Scraggly growing brown hairs, a beard that needed a visit to the barber and clothes that were torn and cheap. I’m not trying to be racist but I had seen my fair share of rag-pickers who looked better than Raju did. And yet I chose his rickshaw to reach the home of one of my contacts. I can justify it saying he was the closest one to the metro or his rickshaw was first in line. But I’ll be lying in both the cases.
I chose to travel by Raju’s rickshaw because he was the only rickshaw puller whose rickshaw wasn’t modified into a battery operated one. I’m not going to sit on top of a battery, no matter how much you advocate its safety standards. It was the only conventional rickshaw, you know the one they drive, ride or whatever the term is there for rickshaw that are used by means of foot pedalling. I mean, there were atleast fifty rickshaw pullers there and he was the only one who hadn’t tried the Jugaad on his rickshaw. Jugaad. Common man’s version of mechanical engineering. Apparently we Indians are way too good at it. So I had to ask. It seemed inevitable not to ask.
“So tell me one thing, Bhaiya (That’s the term we use to denote almost anyone we don’t have an association with), why you haven’t installed that battery based system (In reality, I used the term, “Battery wala Jugaad,” it just sounds more fun in Hindi) in you rickshaw?” I asked him.
By my entire nature, I’m simple and subtle but I’m no exception to stereotypes that the monkeys of this concrete jungle lay on each other. My pessimistic views, my sarcastic tones, my wit and above average education surely do not help. I’m a “cynical old man.” I’m absolutely certain of it. There wasn’t anything else to it, only stereotypes of the monkeys of this concrete jungle. And I guess, Raju might have figured I was another one of rich ungrateful men that generally used his rickshaw. Just another stereotype.
“Um, I don’t have the money for that, Shahab. It takes fifteen hundred rupees for the battery alone and then they will ask for some five hundred rupees as labour charges,” he replied, a hint of despise clearly evident in his voice.
“So you don’t have two thousand rupees?”
I instantly regretted it. Rationality came crashing down on me like a tidal wave. How do you approach the concept of wealth in a conversation between two people belonging to such disparate classes of economy? I could afford a lunch in a five star hotel. Raju, most probably, couldn’t afford a three time meal for his family of four. I can buy new shoes if the leather on my old one crinkles. Raju’s chapal (slippers) had been stitched in five different places, by a cobbler who most likely faces the same financial dilemmas. Since the beginning of time, there have been supremist, racist, minority, people belonging to different classes of life, what can you do about that.
“No, I don’t,” he replied, and just stopped. I expected more. I really did. And then people say I’m rude.
I should have given him two thousand rupees. I should have. But I didn’t. People like Raju don’t come into my life every day, faces like him are just too common, too common to be ignored. I was angry in the morning because metro was running late and it felt an issue so significant that I really wanted to file a complaint. It was eleven in the morning, rain had long stopped, sun was blaring in all his glory and I was sweating profusely. And Raju was pulling the rickshaw, pulling my over-inflated ego.
Fucking two thousand rupees.
And there isn’t only Raju, he is not the first poor person I know. I’ve known them my whole life. I just never did anything. I had a friend in my middle school whose father was a tea stall owner. Another one who worked in the evening at his father’s shop.
How am I supposed to finish this thought? By saying how grateful I am, or how pathetic and mundane my life will look if I see it from Raju’s perspective. Or anyone else’s point of view. Maybe it won’t be so, even he would be happy if he earns more. But I don’t know. It’s strange how little things which look insignificant on the surface ends up shaking our entire belief. If there is a god, we are not meant to understand him. He is too bored by us, I guess. I’m mortal, too insignificant, that is my excuse. You’re all knowing, what is yours? See, I told you, in retrospection this is the story of Raju rickshewala. Strange, how little insignificant things end up giving us profound realization on other matters.
I do wonder sometimes, if I’m the bane of my own existence. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start judging me alright, oh wait, you’re already doing that.
There’s distance and then there is silence, which one do you think hurts more? You might say that doesn’t means anything, does it? Hopefully, I might be able to tell you what hurts more. Four years of marriage, eleven if you count by my definition, and for the first time I’m aimless, not knowing what I want to do, not having any plans. We all say we know how it feels to be conquered, defeated and not being able to make any idea out of it, but believe me, knowing is not living. We can never fill the shoes of someone, they had their own identity and with it, a story. We can only sympathize with someone but we can never live their turmoil, we can never breathe their existence.
Distance between two souls gives you hope, it makes you believe there is a slight chance to remedy the wound, there is another way to make something out of it. But silence, that tells us our reality. Nothing breaks us more, nothing conquers us more than the realization that our existence is ephemeral. William Chapman once said, “A great future doesn’t requires a great past.” But no one ever says that the chains of your past never leave your side, they hold on to you, the sadness, the regret, the shame, the emasculation… it’s almost too much to take, but it exists with you, forever.
I was bound for distance with one and silence with another.
Not few hour ago, I was sitting on my living room, lost in thought, pondering the tragedy my life has become. My feelings were beyond complicated. And there I was, in that particular moment, comparing my self-worth with a rickshaw puller. And that realization brought a wryly smile to my face, although with a hint of sadness to it.
If you haven’t guessed it already, I am not good at making friends. So it doesn’t comes too easy for me to just open up to random strangers. I don’t make friends unless they’re worth the emotional investment. Raju couldn’t afford to spend two thousand rupees on something he ended up calling trivial. He had other important issues, he had three children, a sick wife, and a room for which he continuously paid rent. He didn’t had two thousand spare rupees but he seemed satisfied. He loved his wife. I loved my wife too and yet I didn’t felt satisfied. Why? I guess, satisfaction is something I don’t feel so easily anymore. And in that moment I decided I needed to be honest with Radhika. No matter what the consequences.
OK, maybe one or two more chapter after this, then we’ll be done.