Motoring

On odd pedals and friendly rickshaw-pullers in a fast-moving world

There was something odd about the way he wore the rubber slipper on his right foot. It was half off all the while he kept his foot pressed to the pedal. The other odd thing was the way he pedalled the cycle rickshaw. Also, he would pedal only with his right foot. The left foot was balanced on the pedal but it did not move, and so, the strain of pushing the rickshaw forward came in half cycles. It served to double the effort he had to put into it, since it broke momentum and didn’t let him ride lighter.

I sat in his rickshaw a bit reluctantly. A young man, probably in his late 20s, he was themost undernourished rickshaw-puller I’d seen in a long time. He also seemed not to want to make even the most cursory conversation, choosing to communicate in gestures. I told him my destination; he held up two fingers in response.

It was a two-minute ride, and all along, his half-worn slipper was bothering me. Finally, while getting off, I asked him why he wore his slipper the way he did. He didn’t respond and I hurried away into the station. What are the chances that one will end up hiring the same rickshaw, the same day? In a big city, very few. It is even rarer that one will remember a rickshaw-puller whose face one has not had a chance to look at properly. After all, one sees only his back and he doesn’t get to look at his customers through the ride.

I was returning very late that night. In the dark, I didn’t think I would have recognised him. But there he was, the same thin frame, one of his hands waving madly at me to come to his cycle-rickshaw instead of the autos. And again, his slipper was half off his right foot. Again, I noticed that his manner of pedalling was odd: a series of half-cycle pushes forward. Finally, I asked him why he was pedalling like this. He told me; he had hurt his left leg a while ago, so he tried not to use it.

I paid him and then spent a week thinking about him. It is true that I am relieved that nowadays, in cities like Lucknow and Delhi, there are more e-rickshaws than cycle-rickshaws now. I feel guilty, especially when elderly or clearly undernourished men pull a cycle-rickshaw, but it is also true that I can see that the elderly or undernourished citizen is the one who needs the money most desperately. I’d rather give it to him than to the auto-rickshaw driver. Even so, this was the first time I had sat in a rickshaw pulled by someone who had had an injury and was probably still in some pain.He had been chewing paan or tobacco. He had been spitting too. And for a handful of minutes, I had watched him go about his life, pedalling hard, pushing his body to its limits, so he could make a bit of money and exist in this world. An honest living, after all.

I am still thinking about him and his rickshaw, and a city where a young man like him gets others to their destination safely, at minimal cost. What is the meaning of being accommodating in such a world, and what is the meaning of trust?

Annie Zaidi is a writer of essays, stories, poems, and scripts for stage and screen

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 4:00:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/a-two-minute-ride/article24564601.ece

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