Tag Archives: rickshaws

Each as they want, choose or feel forced to do.

Vehicles carrying animal and human lives line up at the junction of two major roads. They are in a staggered row, depending on each driver’s anxiousness or impassiveness to get going as soon as the light changes. The drivers lean back in their seats and spit to the side.

There, each person is doing as he or she chooses, wants, knows, thinks or has done before. They are at an intersection on the road, at an intersection and crossroads in life.

In one rickshaw is farmer and his son and their goat. They live in a dairy colony in Gurgaon but had gone to collect their goat from Bombay central, first arguing with a taxi wala and then rickshaw wala.

“My rickshaw is new,” complained their present driver. He was uneasy to pollute his brand new rickshaw with the smell of a dirty goat, at least not so soon! But was won over by a bribe. He, like those dyeing fabrics in Dharavi or those folding paan leaves in Mahalaxmi, is doing what he has been born into.

A child pushed a miniature merry-go-round made for children between a rickshaw and a cab, leaning with the whole of his weight and all of his skinny self to make it move. The paint was chipping off of the merry go-round: its colours were faded and the whole thing was not as joyful and fun-looking as it was originally intended to be.

The little boy is doing the only thing that he knows how to do, except for also being able to curse back at the rickshaw walas who curse at him for cutting them off. He came voiceless to Mumbai four years ago from a village in another state, but now his Bombaiyya Hindi is perfect.

In one taxi is a gaggle of Bandra babes, girls going out on the town. They laugh and pass around an illicit cigarette. The driver eyes their bare legs from his mirror as the cab jerks to a pause. The girls are too drunk on their beautiful young lives to notice.

They are doing what they want. How delicious.

A Sunni Muslim man sits on a motorcycle next to the cab. Behind him and sideways is his wife, peering at the world through heavily-lidded, kajal lined eyes. She’s hiding every lovely part of herself except for these eyes, and these she shows off.

Her sisters are more like the girls in the taxi, dressing modestly at home but sneaking off to flirt with older boys on the weekends. But for this married woman, honoring the tenements of her faith is more freeing than skirts or blouses could be. She is doing what she chooses to do.

An elderly couple stands at the curb beside the rickshaw with the goat, waiting to cross the street. Sir has placed his cane in front of Mam to prevent her from being too close to the traffic.

Mam’s fingers smell like the cilantro she rubbed between them at the market. She’s carrying a bag of ripe tomatoes and onions, unperturbed by the alarming price increase.

Sir was born in another time and place, slept by the highway and worked in tea stalls before succeeding in his entrepreneurship. No reason to have servants, to do everything differently now that things are different, he reasons. And so still, he walks to and from the market with his wife every evening to select the vegetables that she will cook for dinner. He thanks god that he does not have to worry about onion prices, that actually there is very little he has to worry about anymore. They together are doing as they always have done.

When the light finally changes everyone moves forth: some are faster than others to gun their engines (having had more opportunity or inspiration) and some slower, but each does move ahead.

All except for an orange tabby cat that is rust-coloured with dust. She had been wandering in front of the vehicles until the engines roared to life again. She jumped and hightailed it to a place on the roadside where there was a very pleasant texture of ground: round pebbles in soft dust. Rather than running the race with the others, she’d rather roll over there to scratch her sides.


From Bombay to Trivandrum in the night

September 26th 2010

I woke after a two hour nighttime nap at 3:30AM. Everything slept while I turned on the hot water heater and ate muesli and curd out of the yogourt container.

Then I phoned Lallan, a rickshaw wala who had driven me and little Pree home from a walk along Carter Road the night before. I had asked if he would come and pick me up in the middle of the night, to go to the airport. He said call me fifteen minutes before you want to leave.

Now, he said thik hai, mai abhi a raha hoon. I’m on my way.

One man who lives in the courtyard of our building stumbled to the bathroom. He wore a lungi and scratched at his stomach and looked as though he was in a dream. I saw from my windowsill.

Lallan called a moment later, to say I am downstairs. I closed my compact and turned off the fluorescent bulb, leaving my awakeness as the only contrast to the asleepness of the six other human beings inside. Opening the door, fluorescent brightness from the hallway spilled into the apartment, illuminating the the slight breathing movement of the four girls who slept in the front room.

The rickshaw hurtled down the bare highway in the dark, and I loved the night weather.

Of course I was first to the airport. There, begging kids put on a show of clutching at their stomachs. They shared half a bag of kurkure, divided as evenly as unevenly-sized chips can be.

Kartik, Prasad and the other girls arrived in a van from Royal Palms, where all of the Russian models and dancers live in flats together. The girls wore heels at 5AM and dragged their bags out of the van. Anna’s five year old son moved to the front seat with Prasad, and they smiled and waved and drove away.

We foreign girls joined a pack of Indian models and flounced through the airport. The models were more special than anyone else, and thus behaving like wild people people. A flight attendant asked if one girl was drunk.

Dekh na, Anjali has gotten a coffee! Kya VIP hai, wow, I also want one.”

We are having so much of fun!”

Sun na? How Priya hogs, how she eats! But still she is slim!”

They kept their sunglasses on for the flight.

Once in Trivandrum, we all piled in another van, folding the models’ limbs in half to fit. We listened to their CD for the evening’s performance, Euro trance pumping into the thick jungle. From the van to a simple boat, and a plain man paddled us along the backwaters while we watched Kerala’s beauty. The models continued their continuous photo session until we arrived at the hotel, ate fancy buffet food, and then went to our rooms for a nap.


None: not one person who can be everything to anyone else.

Ones: one God (or more, depending on the point of view and of faith)

One child, a kid that is only a cement bag with legs coming out at the bottom. He walks slowly up the hill. The wind pulls through the pastic and he sways, almost falls, too slight to fight. His fingers curl around the edge of the cement bag and he pulls it tighter around his body to avoid the sideways rain.

Some things come in twos like: Idli sambar. Two idlis and two spoons. More sambar or chutney will come if you put your hand up.

Shoes in pairs: you have to bring an extra pair with you in your handbag if you want to look nice to meet someone, as you’ll be otherwise wearing monsoon shoes made of plastic.

Two packets of sugar with coffee.

Two beggars: one kid paired with one baby, together two human beings doing the only thing they know to do.

Men fighting: it takes at least two. To climb out of their trucks or rickshaws and wrestle and swear, while everyone else stands under their umbrella and looks on.

Three people in a young family. A backwards facing baby is sandwiched between two frontwards facing parents on a motorbike. The kid is like a starfish, all limbs out. The mother holds one end of her dupatta between her teeth and sits on the other end.

Three keys on a keychain. Three rupees for a hot samosa in the train station, drowned in dhanya ki chutney. A fly shares your chutney with you and you don’t mind, hardly a cause for concern with so many other concerns that have been caused.

I have left four umbrellas in rickshaws and on trains since I’ve been staying in Mumbai. Carrying an umbrella had become an expensive habit, so I abandoned it, and now get wet.

Six girls staying with one Aunty in a 2BHK, with one bathroom. Near Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow.

Eleven rupees is the minimum fare to be paid for the shortest distance to be travelled in a rickshaw. If you give the driver ten, he won’t say anything. But if you give him fifteen, he’ll take his time in looking for change in hopes that you will just get out and go away.

Eighteen stops between Churchgate and Goregaon on the suburban train.

And countless crashing waves at Bandstand. Countless acquaintances, phone calls, visiting cards, zhopadhpati dwellers, hours spent avoiding and then feeling feelings, roads and galis, ways of doing the same thing, hearts, lives.

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