My accounts class gets over at around 8.30 am in the morning, after which I usually take a stroll through the little bylanes of Musuri Subramanian street, pass the Luz Church before I finally stumble onto the main road to catch an auto. A couple of days back, I happened to chance upon a rickshaw parked at the end of the little lane.
A rickshaw. I hadn’t seen a rickshaw in the city for quite a few years, and well, I took a little bit of time seeing the vehicle.
Rickshaws bring a lot of memories. I used to come back home from school in my kindergarten days on a rick, along with a couple of other kids who were in the same neighborhood. The rickshaw wallah, with his big mustache and blue lungi would religiously be at the school gates at 2.40 pm sharp to pick us up. He would then take our bags and deposit them with a thud on the rickshaw floor after which he’d ask “Kalambalaama?” (shall we start?) and then we’d answer “Aama!” (yes!) in chorus.
The pace of the rickshaw was something that I loved. Relaxed, almost nonchalant. It represented Chennai at one point of time. There was just no hurry, no pressure, no frenzied honking. The world moved at the same pace as the rickshaw did. The rickshaw rides back home from school enabled me to make so many friends in and around the neighborhood who shared the rick. Today though, I am not able to remember a single name, a single face. All I remember is playing “Uma Joshi Yay Yay Yay” as we slowly passed the huge trees that were once all over GN Chetty road on the way home. Sometimes, the rickshaw wallah would sing “Vaadhiyaar paatu” (songs from MGR movies) as he pedalled, which always left us in giggles.
Although I don’t remember his name, I do remember the fact that his 3 wheeled vehicle was the apple of his eye. The rick was always shiny, and sported a kunkuma pottu and malli-poo every Friday and whenever a “bad boy” would jump on to the rick, he would give the boy a knock on his head for doing so. Sometimes I wondered if his rickshaw had a name, like in the movies. It didn’t. But it was a little something more than just a source of income for him. Appa got the second car when I was in my 2nd standard. Naturally, the rick ride back home was no longer required. But the rickshaw wallah prevailed, he would always be at the gates at 2.40 pm. He’d acknowledge my presence by giving me a wry smile from time to time, and would ask “Ennama Lavuniya, car innum varla?” (Hasn’t your car come yet?). It was almost as if I had betrayed him by not travelling in his rickshaw anymore.
I didn’t understand his problems then. Autos were gaining popularity among the Anxious-PSBB-parent since they were quicker and safer (or so they thought) and the batches were just getting more prosperous by the year. Almost everyone had their own vehicle. The faithful rickshaw was losing popularity, which meant that its owners were losing business, thus explaining the look on his face. Like I said before, this was much too much for a 2nd standard kid to figure out so I took the easy way out and thought him to be a “stupid goose” being so mean.
(Do you need a ride?)
The rick driver brought me back to 2008.
“Illa, rickshaw laam paathu romba naal aachu, adhaan paakaren”
(Not really, I’m just looking, Its just that it’s been a long time since I saw a rickshaw)
“Aama ma, eggumore moosiyum-la vekka vendidhu…rickshaw laam pozhappe illa ma…na vandhu meyyin-a Auto ottaren.”
(Yes ma, this should be kept in the Egmore Musuem..driving rickshaw is not a livelihood…My main job is actually driving an auto)
More small talk revealed that he was holding on to the rick for “suntimend”and was nice enough to oblige when I told him I wanted to take a picture of his rickshaw.
As I walked further down the road after telling him my thanks, I realized that sometimes, certain changes are inevitable, and even if we don’t really like them, we can’t stop it from happening anyway. Even if the rickshaw is redundant on the streets of Chennai today, it will always be part of Madras, the Madras I grew up in, the Madras I loved.