpses of his "celebrity" sawari for the past 2 hours!

In the evening, when I met this 76-year-old friend of mine (yes 76 year old!), he was quite nonchalant on this day of misery (no offence Gandhiji!) He had only earned Rs 60 so far but however meager it was, it belonged to him. Because thankfully, he owned the Rickshaw and needed not to pay 40 or 50 rupees rent to anybody.

This is the Birthday Gift of Gandhi to the poor of India - more poverty, hunger, starvation, worry, stress and exploitation! A man who spent his entire life in a dhoti; a man who held poverty as the "worst form of violence".

I can't help but recall 'Gandhi's Talisman' which is there on the very first page of every NCERT book. It says -
"Whenever you are in doubt... apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?..."

 Did the government ever apply this test to itself before declaring his birthday a National Holiday? Did they ask themselves if this step would be of any use to the poorest, weakest man that they claim to be so concerned about?

I just hope that we find a better way to celebrate the birthday of 'the man of the millennium' which, if doesn't respects his philosophies, at least doesn't flout them so brazenly!

PS: and on a personal level, I hope that the Rickshaw garage owners, who are fully aware of the hostile conditions, (and themselves have seen the days in the past) show some sympathy and reduce the rent by 50% for this week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Citizen CANE

I had the best start of the day today. When I was busy ‘picking-up’ a customer at the Metro Station, the thulla (I can barely call him Police constable) punctured my rickshaw's rear tire twice with his big needle (better known as Sooaan).

Of course my rickshaw was standing in “No Parking” (where else would it stand?) but does that give that ‘prick’ any right to prick my tires? Plus, I ensured that it wasn't standing in a place where it might cause a traffic-jam or inconvenience to people. Yet I was targeted. I wonder what he achieved out of all this childishness. If he thinks puncturing tyres will scare the sh*t out of rickshaw-walla’s and they will stop going to the Metro Station, then he is clearly day-dreaming.

I am not as much annoyed at the loss of money (in mending the punctures) but more at the loss of time – one and a half hour! You should know that the morning hours for a rickshaw-walla and the night-hours for a you-know-who are most critical from the earning point of view! ;)

When I asked an auto-walla if the cop punctures their tires with the needle if they happen to be in 'No Parking', he replied with an emphatic NO. "At max, he can make a 'no parking' challan. He can't touch the Auto nor he can misbehave with the driver," he added with conceit.

A rickshaw-walla is doing his job (or business so to speak, however menial it may be assumed) and he deserves to be treated as a respectable citizen with all his rights. If nothing else, he deserves to be treated as a Human Being. Then why are they beaten up with canes and their rickshaws wrecked and punctured? When would this high-handedness of the authorities end?

It's ironical that government pumps in billions of rupees in various employment guarantee schemes (viz MNREGA) yet it constantly sabotage the attempts of these self-respecting individuals who attempt to earn an honest living on their own!

In the past two weeks I have observed that Police, at its whims and fancies, keeps chasing away rickshaw-guys from some locations - Primarily Metro Station which is like the Reserve Bank of India for a rickshaw-walla!

Often they block the ‘Chatra marg’ – the arterial road connecting the campus with the Metro station – during the morning hours when time is money for a rickshaw-walla. Ok, even if I agree that they do so to regulate the traffic, the randomness of these decisions is what baffles me. Also, some ricks are permitted while some are not!

When I raised question on this partiality, they retorted with, “tu zyada vakeel ban raha hai?” (Are you trying to be a lawyer here?). They almost took the air out of the rear tyres, threatened to impound my rickshaw (which is illegal by the way) and warned me to use their lathi (cane) if I didn’t relent. I was arguing with them for equality as a citizen, realised that I was just a rickshaw-walla: a citizen cane!

In my childhood I enjoyed watching tom & Jerry. Least did I know how much fun it is to actually play this cat & mouse game. Sometimes the cat wears ‘khaki’ and sometimes white & blue.

A cop arrives on the scene out of the blue. Few rickshaw-wallas see the cop and raise an alarm. The herd starts fleeing. The cop runs after you with lathi in one hand and the needle in the other.You run as long as he keeps up with the pursuit. The moment he stops, you stop and the moment he turns back you also start moving back to take the original position.

What is going on here? This is a zero-sum game; a lose-lose scenario. It seems that the government and authorities have a habit of neglecting and negating the basic rights to the poor till the time they evntually revolt. I hate to compare but that’s exactly what has happened in the Naxal hit regions of the country.

I acknowledge that few rickshaw-wallas park haphazardly, go deep into the metro station, and hound a person in an attempt to lure him/her in his rickshaw. However, the same rickshaw-wallas are capable of working in a highly disciplined manner. You can see that professionalism in front of colleges where they patiently wait for their turn in long serpentine lines.

I can almost take a personal guarantee here that if some clear, reasonable and mutually acceptable guidelines are laid down, the rickshaw-pullers will abide by it.

What is required here is better communication between the police and the rickshaw-wallas whose prerequisite is mutual respect. Till the time the police look down upon the rickshaw-pullers and consider them as nuisance and the rickshaw-pullers consider the police as a blood-sucking tyrant nothing positive can possibly be ever achieved.

(PS: According to a latest Supreme Court ruling in which it has upheld Delhi High Court’s verdict, there can’t be any cap on the number of rickshaws in the Capital. So it fairly and squarely puts an end to the license or permit requirement and makes it perfectly legal to pull a rickshaw for a living.

Also, legality and reality are often two different entities. Legally speaking, 50% of the Delhi is living on illegal land (according to an article in The Hindu). But the reality is, only last month, Delhi Government regularized 917 unauthorized colonies!

Above all, a rickshaw is a necessity in a city life rather than a menace. It’s not for nothing that Delhi has around 5 Lakh rickshaws even when the upper limit set by the government was just 90,000!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sleeping in the Spotlight on a Garbagebin

As I have mentioned in the previous post that most of my friends don't live in a rented room, they sleep at the Garage. Such is its location that it can accommodate many. The road on which it is situated is partially closed at one end, hence limited traffic and noice in the night. Across the road is a river-sized drain (separated by a wall). Adjacent to it is an abandoned MCD Garbage-house followed by a temple. Very strategic and enviable location indeed!

While a few sleep under the shed of the garage, a majority of them sleep in the temple while some other sleep on the garbagebin.

When the question - “where can I sleep” finally sprung up, Ajay volunteered to be my host. Least did I know that he would take the “host” thing so seriously. He forewent his prized possesion for my comfort. Such hospitality, to the extent of austerity, for a friend whom you know for barely 2-3 days is beyond my understanding.

The place which was waiting to be my bed was the roof of the MCD Garbagebin! There was a wornout foam mattress lying at the edge of the bin which he gave to me. He himself slept on a bed-sheet!

4-5 days back, that mattress got drenched in the heavy rains and it was still a bit soggy and had a faint stench. If a relative of mine would have made me sleep on that mattress, I would have cussed him endlessly but here, I felt so indebted to Ajay for his generosity because he offered me the best he had. Everyhting in this world is so relative.

The view in front of me was nothing short of breathtaking! It was Ganesh Chaturthi that day (20 Sep). The Banquet hall on the other side of the drain was all decked up, adorned with beautiful lights. The reflection of those lights was shimmering in the drain water. You get a similar view from the backside of the verandah of Taj Mahal with the river Yamuna (read Drain) flowing in front of you and the reflection of the stars shimmering in it.

Cool breeze was blowing so there was no apparent need of a fan but mosquitoes were aplenty. Despite the fact that I had applied Odomos (Ajay gave it to me) on my feet, hands and face; there was no respite from them.

At home, I sleep like a package with just my nose jutting out of it to breathe but here I was sleeping like a true digambari Jain: the sky was my blanket if not clothes!

After an hour of tossing and turning in the bed, I finally decided to borrow a sheet from my friends who were sleeping on the floor in the adjoining temple. When I went there, I came across my childishness in the most brutal manner.

There were alteast 10 people sleeping at one end of the temple and 5 on the other end; not a single person was covered. What to talk of a sheet, most of them were not even wering clothes (except for an under-wear). I was humbled at the sight.

Despite getting such a cushy mattress to sleep and a partial cover against the mosquitoes, my demands had no limits and here they were sound asleep on just a bedsheet – carefree and contented.

When you are humiliated, you want to hide in the darkest possible corner of the house but I realized, quite painfully, that I was under the spotlight. There was a street-light several meters away on the nearby road but so glaring was its light that it made me believe as if everybody is seeing me and probably mocking me as well.

To make the tattered mattress sleepable, Ajay had covered it with a bedsheet. I lifted it up and snuggled inside. Problem solved. 

When I got up in the middle of the night to drink water, I came across another hard reality of a rickshaw-walla’s life when I saw a colleague in the middle of an Orgasm. However, I can not allege that the other guy, who hide his friend’s modesty with his knee, played any direct role in the 'climax' of this late-night show.

You got a girlfriend/boyfriend; if not, a laptop loaded with ‘stuff’; an internet connection; your own room with all its privacy and if nothing else, at least a washroom! A homeless rickshaw-walla has none of these. But his ‘basic instincts’ and urges hardly care about these details and only few have control on them. I faked indifference, drank water and slept again.

Without the alarm, I was up at 6. Almost everyone was awake by then. The drain plays the life-line in the life of my friends. Just like river Ganga takes up all your sins so that you come out fresh to sin more, similarly, this drain takes everybody’s ‘dump’ every morning so that they return fresh to dump again the next day.

After the daily chores of the day and tea & matthi at a nearby stall, I, kallu and few other friends set off for Kamla Nagar, waiting in front of a girl’s PG. We were ready to kickstart a new working day as and when an ‘angel’ arrives.

The 'Night life'

After being a semi-rickshaw-walla for eight days I decided go the whole hog. It was time to be a rickshaw-walla in the night as well. May be it was time to go further beyond my new-found comfort zone.

Most of my rickshaw-friends don't live in a room; they sleep at the Garage under the sky. Although the room rent ranges from Rs 1.5-2 K in places like Chandrawal and Majnu ka Tila, it attracts many more expenditures like electricity, water, LPG/kerosene etc. These expenses eat up almost the entire savings despite the fact that one room is often shared by 6-8 people which often swells up to 10! (Do I need to give the dimentional specifications of the room?)

Usually I wrap up around 6:30 PM in order to reach home by 9:30 – 10 PM but My intentions were different today. So, at 6:30, I informed my Mom abt my plans of 'no-return'!

After waiting at Kamla Nagar for good 45 minutes in the hope of a ‘sawari’, which never came (becuse it was Bharat-Bandh that day which slashed the earnings by 70-80% of most rickshaw-wallas, mine went into negative!), I left for Chandrawal to dine at 8:15 PM. This rustic, cramped and haphazard urban-village is just 200m away from the ‘Golden Arches’ of globalization! You will find a distinctive squalor in the narrow streets – Cow dung! Because there is at least a cow/buffalo in front of almost every house. The houses, by the way, are all cemented and mostly 3-4 storied. To maneuver rickshaw in these streets is a different challenge altogether.

Every business has its niche clientele and so do the two ‘half-star’ nameless hotels in Chandrawal. Their prime customers are Rickshaw-wallas and Daily Wagers. But if you think that these hotels serve only ‘dal-roti’, than you are wrong. They have all the sought-after non-veg delicacies - Chicken curry, mutton curry, buff, fish fry, fish curry, egg curry, Bota kaleji, siri etc. Eatable, non-poisonous and affordable! Taste depends on how tired you are. As my mom told me to stay away from eggs since Dashlakhan (a Jain festival) was on, I abide by her diktat; I ordered Bota Kaleji (Liver) for Rs 25!

These hotels typically hire small boys of age 7 to 10 years as 'waiters'. The kid who served me must be 10 if not less. There are no prizes for guessing his name - chchotu. He Serves food to every one along with another boy and also caters to the special demands of his hard-working but impolite customers.

Mumbaikers raised a huge hue and cry over the crackdown of Mr Dhoble, alleging him of stealing their night-life. In the name of night-life, all a rickshaw-walla gets is 1-2 hours; such is the crackdown of fatigue. These couple of hours are typically spent in chatting (everyone), smoking (most of them) and drinking (a few). The amount earned at the end of the day, the kind of customers one came across, tales of extracting money from an extra-smart customer, stories of their home-town and their next venture are generally the topics of conversation but in no time the talks go haywire, loaded with expletives.

By the time we reached the garage at 9:30 PM, most of the people had already slept and after an hour of this fun & profanity fest, it was time for the remaining few to hit the sack as well.

continued... (sleeping in the Spotlight!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Diesel’s price up, Rickshaw’s fare down

Two days back, My facebook status was – for the same distance for which I would have haggled with the rickshaw-walla to pay Rs 20 instead of 25; I now haggle with the custmer to pay Rs 30.

This update may tell you about my change of perspective after becoming a rickshaw-walla but honestly speaking, the latter part is just a wish. The current scenario doesn’t leave any scope to haggle with the customer, that too for a higher fare.

In the words of my colleage, Mr Yadav from Bihar, “Har cheez ka daam badh raha hai, bas ek rikshe ka daam kam hota ja raha hai” (Prices of every damn thing is going up but only the rikshaw fare is going down). There was a lot of frustration hidden in his simple words.

I have come to terms with majority of routes in the campus in the past 5-6 days and I also have a fair idea of the optimum fare of a particular destination. For example, from the Metro station to Hndu College, Rs 20 is the standard and it's Rs 30 for Kamla Nagar. Hans Raj college is the farthest from the station and it deserves not less than Rs 30. But Rs 35 is also not too much to ask for even for a single ‘sawari’.

But today, in front of my eyes, a colleague agreed to take 3 fully grown (1.5 times my size) guys to Hansraj college for, behold,....... Rs 30. I was stupefied. I was standing right there when he was trying to negotiate with them. It was a lost cause. He virtually had no bargaining power.

The English speaking, Nike wearing, Guitar playing guys were talking utter nonsense. “Autowalla will also charge us Rs 30 and it would be very comfortable for us to sit in an Auto, so if you don’t want to go then we…”
Pure BS. But my friend couldn’t say that in their face. He couldn’t tell them, “then you better take an Auto rockstars”. Beause apart from the distance and fare calculation, a lot of other calculaions were going in his mind. After earmarking Rs 40 for the daily rent, he had to earn almost equal amount for the dinner. Saving for the family is not even in the picture yet. The day hadn’t been good thus far for him and he couldn't have afforded to lose those 30 bucks.

“Jaise jaise rikshon ki jansankhya badhti ja rahi hai, kiraya kam hota ja raha hai” ( As the number of rickshaws are rising the fare is plummeting) elucidated Mr Yadav. And in the absense of any unity of rickshaw-wallas or in the economic terms ‘Cartel’, fares have fallen flat.

At Metro station, you spot a prospective customer, approach her, talk with her, negotiate the fare with her and the deal is almost closed at Rs 30 for Kamla Nagar. Of course she tries to reduce it by Rs 5 but one rebuttal is more than enough to convince her. Only if you get the chance to rebut. The moment she says "25", one out of the dozen vying for her will blab, "come with me for Rs 25" Game over.

Next day, she comes with her boyfriend and says 20 and she still finds another blabber. The downward spiral continues. Rs 20, which was an anomaly becomes the new standard!

With such abysmally low fares its hard to imagine how these people survive. I regularly come across people who barely earn Rs 100 till the lunch time. ( I find myself regularly in that category!) It's OK for me as I don't have the responsibility of paying the room rent, educating the children, saving for the family or sending a lions share of the income back home but they have! All my colleagues are migrants and majority of them are married.

However, they are hopeful. They say that Durga Puja is around the corner. Many rickshaw-wallas will go home at that time. They will return only after a couple of months. So winters is expected to be relatively better business-wise. I just hope that their hopes materialize.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 1: The day of exploitation ( continued...)

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If there were a game of Darts in which hitting anywhere on the board had points except the bull’s eye, I was hitting the bull’s eye! There were students all around me; there were rickshaws loaded with sawaris plying all aroung me and yet I wasn't able to woo a single person. This was insane. I felt as if getting a customer was tougher than picking up a girl!

Dejected, I headed towards the University’s Metro station like a guided missile. Despite being an atheist, I believe that the Metro Station is the ultimate Messiah. You trust in him, surrender yourself under his refuge and he will ressurect you. But it’s still not a cakewalk. The Metro station only helps those who help themselves!

It’s a very competetive world out there. At the prime time, i.e. 8:30AM till 11AM you can easily find more than hundred rickshaws parked outside the station. And unlike in front of colleges where the rickshaw-wallas patiently wait in a line for their turn, there is no such discipline there. It’s utter chaos and cut throat competition.

The scene at the metro station reminds me of the Great Salmon Migration which you might have seen on Discovery channel. Each year, Salmons migrate upstream to lay eggs. At some places, they have to jump out of the river to go further up and that’s where the Grizzly Bears catch them mid air. It all depends on the skill and the risk-taking abilities of the Bear how many he can grab in his jaws.

When the train arrives and the students come out of the station in droves (mostly girls, I don't know why), most of the rickshaw guys keep waiting for them outside the station gates but few go inside the station to ‘catch the fish mid-air’. It is these skilled Bears who get the maximum reward. But it’s risky too. You can become a victim of the ‘danda’ or a slap of the metro security guards. Its simple, More the risk, more the reward.

After waiting for more than 30 minutes, a suave guy with a trendy girl approached me. The guy said, “Hindu college” and I said, in a disbelief, “chaliye” (let’s go!). My colleagues who were returning to the station quipped, “aakir mil gayi sawari!” (finally you got a customer!)

I must tell you that it’s one thing to pedal an empty rickshaw, quite the other to lug it with 2 ‘healthy’ people. At times your thigh muscles give up and you have to rely on your weight and shoulder strenght to push the ‘adamant’ pedal down. Somehow, Hindu college arrived and that’s how I earned my first 20 Rupees. (I thought I deserved atleast Rs 50 for this ardous job!) It’s sad that I don’t know the names of my first customers but then how does it matter. What’s there in a name, said Shakespeare.

Once the jinx was broken, new sawaris were easy to come. At Gwyer hall canteen I had my brunch. (I had my breakfast at home already). Their usual rate for one bowl Chhole/rajma is Rs 15 but for Rickshaw-wallas they give 2 Paranthas and half bowl chole for Rs 20. However, I was denied this concession! I had a good food-chat with a D-school management student who asked me what I do. I was gagged. In my moments of weakness, I had to resort to something that I used to do 2 months back. I shouldn't have.

I noticed that beyond kamla Nagar, the carefree students or the shopppers with high disposable income suddenly vanish. All you come across is the working class who is as thrifty with his money as you are.

At ‘Barf khana’ came an old couple who asked me to go to a particular place for Rs 10. Other rickshawallas had refused to take anything below 20. I was in a dilemma. I wanted to help them but Rs 10 was too less a price. In a decision I am not really proud of, I declined them too.

Few days back, a hospital, took a 3 day old baby off the incubator when his father failed to pay the hospital bills. The baby died. Was my act somewhat similar to the act of that hospital? I don’t know. I guess, Philanthropy and business don't generally go hand in hand.

Anyways, I had come so far from the university that I was sure that I will take a sawari only in the direction of the campus. But when a middle aged man asked me if I would go to GB Road, I don’t know what made me to say YES! Probably I was spellbound by the name! For someone who is riding a rickshaw for the first time, it’s a hell of a ride. The roads are so narrow and the traffic is so heavy that you are bound to edge a car or a person next to you. I was fortunate enough to edge both and still get away with it! For a sum as meagre as Rs 25 (the man claimed that he gave me Rs 5 extra!) this ride was an utter torture!

From GB Road to Tis Hazari to Majnu ka Tila, everybody just tried (and succeeded) to fleece me. But it’s laughable and ironical that I am using such strong words for those people. I was no different from them just a day earlier, a fleecer! Probably it’s the effect of being on ‘the other side of the fence’.

Anyways, I somehow reached the garage by 7PM, paid the rent (Rs 45) to the owner, took a rickshaw to the metro station (after waiting for 30 min at the bus-stand) and ate a steamed sweet-corn. At the end of this lavish expenditure, I was left with NOTHING. Yes, whatever I earned slogging the entire day, I blew it up in 20 minutes. Rs 30 on water and Rs 20 on the rickshaw pinched the most. My very first ‘for-profit’ business venture turned out to be a ‘No-profit-no-loss’ enterprise the very first day!

When I was eating the corn cob outside the metro-station, a colleage, who still didn’t know me came to me and asked, “Sir Rickshaw?” while the one who knew me smiled, and so did I.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 1: The Day of Exploitation

With serious doubts still lingering in my mind, I left the house at 8 AM. All along the way I was contemplating if what I am about to do is right? Am I biting too much than I can probably chew?
But then I thought, every time you move out of your comfort zone, such a mental tussle is inevitable. Thankfully, I didn't take a u-turn. I parked my cycle at the Metro parking, took the Metro for Vishwavidyalaya (North Campus, Delhi University) to reach Raja Rickshaw Garage in Roop Nagar near Daulat Ram College.

Let me tell you that a rickshaw garage is a serious business, but we will come to it later (plus, I still have to know a lot more about it). After practicing the 'art' for 10-15 minutes and test riding a few rickshaws, I was assigned gaadi no. 70. yeh, thats what they call their rickshaws - gaadi! Respect!

I was now officially a rickshaw-walla, but there was a problem - I had no clue about the area. I did not know the routes and what fare to quote (I feared the under-quoting part more than over-quoting!). I sought help from a veterans and he suggested me that I rather be honest about my naivety. "Tell the customer that you will take him wherever he wants to if he knows the way and leave it to his honesty to give you appropriate fare" he advised. "8 out of 10 sawaris will be genuine and will give you right fare. However few may underpay you by Rs 5 or 10. But that shouldn't matter as you are new and after 4-5 days you will know everything," he added.

8 out of 10 wasn't bad at all. So I decided to be candid with my customers (as if I had any other choice!) and headed towards the campus. The nearest college was 'Daulat Ram' but when I reached there, I saw a mile-long queue in front of its gate. These girls colleges, I tell you, are notorious in this particular aspect. Go there at any time of the day and a train of rickshaws awaits you. I couldn't muster enough courage (and patience) to get into the line behind 20 rickshaws! So from Daulat Ram to Hindu to St. Stephens to Law faculty I was just wandering around like an incoming SMS when the phone is switched off !

Finally... Finally I got a sawari in front of Law Faculty for VC office. She was about to sit when I, very candidly, told her that she has to help me as I dont know the way. What she did? she, very dramatically, retracted her foot off my rickshaw saying that even she didn't know the way. She, my first customer, was swept off her feet and taken away by somebody else in front of my eyes and I couldn't do anything! what a pity!


Why I became a Rickshaw-walla

I have realised that,
The perspective generally doesn’t change from what you see, hear or read.
It changes dramatically - sometimes in a snap - when your skin feels, sweat and bleed. 

I have sat in a rickshaw a zillion times, but every time in the rear seat. This seat is very cozy. It has got a shade; good amount of leg space and in most cases a good cushion as well. When the sun is over your head in all its fury, nothing beats a rickshaw ride. 

But what it means to be a rickshaw walla? How does it feel to pull a rickshaw right from the morning till late in the evening?

I am a Cyclist and have cycled at times even 200 kms in a day pedalling 12-14 hours continuously (with refreshment & washroom breaks of course!) but these rides are done once in a blue moon, high on adrenaline. It’s just me and my bike and nobody else. It’s about freedom and pleasure. And it’s about binging too; afterall I have to take a lot of carbs and proteins and fluids to keep myself in good shape!

What’s the case with a rickshaw walla? How high on Adrinaline can he afford to be when he knows that pulling a rickshaw the entire day is not a one-off pleasure ride but his routine? It’s not about freedom; it’s more about being a slave to the circumstances. It’s not a pleasure ride for him; it’s drudgery. And forget binging, there are occasions when they have only enough money to either buy dinner or pay the rickshaw rent and you know what’s the priority!

However, whatever I have said above is just a scholarly talk, looks good in a research paper. Until and unless I be there, until and unless I sit on that saddle in front of that cozy seat on which I have hitherto sat, how can I possibly know what it is like to be a rickshaw walla? That’s why I have become a rickshaw-walla.

You realize what it means to be a rickshaw puller when you ass craves for mercy from that rickety broken saddle, when your knees and palms and lower-back pain incessantly, when your already bald head gets some crispy hot slaps from the furious sun (and it’s a suptember sun, mind you, not june!) and when you don’t urinate the entire day cuz there’s only enough water in your body to either sweat or pee and you don’t have enough money to buy that extra amount of water!

But honestly, I still havn't fully realized what it means to be a rickshaw-walla because at dusk when the real rickshaw-walla goes back to his shanty dwelling (if any) or on the footpath or bus-stand, i come back home while enjoying the AC of Delhi Metro so sleep on a comfy bed! I hope I'll muster enough courage to experience that as well few days down the line.

And lastly, the most prominent change of perspective - 
When you are on the back seat of the rickshaw, a hot girl looks like a prospective mate, someone you would like to approach but when you are on the saddle, a hot girl only looks like a prospective customer! The similarity however is - you would still like to approach her to say,....... “Madam Rickshaw?”