Out here in Sydney, we have a public transport initiative called Family Funday Sunday. Anyone with a child (s/he doesn’t even have to be your own kid) can travel on public transport throughout Sydney for just $2.50 for the entire Sunday. We take full advantage (“paisa vasool”, as we say in India) hopping on and off ferries, buses and trains, playing tourist in our own backyard.
But the other day, C1 stated: “I wish there were rickshaws in Sydney…” Yep, the highlight of my kids’ last trip to Mumbai was the rickshaw rides. By the end of our trip, they’d learnt how to stick out their hand and yell, “Rickshawwww!”
To me, rickshaws are a metaphor for Mumbai – always on the move, sharing a love-hate relationship with its citizens. They’ve been a part of the suburban Bombay landscape right from the time I was a kid in the 1980s; I clearly remember the juddering old front-engine rickshaws.
But my kids had never sat in a rickshaw before, so it was fun to see their first rickshaw ride through their eyes.
December 2013, Mumbai:
When we first arrived in Bombay, I often found C1 and C2 by my parents’ bedroom window, mesmerised by the relentless flow of traffic on the street below.
The autorickshaws always caught their attention. What were these strange three-legged beasts, their black and yellow bodies swarming like angry bees, their horns buzzing incessantly? “Can we please go for a ride in them?” the kids asked Nana and Papa. And you know how it is with grandparents – they can never say no to the grandkids.
The next day, we hailed a ‘rick’. My mum, my dad and myself with C1 and C2 perched on our laps. Now these three-wheelers are supposed to seat three passengers – but the driver will might take four or five if you can squeeze in.
The kids looked at me quizzically: “Where are the seatbelts?” they asked. “Where are the doors?” But there was no time to answer; the driver had gunned the motor and we lurched forward.
While the lorries and trucks have their baffling ‘Horn OK Please’ emblazoned on their backsides, the rickshaw drivers jazz up their vehicles in their own style. Some might have an idol adorned with a garland and incense sticks. Some might go ritzy with plush velvet seat covers.
Our rickshaw had this cryptic saying painted on the back: “Love is a sweet poison”. I’ll let you ponder over that one.
Getting to our driver. He was fuelled by a burning desire to get to our destination in record time – even if it killed us. He swerved and swooped, weaving in and out of traffic. Rules? What rules? As we hung onto our seats for dear life, our thoughts turning religious: ‘Jesus! This driver is a maniac.’ ‘God Almighty, we’re going to crash!’
All attempts to get him to slow down proved futile. He’d turned on his music, effectively drowning our protests with the latest Bollywood hits blaring from the back. C1 and C2 clamped their hands onto their ears.
As we bumped over potholes the size of craters, I could swear my internal organs had swapped places; how else could I have had my heart in my mouth?
The rickshaw finally screeched to a halt at our destination. We tumbled out a bit dazed and confused. As my dad paid the fare according to the meter, the kids pleaded with Nana and Papa, “Can we go on another rickshaw ride, plllllease?”
So tell me, have you ever been on a rickshaw ride? Or a tuk-tuk? Any strange transport trips you’ve taken? Please share!