February 18, 2018

You Came, (Am) Happy

The first contact with a rickshaw on a crowded and noisy Mumbai road, from the time you hail it as it rolls along the road and you get a look at the rickshaw driver trying to catch his eye as he slows down to acknowledge you, sometimes barely appearing to do so as he sizes up your fare worth, lasts little more than a second or two.

But to a commuter seasoned from travelling in and around Mumbai, that second or two spent taking in the face of the rickshaw driver, and his general demeanour will often reveal in surprising clarity the likely result of their attempt to hail it.

Faces say a lot, most times that is.

A couple of years ago when I saw Suresh Pawar’s face I knew he wouldn’t turn me down. And he didn’t. Soon I was to find out why.


“The main thing is the customer should feel comfortable,” Suresh Hemji Pawar replied in Marathi, his eyes fixed on the road ahead.

After getting into his rickshaw at Mulund Check Naka I was pleasantly surprised at finding a designer carpet cover the passenger side of the three-wheeler’s floor, a rare sight, my first in over a decade of travelling in auto-rickshaws here in Mumbai and anywhere.

Most rickshaw floors are bare metal except during monsoons when many rickshaw drivers will cover the floor with rubber mat to protect the metal from rains blowing in and from passengers’ stepping into the back of the rickshaw in wet footwear and umbrellas dripping rainwater.

Mumbai’s monsoons and humidity levels can quickly rust metal. In other seasons there’s nothing to cushion your feet from the rumbling metal.

So it was a surprise to see the designer carpet in Suresh Pawar’s rickshaw, the kind you rarely see in homes now, more because they need maintenance and people now are not only more casual in their tastes in general but hard-pressed mentally to expend effort in maintaining anything, likely driven by their soul turning consumerist, celebrating change rather than getting into the mach-mach culture of retain, repair, and reuse.

One indication of lesser demand for such carpets is now I see fewer carpet sellers making rounds of neighbourhoods where I live, used to live, and where I travel to on my jaunts elsewhere.

The design is common to Kashmiri carpets and used to be a rage in the years gone by when households sought to communicate a “rich” ambience about their drawing rooms centred on showcases, with pride of place reserved for the colour TV that beamed two channels if you were lucky.

In homes with windows brightly lighting up living rooms, the heavy carpets came off well, their greys, browns or reds contrasting positively with the light unlike in poorly lighted rooms where they would add to the gloom and dreary, and misery if the owners matched the mood.  

I’d find it hard to sit long in those living rooms. That was then when I was still cheery and bright and lively.  


I shifted my feet to take in the designs at the first traffic signal at Teen Haath Naka. The carpet was aged, holes dotted it. But it didn’t matter. What did matter was it sought to lend a living room feel to the tiny back of the rickshaw in the middle of rousing traffic bumping along potholed roads, cushioned by the bolster serving as a shoulder-rest on the side of the rickshaw. Small pleasures.  

While its absence wouldn’t have made travel any less physically difficult than it was, its presence, as with trappings generally, lent the mood a positive spin, maybe comforting even, as Suresh Pawar had intended. Pawar is a surname common to Marathas and Dalits.

Suresh Pawar’s rickshaw bounced gently compared to most rickshaws I’ve been in that rattle until your skeleton reminds you of every bone that makes it whole or one that is missing. The treatment is thorough.

I wasn’t surprised in the least bit that Suresh had ensured the shock absorbers worked well. He looked the upright, no nonsense, methodical sort who had his principles and lived by them, a not uncommon trait I’ve come across in some Marathi-speaking, Maharashtrian rickshaw drivers, a socialist demeanour so to speak.

I gathered courage and rested my back against the backrest, comforted in knowledge that I’d be insulated from the worst jerks on the road. I felt welcomed.

It’s instructive about the state of affairs how a rarity becomes luxury when in fact it should be given.

After all, the first thing you see upon getting into his rickshaw is – आपण आलत आनंद आहे (You came, (am) happy).  आपण (You / yourself) आलत (came) आनंद  (happy/joyous) आहे.

At first I had blindsided आ, the letter common to each of the four words, and tried to make sense of पण लत नंद हे before realising my mistake.


 Suresh Pawar had laughed it off, saying, “even when read separately (without ) they’ve meaning.”

He had a point. Though our journey came to an end before he could elaborate on the meaning the words had separate from आ, it was apparent if you could see the obvious.

पण “but” लत “addiction” नंद “joyous” (is) – read consecutively reads as “but addiction is joyous” even with a bit of a stretch with 'लत' 

Addiction to what is missing unless it’s to the hospitality as Suresh Pawar made evident with his “The main thing is the customer should feel comfortable.”

While  ननद (Nanad) is more commonly used to reference the husband’s sister, a term restricted for use by the wife, it is also substituted by नंद (Nand) in some regions of India.

I got off to Suresh waving at me as he kicked his rickshaw into gear, with an ‘Anand ‘ look about me the brief encounter had facilitated on a hectic day.

Other – 

नंद वंश (Nand Vansh) was a large kingdom in ancient India, dating 5th – 4th century BC with Pataliputra as the capital before being overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya. The Nand dynasty came to be known for their military prowess and immense wealth.  

नन्द बाबा (Nand Baba) was the head of a tribe of cowherds (Yadav caste) known as Gopas, and came to be known as the foster-father of Lord Krishna after Krishna’s father Vasudeva took the child Krishna to his brother, Nand, to raise him. 


Anonymous said...

BTW it is आ'लात' and not आ'लत' :)

Anonymous said...

पण लात(kick) नंद हे. It wouldn't mean addiction(लत) because it is लात as in आलात. Sorry for correcting.

Radha said...

The way a cab/autorickshaw driver drives is directly proportional to the condition and maintenance of the vehicle. It shows he cares for his passengers. I have realised that!

Radha said...

I generally find that cab drivers who take that extra care to make life comfortable for commuters are nicer people. They drive better, follow rules and are courteous. The same I'm sure holds good for anyone who takes care of their customer.

Anil P said...

Anonymous: True. It's a stretch. It had stuck me too. That's why I had added "“but addiction is joyous” even with a bit of a stretch with 'लत'". Thank you :-)

Radha : Yes, I agree. He had a straightforward view and was clear about his priorities. He sure was a nice bloke to talk with.