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…