Road, Romance and Rickshaw-Wallah

Zulfiqar Haiderali

First appeared in Dawn

RickshawI was driving back home one day in a taxicab when suddenly a rickshaw appeared out of nowhere like a bat out of hell and clung on to the cab door next to my seat.

As I was composing myself from this sudden emotional distress, a stream of well thought-out profanity started flowing from my cabby’s mouth. And as if by the magical powers of those words, both rickshaw and the cab came to a full halt right in the middle of a very busy road.

Now I emphatically want to describe my ridiculous position of being stuck in my front seat because of the glued rickshaw outside. Moreover, this gave me a vantage view of the ongoing brawl between the rickshaw-wallah and the cabby.

"Can’t you see where you’re going blah blah...!" cried my cabby as he so expertly jumped out of the cab. Please note that considering the family content of this paper, the unrated profanity has been toned down considerably.

"We was going that-a way when you-man should’ve stopped and let us pass that-a way and crossed that-a way and changed lane that-a way and traffic was going that-a way and that motorcyle-wallah cut me that-a way and..."

I was almost mesmerized by this outpouring of poetic expression from the rickshaw-wallah. Indeed it was obvious that this was not the first time he narrated this prologue.

Equally in trance was my poor cabby who let this chapter of ‘Ethics 101’ sink in. Let’s see how in the world is he going to offer an appropriately targetted retort to this psychedelic rendition of nationalistic behaviour.

"I uh... was in my lane and...," he started his balanced view only to be violently abrupted by the exaggerated gesticulation and verbose rhetoric of the rickshaw-wallah.

"No, no, no... wallah... no, no, no, no... we is swearing upon the soul of my great-grandchildren that we picked up this fare at Delhi colony and we is going straight to Metropole and you is paying for it now..."

"Er... khan... what this has to do with..." my flustered friend-in-need tried to exercise his right of expressing rational thought. Too bad he’d flunked elementary psychology in college.

While this war of ideologies continued, I turned my head towards the back of the rickshaw to see if the ‘fare’ had any feelings on the matter. She didn’t. In fact the pretty ‘fare’ seemed quite incongruous and furious over what I later branded as ‘gulf between like-minded depravity’.

She looked at me, and before I was aware of my ludicrously stuck up position, a beautiful smile crossed her lips as if she had already prepared a humorous account of this incident for her friends later.

I was about to summon up my best smile when loud chanting snapped me out of the short-lived romance.

"…And you carry no respect for ladiss... ladiss is with me... you is not respecting ladiss properly... you is not caring for respect...," the rant visibly picked up heat.

A sizable crowd of our nation’s silent majority had begun to build up by then. And this development surely revitalized our rickshaw-wallah’s firm stance. My poor cabby looked at me once for some support in principle.

We stared in each other’s eyes for two seconds and he said something to the opponent quietly.

The rickshaw-wallah turned around and threw me a direct gaze. The whole crowd followed his look more engrossingly than Sampras-Agassi volleys. Heck, even the pretty ‘fare’ had a quizzical expression for a change.

Now I am no Oscar presenter. This sudden diversion of attention made me feel a little uneasy in the idiotic position of mine. They want me to speak, I told myself. It’s time I spoke. The moment has arrived. Can I deliver?

Tangled in this web of making the right choice of words and thoughts, I felt I had to choose between liberty, equality, fraternity and glory, triumph and resilience - all at the same time.

How should I phrase my point of view, I wondered. What should I say that creates the least impact and is most effective, too. Why am I in this no-win situation. Why did I have to give my car for service today. Why, oh why?

"Forget it, lala. It’s not worth it...," a sweet voice from inside the rickshaw sang melodiously.

A second later, we were on our way.