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.