Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rickshaw Realities - The Other Side

We hate them.  But we need them.  I speak of the ubiquitous lifeline of Mumbai, The Rickshawwallahs.  I have written and unwritten this (deleted I mean) blog several times, sympathizing with the 'bechare' rickshawallahs and then casting aspersions on the same damn rickshawallahs.  In here, I ask the reader of only one thing – perhaps hate them a little less even though the most commonly used word in their vocabulary in the early morning rush hour is NO-GO, their meters are usually fast, they constantly strike, blow loud horns, spit disgustingly on roads all the time and drive recklessly!

For the past month, the lack of a personal vehicle has forced me into the rigmarole of hailing atleast 5 rickshaws before I get one to go and then inch my way on the LBS marg and the bumpy stop and inch ahead climb to Powai. I must say, these rides have given me a fair view of the other side of the lives of these supposedly bad guys and almost feel sorry for them for all that they have to bear. Perhaps there are certain myths and certain realities which commuters need to understand.

On Roads
Mumbai is a tough city (except the roads which are sadly very weak).  Bad traffic jams anywhere you go at any time of the day, do not make a rickshawallah’s life fun.  We the commuters, get utterly frustrated after that one hour of ride for the rest of the day.  Imagine being stuck on those roads with constant loud honking and pollution equivalent to smoking a hundred cigarettes every hour. What is also not seen is the health hazards that they probably face due not just the pollution but also back aches that the terrible roads and the very make of the rickshaw must give them.  Of course, you might say, they have enough vices of drinking and chewing paan and spitting out on the roads that make them deserve all the other health problems they have, but perhaps if lives weren’t as tough, they wouldn’t have these very problems.

On Havaldars (Traffic Policemen)
‘H&*#mi saale’  resonated with all rickshawallahs I spoke to, with reference to the traffic havaldars. ‘! Being stopped just for the sake of taking a bribe, or for pure harassment for breaking no real rule isn’t something we can take, but being gareeb and less chance of being influential, havaldars stop them all the time to extort money.  Perhaps it would be a good thing if they actually stopped them when they do break rules, one would think.

On MNS and the Marathi Manoos
‘Raj Thakrey, MNS, Shivsena vagere madam, ugich halla kartat.  Tyanna fakta votes payje’ –(Raj Thackray, MNS, Shivsena, create unnecessary trouble.  They want only votes). Infact, the Marathi rickshawallah, spoke on behalf of the ‘bhaiyyas’ saying they are very sincere and hardworking unlike their lazy Marathi counterparts.  I was surprised to hear the ‘Marathi Manoos’ say this.  But apparently, vote bank politics is something that every aam aadmi has realized.  These rickshawallahs, condemned the burning down and ransacking of the rickshaws recently of those poor bechare rickshawallahs who must have lost so much with the destruction of their medium of occupation. 

On Strikes
Rickshaw strikes lead to mayhem in commutes across the city furthering their image of the bad guys, but sometimes, it’s a few errant rick wallahs, which force all the other ricks off the roads with threats of violence if they don’t do so resulting in heavy losses for the day for everyone including the ones who cannot afford the strike.  Sadly, at the end of the day, with not much achieved, it’s the commuters and the rickshawallahs who both lose out.

On Traffic and NoGo
When 10th Rickshawallah I hail says ‘Udhar bahut traffic hian, No Go.’, I do want to tear my hair out, but the 11th one sighs and takes me in, and says, ‘Madam, what to do, People get into our ricks for a little bit instead of all the way, then get off in the traffic to walk off leaving us in the lurch in the heavy traffic.’  I can’t help but think, well, that is a different point of view!

On High Costs
Inflation has hit every aspect of one’s life in a city like Mumbai.  Although fares have increased to Rs 12 minimum now, still, really is it enough yet?  After comparing the local transport rates in other parts of the world, Mumbai still charges a piffling Rs 12 for the first km as compared to an average of $5 (Rs 300) plus tip in the developed countries.  Maybe if the rates were more reasonable, meters would not be as fast and the rickshawallahs less reluctant to ply between their non-routine destinations.  Where capital costs are concerned these aren’t too low either, with Rs 1Lakh towards the permit to be renewed every three years and Rs 1.5lakh towards the vehicle.  Fuel charges are separate.  A rickshawallah typically makes around Rs 700 on a good day of which he pays Rs 200 towards the lease of the rick and Rs 100 for fuel. 

Day vs Night
I had no idea, rickshawallahs worked in shifts.  Well, they do. The ones who drive at night prefer the day, since obviously the number of people who take ricks are more and the earning capacity is more.  The ones who drive in the day almost wish they did so at night when the traffic wasn’t so bad and it wasn’t so hot.  The night rickshawallahs are also under constant threat from drunks and louts who take rickshaws for the fun of it and threaten to beat up drivers if they are charged for the ride.

Most people consider rickshalwallahs as those ‘chote log’ and expect to be respected in return.  Granted that they probably do not earn as much as the one’s using their vehicle do, but still, I wish every person providing a service was respected atleast a little bit. Most rickshawallahs, have kids in good schools and hope they study well and not become rickshawallahs.  One rickshawallah I encountered from outside RK Studios, turned out to be a talented mimic who demonstrated his skills and gave me his card for his services in entertainment and hopes to get a break somewhere in that field.  What I am saying is, it’s time we stopped referring to the rickshawallahs in the ‘poor trashy category’.  After all, they are trying to get out of being poor. 

I do not condone the harassment that commuters are subjected to when there are constant strikes, are cheated and charged more and unethical practices by a humongous proportion of the rickshawallahs. But it helps to realize, not all of them are wicked. Most are out to earn their daily living. Hopefully, the next time I get frustrated due to the non-cooperation of this community, perhaps I could remember that they have their reasons probably to not go somewhere. Whatever it is, the relation between Mumbai and its rickshaws will continue to clash but the meter will continue to run.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mighty Chittorgarh and Blasphemous Indians

Massive, Mighty and Magnificent.  I loved Chittorgarh fort.
Morons, Miserable, Miscreants – Those Bloody Indians who desecrated its walls.

I speak of the Sunils who love the Nehas and are joined by that cupids arrow through the heart on the Ramayana etching, Chandraketus who visited the monument on July 7, 2009, Swapnils, Pankajs, and Rahuls who found it fun to use a permanent marker to scribe their names and present their autographs to the grim 1000 year statues. I speak of the Rams and Mohans who left their legacy on Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb.

I speak of the mother who instructed her kid to throw away the pepsi bottle in a corner of the monument and not carry it out to throw in the many dustbins stationed. I speak of the vile pan chewer who spit on most marvelous engraving in the fort.  I speak of the snacks vendor at the Rana Pratap memorial who discarded his trash outside his window on a hill which he thought was not visible to tourists. I speak of the literate but uneducated girl who did not think twice before throwing out tissue paper out of her car on the road after seeing the monument. 

Can we even remotely call ours a civilized society?  We harp about the ‘Mahaanta’ of Bharat and the rich culture and heritage and in the next instant trash it with our waste.  I am so indignant and disgusted at this apathy and this lack of reverence.

I had trekked earlier this year to a wonder of the world named Macchu Picchu to see some ruins which I have described in an earlier blog.  Those ruins, mere walls of stone, have been preserved with utmost care by Peruvians.  Peruvians who are from a similar poor country, are proud of their heritage and have not taken it for granted as Indians have.  In eras older than the Inca empire of the Peruvians, our emperors and kings were far advanced in their art forms and built structures which withstood not just battles and attacks but the test of time.  I could go right upto the Victory tower and I could only gaze in wonder at the art forms in the masonry and sculptures that were not valuable enough for the British to plunder.  But can we say that we have preserved them well enough? Sure, the Architectural Survey of India (ASI) has done a great job in digging out similar structures and maintaining them.  But what about the vast majority of the people who do not understand how privileged they are to be able to see them?

I almost feel India and Indians are not worthy of this rich heritage.  All these beautiful ancient monuments and gorgeous art forms would have been preserved far better in countries such as USA or in Europe where people admire, appreciate and respect them. 

Merely studying history is not enough.  Can we inculcate enough pride in our heritage so as to only be able to at least very mildly respect the wonderful history that still stands today and not desecrate it? If this cannot be imbibed, can more punitive action be taken against the cowardly sociopaths who carry out their ‘rebellious’ pranks covertly? Perhaps a fine of Rs 500 to be enforced by a wiry thin watchman standing at the entrance may not be the right way.  Can the government have CCTVs which are monitored and enforce more stringent action, say a non bailable imprisonment?  Is there anything we citizens who love and value our country can do more than turning away indifferently for fear of getting into arguments and then tsking tsking behind their backs? In this blog I speak of only our tourist places, but on a broader level, I question, why is it that the very same Indians who break all rules in their home country are able to even pick their dogs shit with their hands to throw it in the dustbin in another country? If only, everyone respected in their own country what they did in foreign lands, India could come somewhere near being called a civilized society.

A few glimpses of the magnificent Chittorgarh fort below –
Vijay Stambha (Victory Tower)

Hanuman 'Pol' (Gate)

Carvings in Victory Tower

Carvings in Victory Tower
Kumbha Shyam Temple


Padmini Palace

Jain Temple of Mahaveer

Meera Temple

Picturesque view near Gaumukhs Reservoir