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A Ride To Remember: Mr. Anwar, The Rickshaw Wala

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By Pradyut Hande:

“Illa, Saar”, grunted the dour faced rickshaw driver, in a barely audible whisper through his tobacco-stained teeth and sped away in the opposite direction, leaving a plume of smoke and a bewildered potential fare in his wake. Drat! Rickshaw driver number seven had derailed my plans of getting to an important sales meeting on time. The twin thoughts of the arduous two hour journey that still awaited me and the flak I would receive for coming in late pranced around in my already cluttered head on that sprightly Monday morning. I stood cursing my luck on what could best be described as the remnants of a primeval pavement. My only solace was the fact that I wasn’t the only one being subjected to the caprice of the archetypal Bangalore rickshaw driver. A few others on the pavement who were being consistently rebuffed began resorting to desperate means. Lung-bursting screams, flailing limbs, hasty negotiations and what have you!

The familiar stench of urine and exhaust fumes assailed my nostrils while I calibrated my next move. A pretty lady standing near me was pleasantly surprised when a rickshaw pulled up beside her within minutes of her waiting for one. I am sure there exists a rule in the mythical ‘Cab & Rickshaw Driver Code’ that compels them to ‘choose’ a female passenger over a male counterpart! After a few more minutes of fruitless ‘hailing’, I began walking down the main road. Suddenly, a rickshaw pulled up beside me. A benevolent, bearded, bespectacled face peered out at me expectantly. “Yalli, saar?”, he asked. In disbelief, I sputtered out my destination to which he agreed to take me for an additional ten rupees. I got in before he could change his mind and off we went.

The inside of the rickety three wheeler was adorned with myriad stickers of deities, cricketers, film stars and believe it or not, a few politicians too! The mild aroma of incense hung in the air. A quick glance at the fading laminated details of the rickshaw behind the driver’s seat told me his name was Saeed Anwar. I told him to make haste as I still had an outside chance of making it to the meeting on time. Flipping through my file, I anxiously began preparing for the impending meeting, as we sped across the bustling metropolis through moderate Monday morning traffic. Whilst I was frantically composing e-mails on my BlackBerry (that wondrous gadget!), Mr. Anwar rightly observed in broken English, “Very stress you are”. Solicitously looking at me in his rear view mirror, he continued, “Young man like you today..always stress..only job, no time!” Although piqued at being interrupted, I was intrigued. I shut the file and got talking.

Over the next hour and a half, we talked about everything possible! Religion, cricket, movies, women, politics, business were all discussed with fervor. Mr. Anwar voiced his opinion most uninhibitedly. His depth of general knowledge and grasp of complex economic issues was astounding. He also displayed an inquisitive streak that had me groping for answers on multiple occasions. I learnt about his family — a bedridden wife, a college going son aspiring to join the civil services and a daughter for whom he was ‘groom-searching’. Mr. Anwar turned out to be a linguist; fluent in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and could speak a smattering of Hindi and English too! “I learning proper English now”, he said proudly producing a self-learn English book from under his seat. He told me how he pursued his hobbies of carpentry and kite-making on weekends. He liberally doled out advice on seemingly everything! From judicious time management to good health practices, from relationships to stress busting techniques! All this whilst he drove like a manic Formula 1 driver, attempting to get me to my meeting on time! This man was a repository of knowledge and wisdom, brimming over. Time flew by as we shared a good laugh over the current predicament of the Indian cricket team. Scudding over the pot-holed roads of the Garden City, Mr. Anwar screeched to a halt before my office in an incredible hour and a half. “Reached fast, saar!”, he declared with a toothy grin. I paid him an extra fifty rupees which he accepted unwillingly and waved a cheery goodbye. I hurried into the building, managing to make the meeting in the nick of time.

On my way back home that evening, I reminisced about the morning ride with Mr. Anwar as the surly rickshaw driver crawled his way through traffic. I realized I had never met anyone like Mr. Anwar. His supremely optimistic outlook, his hunger to readily imbibe and the astounding passion with which he embraced life was something our generation could definitely strive to emulate. Ever since, whenever I hail a rickshaw or a taxi I am reminded of the endearing Mr. Anwar, his thought-provoking discourses and his sticker-adorned rickety old rickshaw…

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  1. Kaumudi Tiwari

    This account reminded me of a similar auto-rickshaw ride I had. The auto-rickshaw ended up discussing the Libyan uprising with me!
    On a serious note, these people are actually very sharp and can stun one with their bang-on, intelligent and at times endearing observations. :))

    Coming to writing, I must say the way the writer provides the reader with a visual imagery and wonderful descriptions combined with subtle humor, is worth appreciating.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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