Rickshaw bandhan

Sami would never even get into a rickshaw, but that night he pulled it for an injured man.

During the many trips to my uncle’s residence in Mylapore in the then city of Madras, few things amazed me more as a youngster than the rickshaw – a carriage in which a human hand-pulled another.

Paradoxically, in the sleepy, provincial Poonamallee, a jutka, powered by a horse, was already in vogue. On one particular visit, I saw a rickshaw parked in front of my uncle’s place. It was painted bright yellow with a hood that was hoisted to provide the canopy. At the sight of me, the rickshaw puller sprang up and smiled.

After the preliminary introductions, my uncle told me proudly that the rickshaw had been taken on hire for their exclusive use. “Your aunt will need that. Her knees bother her much nowadays. Yet, she is keen on making trips to her friends’ place and temples.” True, my uncle had a well-maintained Raleigh cycle with a sturdy carrier but he could not use it to carry my aunt as riding ‘doubles’ was an offence in those days.

Having nothing in particular to do, I came out to chat up with the rickshaw man, whose lean, strong physique struck me. Perhaps, the constant drill experienced by his arms and legs while pulling the rickshaw, which a gym today would give for a hefty fee, had done the trick. He invited me to take a ride in his carriage. I shook my head politely, declining his offer. I feared I would land on my head if the rickshaw toppled over.

“You are like sami, your uncle, aren’t you? He will not get into any rickshaw  pulled by a man, though he approves when the ladies or the sick use it. But, do you know what sami did last month?”

The light in his eyes told me he had a story to tell. “Last amavasya night, I was taking amma to her friend’s place near the park. It was dark as the street lights were turned off. Sami was walking behind the rickshaw since his cycle was under repair. When I turned the corner of Kennet lane, I stepped into a deep pothole that I hadn’t noticed. I buckled over,  twisting my ankle. I writhed in pain and could not move an inch. It started raining and there was no one in the vicinity. Do you know what sami did then?”

I was all ears. “A strong ex-military man, sami bundled me into the rickshaw ignoring my protests. And would you believe it? He pulled it to the doctor’s clinic one street away, while amma walked behind the rickshaw. True, sami would never get into a rickshaw. But that night, he pulled it for this injured rickshaw man,” he said his voice choked with emotion.

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