Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mumbai Meri Jaan - II

Beg to Differ

The Friday before the one to be described, thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I had tried a rickshaw ride from the campus to the Mulund railway station. It had cost me Rs. 96/-. However, I had caught the air of luxury in it compared to the crowded trains and now I was tempted once again to do the same. The fact that I had only a Rs. 100/- note with me did not really matter. So I called up the nearest rickshaw and claimed my destination. The driver agreed. We mutually agreed that I was not to pay any amount greater than Rs. 100/- to him and he promised that it would not be more than Rs. 90/-. Maybe the traffic would be less today, I concluded.

The traffic, however, disappointed me. When I look back at it, the traffic was no different from the previous one I faced - a moderate one, but with enough entertainment. Beggars they were termed. What they provided was entertainment for the unfortunate ones stuck in the long vehicular queues.

The first one that came was a young boy wearing blue shorts and with a bare chest that had the ribs poking out. He walked with a limp and held out his hands with the palm exposed and the fingers folded, the classical beggar’s hold. For two reasons, I preferred not help him. One that helping him would attract more of his kind to extort money from me– something I was really short of. Secondly, that kid was faking the limp and I was sure of it. You could never trust these filthy little creatures of the underworld. He could not fool me and gain my sympathy.

The second one was a lady carrying a baby and holding a small plate. She repeatedly pointed to her mouth and then the baby to indicate that the baby had not had food for a couple of days. A photo of a God with some red powder smeared on it was the only content in the plate apart from some coins of various values. So now this crook was trying to invoke my sympathies by targeting my religious sentiments and the human being inside me. Not to be trusted was the verdict and I simply ignored her.

The first traffic signal had been crossed and now there was yet another one to go. As we came to a halt at the second one, there they came running towards us. A group of children, with some fancy stuff, detached and each of them ran towards a different potential customer. The one that chose me was selling some pencil flashlights.

“Saab, chinese hai. Sirf paanch rupaiye mein milega. Lelo saab. Aise item aapko market mein kahin nahi milega”

Yeah, he was telling the truth. His wares were not items to be found in the markets. Chinese flashlights were not only ‘use and throw’ but were also ‘use once and throw forever’. I asked him to get lost. He ran towards the next rickshaw in the line.

As the group began to recede towards the rear of the queue, the responsibility of keeping the front end engaged was taken up by a bhajan singing, harmonium playing old man who supposed to be blind and was by being guided by a young girl who did the money collection for him. Before he reached me, my driver asked me, “Saab seedha jaana hai ki right jaana hai”

Suddenly, I remembered this signal. After crossing it, within seconds came a turn to the right along the main road. Last time the driver had asked me I told him to take me along the path that was the nearest. But now I could not recollect the way he took me. Was it straight or was it right? I had a feeling that it was the straight path he took me but I was not sure. So I asked my present driver to do the same thing – to take me along the shortest path.

Though I was momentarily distracted by the driver’s question, I turned back my attention to the singing old man. So far he seemed to do earn more money than the others. I attributed his success more to his irritating, crude voice than any sympathy on the side of the giver. What a brilliant fake! For sure he was not blind. And he could never even sing in the bathroom in hundred years. The sound of keyboard when I type on it was more music than what was coming out of that harmonium. I was tempted to test his blindness. I had to think up something clever before he came near.

But then the signal turned green and my rickshaw picked up speed. A nearby taxi, too, started. Maybe the driver of the taxi shared my thoughts as he accelerated straight towards the old man.

The girl jumped out of the way and left the old man in front of the taxi. An able man would have easily moved out of the way as the girl had done. But it seemed that the honking of horns from all around him confused the blind man and he was hit by the taxi. He fell on the road. I could see no injuries on him as I passed him. I asked my driver to stop but he refused stating a possible major traffic block.

I sat back on my seat and my first thought was,’So the man was blind after all’. And then it came to me, ‘The Chinese flashlights would have lasted longer and the boy must have been telling the truth after all’ and ‘The baby must not have any food in the past few days as it’s mother was too poor to feed it after all’ and also ‘The boy must have had a limp after all’…

I felt guilty. Not only had I not helped them but I had accused them of being the filthy creatures of the underworld who entertained us at the traffic signals.

And I missed the turn that my driver took. I was sure that it was not the same route through which I was taken last time. Now was the driver cheating me? Better not jump to conclusions was the lesson I had just learnt.

And all of a sudden the rickshaw came to a halt. The station was there right in front of me. Earlier than expected. I had a look at the meter and it displayed the figure 76.

And then the second realization came to me. It was not this driver who was trying to cheat me, it was my last driver who had cheated me of about Rs. 20/-. I paid the amount and walked towards the station. And on my way, the engineer in me did some maths. Had I paid an amount of Rs. 5/- to the four people I had encountered on my way, I would have lost a total of Rs.20/-, the amount the previous driver made of me. So basically the four of them were the ones who lost it and not me.

I am a Mumbaikar, I don’t care when people get hit, I don’t care when people beg and I don’t care when somebody cheats someone because I always come up with solutions and I am never at fault. Apathy is a religion here.

The funny thing is I still do not know whether to go straight or right.

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