You can tell a lot about a person from what they notice in a rickshaw. My mother doesn't travel by ricks often but when she does, she notices the driver's face in the mirror; in case, she will one day have to identify him in a police line-up. So she'll sit and surreptitiously move towards the mirror and try and get as good a look as possible. This, of course, makes the driver uneasy and results in a very bumpy ride. But the big plus is that the rick guys take the shortest route possible. There's just so much of a paying customer you can take.
I have urged her several times to drop that 'I know what you did last summer' expression, only to be told that I'm naive. Since this discussion comes up after I've been swindled of money, a strong counter-argument is usually absent. The offence rests.
My roomie usually notices the scratches on the upholstery and likes to guess how long the rick must have been operating on the roads. Or that is what she liked to do in Mumbai. She has a theory that a rick's meter is rigged in inverse proportion to the number of potholes it has dipped in. Sometimes, when she jabbers on about these things, I wonder if hers would be the very first dissertation to get published in the JAM magazine. Perhaps. I, hopefully, would not feature anywhere in the acknowledgments.
Show-biz cousin always remembers his struggling theatre-days in Delhi, where he was once saved by a rickshaw fellow from a lecherous truck-driver. (No, I didn't get anybody's gender wrong.) But then, everything reminds him of his struggling theatre days - my poems, cargo pants, soot, Gulzar - in fact, strangely, the only place he hasn't mentioned his Dilli struggles is at Prithvi theatre. And NCPA does not constitute a serious enough theatre for him because of the patrons' affluence. 'If you're very rich, you can't smell the actor's journey. Then, you may as well watch TV.' He also says that a serious actor must be bankrupt at some point in time. 'You're almost there', he laughs and points to the spotlight.
As for me, I am a keen seeker of serendipity. I do understand the inherent contradiction. You can't seek out something whose essence is in manifesting unsought. But I love quirks of time or the crazy lemon squeeze of fate. Much of my little pulse-throbs of surprise come from the booming stereos in rickshaws. They look rather grotesque but appealing - like those monstrous statues with chipped ears and noses in Elephanta.
Many rick guys regard my dog-eared Mark Twain and deem me to be a serious reader. So they do not turn up the stereo. Some politely ask me if I want the music to be turned on. Sometimes, I ask them to 'pump up the volume' so to speak. Then, they are pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong about their notion of me being uppity and spoilt. And what I really love is that moment when there's a little bit of static in the air before the song booms out. You never know what song that's going to be - it could be something you heard in school when love was about pigeons carrying scented notes, or the song you were trying to remember while brushing your teeth but couldn't, or the number your friends danced wildly to on the beach.
I remember one night I was traveling home around 2:00. The rick guy was driving like a maniac, treating the open, empty road like an 'all-you-can-eat for 60 rupees' buffet. Then this song came on. (As an aside, I think they play beautiful songs in the graveyard shift.) This was the song to which I had spent many hours mooning over Charles Darnay in the monsoons. 'Dheere Dheere' from Ashiqui. I messaged my lawyer friend excitedly to tell him of this lost song that had found its way home. That he needed to be at the door to welcome it. 'I have to go to jail early tomorrow', he snaps. Oh well. But I was happy - snuggly, cosy, and sated in that blanket of memories that song had draped over me.
Of course, sometimes it's disappointing. At one time I thought it was a rule that all autos plying between Bandra and Powai would only play numbers from 'Murder'. So, I would take a rick to the station listening to this song. I'd cross the bridge and take another rick which would play the same number from where the last auto had left off.
One time, I asked a rickshaw guy to start the music. He looked at me sheepishly and told me that he didn't have any to suit my taste. By that time, I had heard the songs from 'Murder' so often that I could probably live up to the title. Turns out he had Bhojpuri music. And after listening to 'Murder' for two and half hours every day for seven days a week, I thought listening to another kind of music would be interesting.
And it was.
The rick guy told me that it was a song a daughter-in-law was singing to her mother-in-law. It had lyrics like 'my love for you is like a well'. A tongue-in-cheek number. Hmm. I would've probably liked it if it were not set to that infernal Murder tune. 'Folk music' he'd called it.
In Pune, I haven't seen rickshaws with stereos. But I have seen one with a slogan that said, 'God is one ....' (I swear there were ellipses.) And the next line went, 'Don't break heart, break bone'. From the appearance of the rick guy riding this graffiti contraption, the femur would be his bone of choice..or contention.
There comes this time in everyone's life, I think, when they see the world only through rickshaws. And I think, in this time, they see it all.