But poverty has many avatars, and probably scarier than a rickshaw-walla. However, to become a rickshaw-walla seemed most practical to me. That’s because cycling is my passion. Last Diwali, I cycled 1000 km in 12 days across Maharashtra. Therefore, I was most prepared for this job at least physically, if not mentally!
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 have cycled, at times, even 200 kilometers in a day pedaling for 12-14 hours continuously (with refreshment and 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; after all 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 adrenaline 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 became a rickshaw-walla.
You realize what it means to be a rickshaw puller when your buttocks crave 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 September sun, mind you, and when you don’t urinate the entire day because there’s only enough water in your body to sweat and you don’t have enough money to buy that extra amount of water!)
And lastly, the most prominent change of perspective - when you are on the back seat of the rickshaw, a beautiful girl looks like a prospective mate, someone you would like to approach but when you are on the saddle, a beautiful girl only looks like a prospective customer! The similarity however is - you would still like to approach her to say,....... “Madam Rickshaw?”
Picture caption: Gaurav Jain riding a rickshaw