Friday, August 15, 2014

YES, I am the Change!

YES, I am the Change!

Aha! Today is 15th August! It's the nation's Independence Day. Like every year all the festival like celebrations started since early morning as I woke up to the awe-inspiring speech given by our just 80 days old, dynamic Prime Minister from the majestic Red Fort.

Let's make the most of today, I whispered to myself and was up on my feet in a flash. I grabbed a toasted sandwich and harried to catch a "Rick".

Today, yet again all of them seemed to have something against me up their sleeves as they nonchalantly zipped past me without even a trace of willingness of accommodating my 74 Kg mass.

After waiting for over 10 minutes during which 20 of them must have went past me I now started getting into an agitated mode with the resolve of forcibly occupying the next one coming. I had already thought of an enabling move (read strategic jump) to time it perfectly. Here it comes and the counter goes...10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5....."Sir, kidhar jaayenge?" The chain broke and thus also my concentration as I was certainly not prepared for this welcome change! Change it surely was! 'Coz the voice was unlike any other I have been used to all these years. It was a "She", a female rickshaw driver! OMG, since when Mumbai has opened its arms for them? "Powai. ....Hiranandani Gardens", I mumbled. "Please come and sit", pet comes the soothing and reassuring guidance.

I set inside the rickshaw and found an instant likelihood for its comfortable seating and well maintained interiors. Wait! It's not just any other neatly kept old piece of public transport. There seems to be lot more to it as I moved my eyes around in disbelief.

I looked in front of the seat and there was a tiny 7" television set! The driver had put on the broadcast from the national channel which was obviously playing some familiar patriotic Bollywood songs to commemorate the occasion.

There also lied a small first-aid box snugly kept beside the TV. It had cotton, dettol and some medicines of routine usage, enough to keep a common cold or a body ache or a headache at bay.

If just this was not enough for me to have realized that I was indeed in a special vehicle, on looking around I discovered some more amusements. There was a radio, a fire extinguisher, a wall clock, a calendar, and few pictures & symbols of all faiths - from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism! There also were pictures of the heroes of 26/11- Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan. All of this paraphernalia had an absolute place holder for them.

To say that I found my experience until now nothing less than remarkable would be an understatement as I soon realized that not only the vehicle I was sitting in, but also its driver was special. I started chatting with her and my initial sense of skepticism & disbelief gradually diminished and as a matter of fact it got converted into an unparalleled sense of admiration for her self-belief.

I gathered that she had been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 8-9 months after losing her job in a major IT firm over some "inter-personal" issues with her colleagues. I gently probed as to what kind of these relatively innocuous sounding put-offs would have forced her to take that drastic decision of chucking a well paying corporate job behind and choose such a difficult life for herself in bargain!

She stopped the rickshaw after safely maneuvering it to an earmarked parking place, turned her back towards me and handed over a piece of paper to me while requesting me to read it. Following is what was scribbled on the paper.

"Rape ho gaya aaj to!!"

"Kya ho gaya bhai? Kyun subah subah dimaag ki dahi kar raha hai?"

"Abe! Suna nahi tune? Tere us hero celebrity writer ka balatkaar kar diya junta ne aaj"!

"Kiski baat kar raha hai mote?"

"Abe wohi jo aaj tak yehi samajhta hai ki usne apni life mein bas teen-heech galtiyaan ki hain".

"Oh, haan suna maine. Ek number ka gadha hai woh! Kab kahan kya bolna hai chamakta nahi hai usko. Ek na ek din to uska rape hona hi tha. Aaj khudne apni ***** li".

With heavy heart n moist eyes I just overheard this coffee table conversation of two of my male colleagues while pushing my poha plate into the microwave. They were obviously completely oblivious of my presence around. Or actually, they might not be!! Working with an equal opportunity employer in an intense n camphor-like volatile environment does make you immune n indifferent to such jocular n casual chit-chats.

On any other day I might have wryly smiled on this. If I were spirited I might have actually cracked a joke on it myself. Worst, I might just have shrugged it off thinking about my own deliverables in next one hour.

But not that day!! Even as the microwave's heating plate had started its noisy n rhythmic rotation for next sixty seconds or so I felt like reliving those brutal n soul crushing moments over n over again which in all earnestness I won't even dream of cursing upon my sworn enemy!!

Like another aspiring young professional I was full of jest while still in my internship with my potential employer & had indeed took it on to me as a challenging assignment which not many were really excited about. I wanted to prove that I was up for it no matter how it looked like to any one else.

That evening, very enthusiastically I was all set on my mission when my remaining life was forcibly pushed into a living hell by those half a dozen rotten eggs. Their otherwise normal looking outer shells didn't even remotely give me any inkling of how disgustingly smelly & pukish their inner yolks would turn out to be!! I just can't get my thoughts away from those few minutes of absolutely incomparable torture no matter how hard I try to feel strong about my will power n my resilience. It certainly helped that all of my family members stood like rocks beside me all this while. Goodness had it that in those unimaginatively harsh moments of agony I didn't see any of my near & distant, dreaded mausis n bhuajis who I thought would be only deriving pleasures of their lives by mockingly deriding me.

I gathered all my courage to start afresh & that day was supposed to be my first "post rape" day at my workplace! While coming to the office I couldn't believe my eyes when I read in the day's newspapers that those very same outfits which otherwise are perpetually at diagonally opposing views whenever in public domain have tightly maintained a studied silence over a 72 year old rapist who in all likelihood had killed the very self of a poor girl who might indeed be younger than his great granddaughter!! Such a bunch of eunuchs! Our political parties, which won't lose grip on even the sand flowing out of someone's fists but on this day all of them were showing what dog poop you are made of.

Why do people around me have to reignite memories of those not-so-cherishable moments which I just wish could be washed away by a Gajini? Why can't they just discard one word in their vocabulary for good? Why can't people find themselves accomplished in coming up with some other really witty or sarcastic metaphor? Why should they always be programmed to feel that this government has 'RAPED' our economy? Is it too much of an ask?

"Madam ji, poha garam ho gaya hai." I saw Param (our pantry boy) sensitizing me. Within next 15 minutes I had decided that this is not where I should aspire to make a career and I should in fact sensitize the society at large by doing something in public domain where I would get better opportunities to share my thoughts with the learned class through some routine work.

As I completed reading it she said, "And here I am to interact with people like you!" I felt so very unaccomplished in front of her. I didn’t know if I should console and/or admire her for her grit. With a lump in my throat I continued my worldly discussion with her.

She had two school-going brothers, and she would drive from 8 in the morning till 10 at night to make the ends meet for her family. I realized that I had come across a personality that represents Mumbai – the one having the spirit of resilience, that of work, and that of excelling in life no matter what hardships life throws upon.

I asked her whether she did anything else as I could figure out that she would not have too much spare time after the day's rigmarole. She said that she goes to an old age home for women in Borivali once in a week or whenever she has some extra income, which she donates to this place by gifting tooth brushes, toothpastes, soaps, hair oils, and other items of daily usage to those senior ladies.

She pointed out to a painted message below the meter in her chariot that read - 68% discount on metered fare for the female or handicapped passengers. Free rides for blind passengers up to the metered fare of Rs.68. "Sir, to celebrate the nation's 68th Independence Day this humble discount is 68% or Rs.68 for the entire week and it otherwise is 50." I heard fascinatingly.

This young lady was a HERO in true sense of word! A hero who deserves all our respect! A hero who empowered herself despite of all the vagaries of life which were more than enough to break any other hippo-skinned human being.

Our journey came to an end. 45 minutes of a lifetime lesson in humility, selflessness, and virtues of human will power.

I disembarked, and all I could do was
to pay her a nominal tip that would hardly cover a free ride for few blind men.

I hope, one day, all of you too get a chance to meet her in her auto rickshaw.

(C) Rits Original

p.s.: Beyond an innocuous reference from a WhatsApp story the above is a work of fiction. All the protagonists featured here are from the author's utopian world and any resemblance of any one of them to any real life flesh-n-bone character could be ascribed to serendipity alone.