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One person’s perceptions were changed after an encounter with a rickshaw driver on the harsh streets of Pune.
People who’ve travelled to India (especially the main cities) will warn you of the many “nice people” you might meet on your travels…and it’s enough to make you paranoid! Tragically, this makes us sceptical, killing the joy of travel and the spontaneity that comes with making meaningful, albeit finite connections.
For those of you who think these rules apply to foreigners only, well, allow me to sum this up — India is much like the European Union, with the only unifying factor being the currency (even more than perhaps the patriotic spirit). Each of the 27 states in India is home to a local and often distinct language. Within that state, several more dialects exist, meaning there are close to a thousand different ways people might communicate. This makes it difficult even for a local to feel at home when traveling the length and breadth of India.
I hail from the southern most state of Kerala, although I’m proficient in Hindi (the national language), making life much simpler (take it from me) to survive in other parts of India.
On arriving at the Lohegaon Airport in Pune, I decided to take a pre-paid rickshaw, given my previous “post-paid” experience had been a nightmare (read: “Nice people.”)
So I happily climbed into the rickshaw and off we went. A few kilometers down the road, the driver asked me whether it was okay to stop at the Masjid nearby, as the evening Namaas (prayer time) was almost upon us. So I thought, “I’m not in much of a hurry, so why not.” The driver, quite pleased with me, jumped out as soon as we got to the masjid somewhere in East Khadki.
As 15 minutes ticked by, I started to wonder whether this stop was such a good idea. My inner sceptic feared the worst. Eventually, the driver’s head appeared from inside the masjid and he came beaming at me with his hand stretched out to shake mine. For the next part of the journey, he was telling me how grateful he was that we stopped to pay Allah a visit. My driver was sure that he had removed the traffic jams (obstacles) up ahead. Though initially I felt he was going overboard, I realized faith does move the mountains within (or: what you believe is what you get, as they say.)
Anyway, so on the way, the driver still quite pleased with me, asked me if I wanted some hot tea. I said “Why not,” without too much thought. As soon as he stopped and hurried off to get us tea, a thought rushed to my head and of course, my mum featured, displeased. “What!” she cried. “Stopped for tea, offered by a stranger? In a new city?!…” Well, my first reaction was to note down the rego number and store it in my phone, but after my driver returned, with two steaming glasses of hot elaichi (cardamom) chai – typical of Pune – I immediately felt ridiculous. As we both supped the tea, he explained that the Hotel Ashok in Dhapodi is famous for their tea and snacks, and even shared some interesting history of the hotel. After finishing the tea far too soon, we continued on our journey.
On reaching my hotel, I gave the driver 30 rupees more than the prepaid fare and said: “Thees zyada hai, aap rakhlo.” (There is 30 more, you please keep the change.) To my surprise, he refused.
I was impressed by this man’s character and I was certain that he had no ulterior motive in buying me the tea! I thanked him, asked his name – to which he proudly replied “Afzal Khan” – and after shaking hands once again we bid goodbye.
It is unbelievable how one person’s good conduct could change my pre-existing assumptions of Pune auto-rickshaw drivers. I learned that not all of them fit the notorious stereotype. As Azfal pointed out (via his philosophical points) we should be just and honest above all else. As for learning a bit more of the local knowledge thanks to Afzal, I too learned the positives of immolating pre-conceptions and the importance of the clean slate.