It was not expected to rain that day. I had finished some meetings and wanted to desperately get back to our guesthouse when the rain caught me unaware. Getting down from an auto, I promptly darted to the nearest rickshaw. My bald head is not accustomed to summer rain, and since there was little support from above, I was slowly getting wet below.
How much for a quick drop to xyz? Saab, barish ho raha hai, aap baithiye, jo denge le lenge. (Sir, its raining. You sit and make yourself comfortable. Whatever you give, I will take). His response affected me at multiple levels that evening in Patna. I did not expect this kind of kindness from a rickshaw puller. Can the poor be kind too, asked my English education and blackberry life! So I got on a rickshaw on a rainy evening in Patna and the rickshaw puller started pedaling. He was getting wet while I was saved from the showers. Something clicked in me. I wanted to know more about such people, who lived very different lives than mine.
So how much do you earn in a day?
There are no guarantees sir. Some days nothing.
What do you mean nothing?
There are days when no one choses a rickshaw, they go by autos. And there are days when I am not healthy enough to pedal.
Where do you live? Is it some slum somewhere?
Sir, I sleep in the corridor of Canara Bank. We cannot afford shelter in cities.
How much do you save?
Very little. When you don't have a place to sleep, you learn to spend what you earn, else, someone will rob you when you are sleeping!
By this time, I had reached my destination. As I got down, the rain was still falling but it did not feel as if it were an issue. I gave a considerably big tip and wished him luck. As I was moving into our premises, he called me back and said something I still never forget.
He had that big note I gave in his hand and he said..."sir, once I had land and a happy life. And then my youngest son fell ill. After which, my wife fell ill. I sold my land and spent seven lac treating them. Both live and my sons will soon be doing ok. My ship is going through turbulent times, but I will reach the shores sir. One day, I will reclaim my life again. Thank you for your kindness."
This short encounter had changed something in me forever. I hope it helps you in some ways as well. The next time a rickshaw guy haggles for an additional 10 rupee, give it to him with love. It is the amount that might help him go through this unforgiving life for one more day. You never know.