Tuesday, 15 March 2016

On Madurai and her falcons of yore...!

A pale haggard ol’ man in a worn-out lungi, with expectant eyes, was waiting ardently for some good customer, to take to his cycle rickshaw amidst the hoard of prying autodrivers vying with one another, and ploughing their way through the passenger-arrival terminus of the Madurai Railway Station.

It was 6 am by my watch!

A Symbiosis ‘Management’ degree should 'really' prove handy for any sane passenger to 'manage' the throng of auto-drivers who are there at every vantage point making sure you don’t escape their prying eyes and trying mannerisms in the melee!

15 March 2016 Arasarady
After judiciously and sagaciously circumventing and at last navigating with considerable knack and elan through the labyrinthine of the autowallahs’ fervent appeals  and cries for a ‘savari’, I managed to cross the road across the railway station, to go have a cuppa Coffee at the famed Coffee house adjacent to the Meenakshi Amman Temple Road, when…

A cycle-rickshaw-wallah walks up to me with wistful eyes, to accept his rickshaw ride!

For a moment I was in a double bind! Should I go for the coffee or take the cycle-rickshaw just to make happy the rickshaw wallah! This is the pale haggard ol’ man in a worn-out lungi, with expectant eyes!

'Arasaradi evlo anna? (how much for arasaradi, brother?)'

Fifty rupees anna.


Auto-drivers were (probably) wonderstruck or thunderstruck, when they saw me taking to a cycle-rickshaw, after having eluded their convincing rhetorical tactics!

I climb into the cycle-rickshaw, and placed myself comfortably in the nicely made-up  coir-cushion, when i had one surreptitious glance at his legs as he was riding along – and I was shocked to find the varicose veins widened, bulging and twisted beyond measure in both his calf muscles!!!

Now, a flood or a barge of nostalgic memories of our childhood days, came crowding into my mind - when, once upon a lovely time, the cycle-rickshaw wallah was the ultimate, trustable and indispensable part of our school days, for parents to get their children in safety and in security to the school. The rickshaw-wallah not only gets you down his vehicle, but also makes sure he holds your slender hands with his rugged palms, and safely gets you walking down the aisle in the school premises – the promised Land!

How soon has the ‘thief of time’ stolen away the lustre of the cycle-rickshaw wallahs?

How soon has today’s generation forgotten their once loyal patron-saint?

How soon have people forgotten this three-wheeled wonder of yore, with a foldable-sun-roof which also doubles up as a two-seater for the grown-ups among the kids?

Where else can one find a beautiful bell tethered to a rope at the beck and call of the rickshaw wallah, sandwiched ‘awesomely’ between the bridge and the tyre of the central axis that goes downward?

How soon?

As I was on a ‘reminiscence-drive’ mode, the rickshaw-wallah hauled me back to my senses by starting on a conversation:

‘Why did you take a room all the way in arasaradi, anna? You coud’ve taken it somewhere near the railway station’.

‘Yes, but that’s where my hosts have booked me a room!’ 

Once the railway overbridge bridge came, he found the going really tough, and so I offered to get down and walk a decent 500 metres across the bridge. I must’ve been an amusement to inquisitive and curious eyes, who saw me, and the rickshaw, and the rickshaw puller in periodic successive turns and felt as much pity for me as they must’ve for my bird-brain!

After a walk through the steep climb, [near Periyar Bus Stand/Maalai Malar Office], he asked me to hop in, and, as I was ‘disposed to be gregarious’ this morning, I continued on the conversation with him.

Cycle rickshaws have declined in customer patronage now-a-days, right?

Yes, sir. I hardly find customers. Getting at least five customers a day is a big deal these days.

‘What’s the main reason?’

Well, apart from the convenience of a motorized rickshaw, old people find it quite hard to climb the steep steps to get into the cycle rickshaw, and since there are potholes or cesspools in some parts of the road, rickshaws tend to vibrate a lot, and give the shudder to the passenger, cos we don’t have those high techno-shock-absorbers for our ordinary cycle-rickshaws that you find in autos and other taxis.

Is the income that you get, sufficient for you?

God’s benevolence, I can manage. Somehow, life goes on…

‘You have any savings on you?’

A little.

‘How long do you plan to continue to work like this?’

‘As long as my hands and my feet oblige and obey me, I want to work, work and work!!!’

By now, my alighting place had come, and I had to wind up on my talk and asked him, according to the way of the world, for his number!

No ‘pone’ and all for me, sir!

'Just wanted to meet you and have a ride with you next time when I come to Madurai. That’s why I asked you anna!'

On the College House Road, to the second left, I will be sitting there near an old cobbler’s. that’s been my stand for long. Most of my ol’ friends are no more. Just three of us old timers remain,’ he said.

His words literally wrenched my heart!

Gave him at least many times more than he had asked me.

He just looked at me in awe, and he said,

Thank you anna. God bless you, he says.

‘Anna, can I have a photo of you?’ I asked him.

‘kandipa!’ (sure) and he obliged me.

After alighting at the Residency in Arasarady, I checked into my room, and after fifteen minutes I came out in casuals for a cuppa hot vegetable soup that is famous in this part of Madurai, when I was surprised to see the rickshaw-wallah still on his rickshaw, looking towards the door of the Residency. I was quite surprised!

the vegetarian soup haunt near Arasarady [15 March 2016]
‘Anna, waiting for someone? I asked with inquisitive eyes!'

He had somehow found a chit of paper in his pocket, in which he scribbled his name and his son’s mobile number.

Next time when you come to Madurai, you should surely call me! See you anna!

I was touched to the core at his love.

I left his rickshaw, with sighs that lie too deep for a description!

My mind started working overtime straightaway on a few thoughts related to the rickshaw-wallahs and their lives, and how society responds to their plight in general. In West Bengal, the government has interfered to set up loan facilities for rickshaw-wallahs to shift to mechanized rickshaws or to autorickshaws. Once the loan is paid in full, the autorickshaw belongs to them. Bangladesh, which is considered the ‘rickshaw capital of the world’ has doled out largesse for the rickshaw wallahs by the dozen!

It’s time NGOs with the assistance of the Government/Voluntary organizations, steps in to address the problems of a dying clan or at least give a sympathetic ear to their complaints!

A clan that once strode the giant streets and roads of all parts of our good ol’ country India with elan and with grandeur!

Let’s regale the good ol’ rickshaw-wallahs in our own way, by being responsive to their predicament! And let’s start the movement rightaway!

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