Every time I’m bored of life, moaning about what I have or what I don’t have, I take a rickshaw ride into the unknown. A rickshaw ride, out here, in the back of beyond, is full of adventure and all kinds of games.
The first game we play, the rickshaw driver and I, is ’20 Questions’ even though I usually know all the answers.
“Where are you from?”
“U.P., Madam/ Didi/ Aunty”
Depending on whether he’s called me Madam or Didi or Aunty, I decide to proceed further. Of course, any rickshaw driver who dares to call me Aunty, can expect no further conversation from me.
As the rickety racket of the rickshaw gets more rackety, I ask, ” Why don’t you get the rickshaw repaired?”
He laughs, or grunts, or stammers apologetically, as the case may be. But the answer is always the same.
“I am only the driver, Madam/Didi”
“Then why doesn’t the owner get it …” I stop mid-way, already exasperated.
“Oh, there’s no time. The rickshaw’s always riding, Madam/Didi. 3 shifts, 24 hours. We take turns.”
“Is he proud of that, or what?”, I think grumpily. As we approach the signal, a new guessing game starts. Will we or won’t we stop exactly near the exhaust pipes of a truck? As there are more than enough trucks to go around, and as the height of the rickshaw is just right, I get my fix of carbon monoxide without much grief, actually. The smell of the fumes mix with the smell of my perfume, and the smell of the rexine seat, and make me quite faint, though alas, not with ecstasy.
The signal changes. I shout above the din of wind and rickety racket.
“Do you have a license?”
“Naw!” Shyly, that. Of course not. What was I thinking?
“No, Madam/Didi. Am just learning. That’s why I drive in this area. The police don’t catch so much here.”
I’m honored to be useful, surely, in this young man’s pursuit of gainful employment. In the meanwhile, I pluck imaginary petals from imaginary daisies – “Today I’ll live, today I’ll die, I’ll live, die, live, live, die, die”, as we hurtle across the highway, up the fly-over, down the fly-over, faster and faster.