Seething fuming burning rage. That’s the emotion that dictated today morning’s fiasco. Even the 4th idiot can guess what it was all about – our ‘beloved’ Rickshawalas. An arrogant, self-sustaining bunch who behave like they own the darned city but plead money woes when their meter is down or when they want extra money from you even after having fleeced a million all day.
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT against rickwalas. Let’s face the fact that they form one of 3 or dare I say 4 lifelines of the city competing directly with BEST, Cabs and Local trains. The formula 1 pretentious b@$/@^d$ who could very well take the lead Bollywood roles today. And when you are done being stomped, pushed and molested in the BEST or the train and are in no mood to experience gross anatomy up-close and personal, there come to the rescue the convenient up-to-your-doorstep rickshaws.
So here goes. I leave home, running (as usual), to catch my office bus. My leg had been giving me trouble since last evening and I tried to ignore it until I saw my bus gently flirting with me on the signal as it took off with me in tow. The previous day’s flash strike had completely slipped my mind as I lazily stuck my hand out to hail a rick. 10 mins turned my patience into impatience combined with the realization of the strike. I wasn’t quite clear about the whole situation as to when exactly the strike had started and how long would it continue. To my relief I saw some ricks coming my way but all packed to the brim and others just swerving as far as possible from ear-shot. They did not want to ply and I respected that. But it wasn’t long before my supposed respect turned into helplessness followed by irritation and then a full blown rage.
As I walked back towards the Chincholi Bundar signal (this is a busy intersection near my house with a 4 cross road with all the main bus stops, corporate vehicle pick up points and bustling eateries); I noticed a bunch of rickshaws coming out of a tiny lane. All of the ricks were filled with at least 4-5 other driver-buddies and the scene was that of a typical Bollywood action sequence where the main goon is followed by his equally distasteful bunch of rowdies (hilarious looking too) with innovative weapons to teach the always lone Hero a lesson. Here they lined up one after the other and looked ready for some sort of movement – one that ruined my morning about 30 seconds later. I decided at first to ignore them and made it a point not to even ask them if they would ply to Powai. But then they began to catch every rickshaw, I and my fellow stranded passengers flagged down, right in the middle of the bustling traffic. It would seem like we had a hand in slowing them down and getting them into trouble but that was not the case. These guys were on a mission to NOT allow the other ricks to operate when they had decided to strike.
What followed was no longer restricted to the side lanes. They reached out into the fast-moving traffic without a care in the world for the otherwise dangerous buses and caught rick drivers by their collars and ears and made them take a U-turn and stop right there. It was bullying in broad daylight and no one seemed to care. The passengers mostly mothers with school going children looked helpless and a bit frightened. The drivers that stopped and ceased the journey right there were spared and also heartily joined their fellow bullies in arms. Those who resisted or made it clear that the strike was called-off were roughed up and made to stop. Two of the goony looking strikers standing at roughly 5’11” would take a step or two forward to show ‘em who’s boss. This annoyed me and I glared at them. My mercury was rising added to the fact that I had missed my bus. I didn’t flinch and stood frozen right there silently challenging them to what else would they do. Meanwhile I received two calls which I took and later saw that 2 young lads in plain clothes came out of nowhere and strategically took their place on either side of me. One had long wooden planks with nails sticking out of them and the other a black baton-like pipe in his hand. I didn’t think much of it but soon enough all of us pavement dwellers realized this no longer was an easy start to an already disrupted day. The rickshawalas turned violent and aggressive pushing and nudging us all.
I don’t know what the hell was in my tea this morning but I sure as hell wasn’t going to be shaken or intimidated by these ruffians. I had fought for the rickwalas and now I wanted to stand like a tree stump against them. I took pictures of their activities (didn’t know why at the time). Some of them saw me and hovered closer. I didn’t budge. Not yet. Just then 2 cops sped past me on their bikes feigning any knowledge of the situation. That’s when my patience toppled over the edge. The entire chaar rasta was a mess of buses, trucks, pvt vehicles school buses, cabs asking for fixed cost to ply and then these lil’ slimy rioters taking advantage of the situation. People had been reduced to begging and chasing and it wasn’t fair.
I stomped all the way to the nearest police beat chowki – the heat and the sharp pain in my knee hardly made this a decent walking distance. On the way I even called the 100 number (1st time ever) and a polite female voice entertained my complaint. I say entertained cuz she sounded like she empathized with me but I wasn’t the 1st one that morning. I didn’t trust anything was going to be done even after that so I carried on to the chowki. As I reached there I first encountered one signature pot-bellied Mumbai cop sitting and chewing what looked like remains of a pan and chatting with a rickshawala. My veins had popped from my head and I presume I looked like Tom (Tom and Jerry) when he has run out of ideas to either torment Jerry or dodge his tormentor. There began my verbal volley of subtle abuses and frustrating vocabulary. I was careful not to go overboard yet put forth how disruptive the situation had gotten by then. When I was met with “Maidum yeh toh Mumbai hai.. Yeh hone hi waala tha. Aap ya hum kya kar sakte hain” I put aside all politeness and risks of probably being thrown in the cell myself. I didn’t realize but I was yelling loud enough for the street to stare at me; telling them that as always they will only wait till some mishap occurs to ‘force’ them from their comfortable squat and take some action. It was not fair to make our lives miserable when their tampered meters got them where they are. The elderly rick fella by now gave me a ‘how dare you’ look which did shake me a bit I admit but I knew I wasn’t wrong. After screaming for another few minutes, cops from inside the beat chowki came out staring me down through their faker than fake aviators and assured me that a dispatch van will now head there.
I was relieved but not quite as I had finally worked up my anger and I had yet not physically assaulted anyone. THAT’s how angry I was. The cops offered to get me a rick and then looked around to see but couldn’t even find one to force me in. The elderly rickwala already there made a sarcastic quip about not ‘loving’ Powai which made me back answer him that I didn’t need his pity to drop me just cuz I couldn’t walk as straight as him. For a moment there I think I was going to cry. But I needed to be the strong angry gal who limped all the way to the chowki like a penguin and yelled at the cops.
Cut to 15 mins later I had managed to walk back to the signal and no one in sight. All the ricks had disappeared and the rowdies had feigned shelter in the nearby pan-beedi shops and chai stalls. Yes, they recognized me. Yes, I felt that one would follow me back and break my other leg if nothing else. And No, I didn’t care. This may not have been a grave situation with a direct threat to mine or anyone’s life so to speak but it did deserve a shake down... at least I think so!!