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   Living and working in the city... (August 13, 1991)

Living and working in the city, my knowledge of Bombay's auto-rickskshaws is limited to a once-a-year visit to the Sea Rock Sheraton (always to dine at the Dum Pukht, which must be the best Indian food restaurant in the world) ir a twice-year visit to the Santacruz airport. Even on these occasions, I do not travel by the rickshaws, but I at least see them on the roads.

However, I have seen enough of them to wonder how they will be able to accommodate three perfect strangers in one rickshaw. A family, I can understand, or friends, they can squeeze in, pile on one another's lapsÖ but stangers! Which is what share-a-rickshaw would involve. Fortunately, Bombay's subanites, as a rule, are thinner than those living in Bombay city, so that should be of some help.

However, I have travelled in rickshaws outside Bombay. In fact, in Delhi, I always use autorickshaws. The Delhi taxis cost too much, and besides they are hardly available except at five-star hotels. And taxis at most five-star hotels anywhere in the world are cheats.

I also feel odd sitting in a Delhi taxi. They are all massive Ambassadors, not Fiats, and there are almost always two people in the driver's seat, both rather large North Indians. Delhi's roads are wide, unfamiliar and empty, and the presence of the two drivers in the night is quite scary. Though I am told it is because the drivers are scared of customers so they drive in pairs.

In Banglore also I use rickshaws, riding through large scented parks, stopping in the city for coffee and Mysore bonda. Now the cantonment has pubs, and whoever has visited them are all praise for them. Though I doubt if any of them can distinguish a genuine pub from a Banglore pub.

But all these are autorickshaws. There are also cycle rickshaws. For the poor cyclist, it is a backbreaking way of making a living. In smaller towns, including towns the size of Agra, I have used these. The rickshaw-walla practically stands on the pedals of the cycle and pushes them down with his entire body weight to make the heavy rickshaw move every inch of the way.

Even more inhuman are the handpulled rickshaws of Calcutta, the city of joy. I am ashamed to announce that on one memorable occasion I sat in one of these and was pulled by an elderly man (or a man who had grown older than his age) from one of the interior bazars of Calcutta to the Esplnade. The road was cobble-stoned. The road was cobble-soned and crowded, making the rickshaw puller's job more difficult.

And I was not along, there was a friend sitting in the rickshaw with me. In fact, it was the friend who urged me to travel with him in the rickshaw and explained to me the philosophy of it. If people did not use the rickshaws, out of sympathy for the rickshaw-pullers, then the poor puller would have no business and they and their families would starve. So it was more human not to be so squeamish and travel by the rickshaw.

Which was logical and practical. Only, when we reached our destination, there was a big argument and my friends paid the rickshaw-puller 75 paise instead of the rupee that he was asking.

 
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