Auto-rickshaws are for me one of the musts of the Indian Folklore! The sight of one just reminds me of the whole experience as it was my daily mean of transport at that time. Most of time, the same rickshaw driver was picking me up every morning and then he was picking up some children to take them from a nearby school. Those kids were adorable, came from middle class families, very polite, saying “good morning” and “goodbye” and “have a nice day” and were wearing school uniforms. Once, our rickshaw driver had the radio on, and that song was on. The children started singing, when I realized it was one of my favorite songs, “Rock’n roll soniye” (from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, an Indian film that was released in 2006) that I have on my Ipod, so I started singing with them, …to their great surprise! Then the driver joined us! And here was a happy rickshaw driving around Jaipur 🙂
Traffic in India is impressive! It seems each vehicle is going its own way without considering others or even the rules, crossing intersections at what could look like any time, all driving really close to each other, whether it is a bike, a bus or a car, it is sometimes scary… but in the end, accident statistics are surprising, in a good way! Oh and of course, I was going to forget to mention that if a Cow is in the middle of the road…then only, the whole (Indian) world will stop to give space to the adored Creature. Even if it decides to take a nap in the middle of the road! The Cow is the symbol of Earth and Life and Indian LOVE it! Anyway, to sum it up, Indian traffic is an organized mess…for those who understand it, but I don’t think I am part of that group of people 🙂
However I learnt to trust the locals, and keep away from my European mind. I decided not to worry. Because even if I do, what will that change?
During my free time, to travel around the Pink City, I used auto-rickshaws which have an engine, if I was in a rush to meet someone for example, but if I was just wandering around, I liked to get the option to climb in a cycle-rickshaw which is led by a bike, by human power only. Because Indian people lived there and were into their routines, they chose auto-rickshaws most of the time to go back and forward between their homes to their workplace and vice versa. The cycle-rickshaw drivers were often quite old and you felt the weight of the years on their shoulders just looking at them, sometimes only wearing a few lot of clothes, because of the heat and the physical effort to make for only a few rupees, so I wanted to help a little bit. Arranging a price (cheaper than an auto-rickshaw) with them, and then giving them the price of what it would have cost me with an auto-rickshaw – after living in the city you know more or less the distances and tuk-tuk prices. I could not help the whole country…but I could help the few people I met on my way.
Some of those Tuk-tuk drivers told me a bit of their stories along the way, how they came to become rickshaw-drivers, what they liked doing when they had no customers during the day (drinking Masala Chai with their rickshaw-drivers fellows!), one used to go shopping for his Mom whenever there was an empty moment, they told me about their families, the other foreigners they had met, and sometimes even… their dreams, what they expected of life…
They all always spoke highly of their job. Listening to them, being a tuk-tuk driver was going out to meet the world around the city, where they could get to know Cultures of Countries they would never go to, listen to languages they would never hear otherwise, if they did not have those customers speaking it in the back seats of their rickshaw, and also they were fairly proud to show those foreigners their lovely city – because yes, Jaipur IS a lovely city – even though I find it lovely because it is now (in my heart) my home town in India!
One driver had even a guest book that he had signed by his customers, where the said customers said how happy they were about their ride when they travelled with him and I could see stars in his eyes reading the compliments, heartwarming, I swear to God! He even asked me to translate some French and Spanish comments that some people had left in their own languages, and I could see a smile growing on his face as I was translating them for him.
Also I think their vision of me changed when I told them I was actually living in the city and Volunteering. I was not a tourist like others, I was here to help their people the best I could, to understand their Culture and integrate into it, they could see my interest in the language, they tried to teach me a few things in Hindi on a way, and often, they opened their hearts even more…