Reckless Driver or Morally Cautious?
If you dwell in Mumbai, you probably know this, but, if you’ve never set foot in India’s biggest city, let me make one thing clear – Auto rickshaw drivers are among the most reckless and least cooperative drivers you’ll find in the city. If you’re involved in an incident or are fortunate enough to witness a live and tensed vehicular cold war, you’re probably going to look back and just laugh.
Unsurprisingly, I was waiting outside Andheri Railway Station, surrounded by the exhaust-filled air, where it’s almost impossible to get an Auto to M.I.D.C. during rush hour – again, dwellers would know this. Rejected by all, one man stopped his auto 20 feet away on my gesture of despair, like many before him, and while walking to him, I just knew he was The One! Has that ever happened to you? Hilariously, he was! I was on my way to work, finally, soaked in the monsoon heat and humidity. The first thing I did, as soon as my posterior touched the seat, was thank him for offering to take me. He was a man, in his early 30’s by the looks of it and was kind enough to address my naive doubts and explain why most drivers will always reject me after he said, “Is this your first time here?” in Hindi.
Even though my workplace was a few kilometers away, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get there, which pretty much summarizes the traffic in Mumbai. As the long journey continued on rough roads, he was calm enough to explain how Auto rickshaw drivers, who don’t own the vehicle, have an agreement with the owners to pay approximately Rs. 320 a day, plus-minus a few; and how they always want someone who travels longer distances, which makes sense. This information was buried deep somewhere in my temporal lobe but it was all coming back to me after being overseas for 3 years. Then came the best part:
We somehow landed on the topic of money, I guess I was too curious and always sad to know what they made after hustling all day. Hemant and I both agreed on the fact that money is a symbol that’s neither good nor bad, but a vital necessity and how many people attach it to everything in their life. This molds them into something else, beings without compassion, which is, in essence, the most powerful human emotion. Then, as I felt that he had bottled this up somewhere, he explained his past 14 years to me, after he mentioned that he makes around Rs. 15 – 20,000 a month right now and probably make the same if he took up any other job.
“I can get my job with my old boss anytime, I just need to make a call”, he said with a sense of pride. “That’s awesome, and what was that job?”, I asked. “I was working in the jewelry manufacturing business as a laborer, and occasionally, they made us work from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. in the morning for 2 nights and the third day we were supposed to start at 5:30 am” Obviously, I was flabbergasted. “What about your meals?”, I asked. “They give me meals there, but sleep is essential. I couldn’t do this sort of labor so I spoke to the managers about this. I spoke for myself and for my colleagues as well. I told them that we couldn’t work overnight and come so early the next day and needed good sleep.” He continued, “They said that I could have the second night shift off, but others? They told me that they have left their wives and children in Bengal and other places and come to Mumbai to earn, so let them work like dogs, why do you care?”
This just hurt me. How could anyone want someone to work like this? Comparing them to dogs was insensitive as it is, but 8 a.m. – 2 a.m.? What? Then 5:30 am? Is it me, or does anyone else feel that this is utter nonsense? I don’t care if they had the best managers in the whole world, clearly this was inhuman. “So what then?”, I asked after expressing my disappointment in humanity. “Well, I quit! How could they treat others like that? That’s just against my morals.” A silver lining. “That’s just not me. People who are blinded with monetary wealth just don’t enjoy lives to the fullest.”
He then portrayed a hilarious example, “Many corrupt politicians who gobble money and have these fancy things, look at them! They need 10-15 bodyguards to hide from the public because they’re scared. I’m fearless, I do what I want when I want, because what’s the point if you’re not having some fun? As a driver, I work my own hours, not under anyone, I drop my wife off to work every morning and set off. As a driver, I care for the public too; if I see a pregnant lady, for example, I help. There’s this aged couple that I pick-up every morning and drop them wherever they need to go.” This man is self-accountable and a legend in my books.
My point is, we always have a choice, no matter how bad it is. Your gut is ALWAYS right and questioning it only leads to mental stress. Hemant was not working a job where he had the financial security to leave as per will, especially in an expensive city like Bombay. Labor is highly underpaid in India, it pains me to even write this, but how do we change this as citizens? Everyone knows it, why are we comfortable while others work like Skynet machines? Agreed there are people without food, homes and the means to live, but still!
Self-accountability is making the choice and not having regrets, sticking to it and not let anyone telling you what’s right, wrong, whether you should work like a robot or your colleagues should. You make the decision, don’t blame anyone and just stick with it. Easier said than done, I needed a lot of help on this matter from a few loved ones and I owe them my heart, no matter how far or close. This conversation certainly inspired me to be much more self-accountable and after a long and organ-shaking ride to work, I forced him to take a Rs. 10 tip, got off and took a sneaky picture of his rickshaw for keeps.