Missing my morning walk for reasons irrelevant here, I opted for the evening stroll around the lakes. The rains resumed, pushing me to a nearest ironing kiosk. I was not alone. Seated on an inverted bucket was a rustic person wearing a vest and lungi, with a simple towel over his shoulder. The hand-pulled rickshaw near the kerb revealed the profession of the other refugee.
I looked up, and saw no signs of any let-up from the downpour anytime soon and thought let me do my most preferred job, of interviewing a poor citizen, who had as much a valued vote as me, but had much lesser voice. What tickled my curiosity was a sacred thread he was sporting, which announced its presence from beneath the large holes of his vest.
I asked him if he was a Brahmin, not to establish my prompt brotherhood of denied opportunities with modern India, but merely to know the extent of the plight of the community on continued denial of opportunities in education and employment. No, he was not a Brahmin, but a Kasera, listed as other backward classes in Bihar. He was awarded the thread during the marriage ceremony of his daughter, as is customary, which the priest never told him to took out and therefore he adorns the same.
The rickshaw, that wasn’t in the best of its health, was a hired one, as most of them in the city are. I relooked at the magic vehicle during any floods – faded paints, tattered sheets, torn wind shield, exposed coconut fibers from the handle showed utter discrimination by its owners, much like the nation on able bodied poor persons. The hire charges cost him Rs.150 and he earned an additional Rs.200 on an average daily of which the food costs take away Rs.100 per day, though a few of them live in a garage, offered gratis by a kind hearted Bengali family of our neighbourhood, who have sold their car for good.
I thought sadly over the vociferous claims by the politicians on the cheap cost of food for the poor, some claiming as low as Rs.5/-, and lamented at the disconnect of the 5 star lawmakers of our country with reality. He had broken his hand three years ago, which required a plaster, and which he had to tear off prematurely to resume his work for the sake of remitting some money to his family back home.
For the next 20-25 minutes, he kept me spell bound on various issues like economy, politics from his perspective and especially the good virtues of liquor banning in Bihar by the present Chief Minister, Shri Nitish Kumar saving the marriage of his daughter’s marriage.
Periodically we hear that the state government is going to ban the rickshaws from Kolkata. Before doing that, a survey has to be made of these hapless refugees looking for an honest means of livelihood in their ever-condescending neighbouring state of West Bengal. Introducing some kind of medical insurance to safeguard their income in case of accidents, deaths or serious illness should also be looked into. Lastly the hand pulled rickshaws should be replaced with motorized ones.
The rain was a mere tolerable drizzle now, as I bid him goodbye. He offered me a free lift until the crossing of the street, where I live, justifying that he would in any way be going in that direction. I hurriedly sifted from my wallet and offered him what I considered a reward for his simplicity, which he politely declined to accept. I waved and returned with a heavy heart and moist eyes.