Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Sacrifice of a Rickshaw-walla

Today is Martyr's Day. This day in 1931, the 23 year old Bhagat Singh along with his friends Rajguru and Sukhdev, sacrificed his life for his (and mine as well) country. Rarely does it happen that you get such an opportunity in your life. Or maybe one does get a lot of such opportunities but rarely does it happen that one has enough courage to grab it.

But are all sacrifices great? What makes one sacrifice appear paramount while for others you sing the legendary song of Elton John - 'its no sacrifice at all'.

Of course, sacrificing one's life for his country is one extreme and there's hardly anything that can transcend that. But usually, it's the proximity of that sacrifice which changes the perspective how you look at it, after all, everything is relative.

In Media, Proximity is a very important factor in determining the importance and impact of the News (except if the incident has happened in the US!). The heinous rape and the subsequent death of the 23 year old paramedic (now famous as Nirbhaya after the official stamp of Chidambaram during his Budget Speech)  which has sent shudders of horror, grief and rage down the spine of our entire nation, especially youth, got blanket-coverage in the national main-stream media, wasn't very high in the priority list of CNN or Fox News!

However, while the entire country was mourning the death of 'Nirbhaya', my best friend - Sanjay Turi - was mourning the death of his Cousin. afterall, just like sacrifice, grief is also relative. (I earlier used to write 'best rickshaw-friend' for him but I guess, now I can do away with the redundant adjective)

Munna - his cousin - was suffering from TB. This was his second encounter with the disease. The first time he left the medication mid-way when he 'felt' healthy. This time he promised the doctors that he would stick to the course without fail but he didn't get the chance this time. At 20, he is now survived by his wife and a 6 month old daughter whom he never saw!

But I hardly knew Munna, except for 2 days - one, when I accompanied him with Sanjay to get him admitted to the TB hospital and the other day I went to see him in the Hospital. I know him because he was the distant cousin of my best friend.

And the reason why I felt deeply sad about the death of Munna is because I could almost visualize the grief of Sanjay! If he would have recovered from the disease, the man behind his resurrection (apart from doctors and nurses) would be Sanjay! echoed almost similarly by Munna to his mother few days before his demise.

I must emphasize on the fact that Munna was his distant cousin, not his saga-bhai. And in the ghetto where he lived, were people more closely related to Munna than Sanjay was. Also, Sanjay is not a sarkari-babu (government employee) with bundles of black-money stashed under his bed and can take as many leaves as he wants because whether he goes to office or not, nobody cares.

Sanjay is a rickshaw-walla who has to work everyday to not only feed himself but to support his family back in the village with two small kids who go to school.

In this backdrop it would be easier to understand his predicament when one 'fine' day he got a call from his relatives that Munna's health is deteriorating alarmingly. He asked them to send him over. It's implicit that he will take take care of his food, lodging and hospital expenses.

Lets assume that Munna's family provided with some sort of financial help for his gesture. But for a rickshaw-walla Time is Money and not vice-versa.

I am not sure how many of you have ever visited a government hospital but if you have, you know how you have to stand in serpentine queues outside an OPD (Out Patients Department) to merely get that parchi (blank prescription form) which is the prerequisite for the treatment to even begin.

But he has to take him to the hospital and he has to pull rickshaw as well. And there is no "either-or" scenario here. He has to do both. So he started getting up at 5 AM. (we are talking December here!) from 6 to 8 he would ply on the majnu-ka-tila to ring-road route. Since the area is majorly inhabited by worker-class people, most leave for their office at that time.

"the fares are less (5 Rs/person so 20 rupees per round) but people keep coming so I don't have to stop or wait for passengers and in 2 hours I pocket around 100-120 rupees. If nothing else, this gives me a lot of courage and assurance that I would be able to pay back at least my rickshaw rent even if I end up earning nothing afterwards," he once enlightened me.

He would then take Munna to hospital in his rickshaw. get him back after the routine check-up and then get back to Gwyer Hall at Delhi University, his favourite adda to earn some more, if possible.

When Munna's health plummeted further, he was admitted to the hospital. for the initial few days, he would shunt between his work and hospital as frequently as we swap between the tabs of our official e-mail and Facebook! And unlike us (at least me) who get a serious hit productivity-wise he still managed to earn almost what he used to.

But it couldn't go on forever; he is a human after all. He had to give up pulling rickshaw to be with Munna all the time at the hospital. While Munna used to get food from the Hospital, Sanjay used to buy it from outside or sometimes his room-mates would get him some home-cooked food. Even his room-mates were missing him because 5 out of 7 times, he used to cook food for everyone. He cooks amazing fish-curry by the way!

He used to often discuss the constant dilemma he was facing - his own family or a distant cousin - but never once he backed down from his responsibilities, from what ought to be done. "I don't know, the moment I think about this kid, my legs automatically start moving towards the hospital," he said.

“If he gets better, I don’t think I need to worry about anything else; all my efforts would be paid for,” he said reassuringly but he was also worried that Munna’s health wasn't showing any improvement.

And one day, when I was in North campus for a Protest March for a stronger law against the increasing crime against Women, I met another rickshaw friend of mine who broke the tragic news of Munna’s death the previous day.

I immediately called Sanjay. He said, “Gaurav bhai, sorry, I couldn’t tell you about it.” When I went to his place where a lot of relatives, including Munna’s mother, were present, he appeared solemnly calm and composed. He said very apologetically, "meri lakh koshishon ke bavajood ladka haath se nikal gaya" (despite my several efforts he slipped out of my hands!)

Sadly, counter to his wishes, all his efforts went down the drain. His sacrifice didn’t fructify. But when in history has fruition been a criterion to evaluate sacrifice? Never has, never will be. For you, maybe he is just an ordinary rickshaw-walla but to me (maybe because of proximity) he is extraordinary and his sacrifice .... legendary.

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Can Change. Yes We Can!

My house is 2-3 KM away from Dwarka Sec-9 Metro station. Usually I cycle but it was punctured that day. so I took a cycle-rickshaw in the morning but while returning home in the night, I took the Battery-Rickshaw.

They generally run on sharing basis. It was around 10:30 PM so not many people were coming out of the station and very reluctantly, the rickshaw guy pressed the accelerator with just two people (instead of 4) - me and another young man -an MBA aspirant.

We struck a conversation and he told me that he would have walked off the rickshaw if he had to wait any longer. "Anyone of them (cycle-rickshaw guys) would have agreed to take me even for 10 bucks," he said.

I was stunned. "10 bucks??? Ok, maybe it's their majboori (compulsion) to agree for 10 bucks but would you have felt OK to pay them 10 bucks for a distance which clearly deserves 20, if not more?"

"yes" pat came the reply. "Cuz at times, they fleece me when it's my majboori."

"But don't you think you are punishing the wrong guy for someone else's wrongdoing?"

"World is like that only. It's unfair."

Topic changed we talked some other stuff and our destination came. I put my hand in my back-pocket to pull out a 10 rupee note which is the standard shared-fare for that distance. But he...

he paid him 15 !!!