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.
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.
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.