Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2018

Rickshaw bandhan

by J.S. Raghavan. Sketch by Aras

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That sooner or later a person gets sentimentally attached to the animal that carries him safely is exemplified by the caring pat a cowboy would give his animal on its flanks after dismounting. Lochinvar would have embraced its neck, after he rode into the wedding venue and galloped away abducting his fair lady Helen betrothed to a misfit.

However, long after all such horses had ridden into the sunset, we had in reality buses, cars and trams in Madras to ride – plus horse driven carriages, called by J.S. Raghavan Sketch by Aras . Also as cheap means of transport, rickshaws pulled by men.

During summer recess, I used to visit my uncle in Mylapore. He was staying in a rented house in Oliver Road, (now Musiri Subramnian street) adjacent to Vivekananda College. A vannan thurai was nearby, where men and women washed the dirty linen of the area not in public but within closed premises. Two to three donkeys, the beasts of burden, would always stand as sentinels outside, their shaggy heads bent, lost in asinine meditation. Surly one used to bray whenever I passed their haunt. A surly kickass!

Once, I was surprised to see a rickshaw parked near uncle’s gate. I knew he was against the concept of a man pulling another man. Or men carrying devotees in dollies uphill for worship. Then why this rickshawman who was wiry with curly hair, smelling strongly of a combo of arrack, beedi and honest sweat here? I learnt that his name was Palani and he cleared the mystery before long.

No, ayya will not travel in his or any rickshaw. No way. But it was meant for amma, who gave Carnatic music lessons to girls in the area of marriageable age. She had a divine voice and so was very much in demand. As a clincher, the wedding of most of  the girls who took lessons from her, got fixed within a very short time after the start of the  first lesson, much to the delight and relief of the girls’ parents.

I heard that If uncle had to go with his wife for any function in the neighbourhood, Auntie would travel in the rickshaw gracefully, like a reigning monarch, while Uncle, a tall sturdy man with long legs would briskly walk alongside, making Palani, puff and huff, to keep pace with him.

On a rainy night, when Aunt had to go to the hospital, the trio made hurried progress. But lo and behold, the right wheel climbed over a small boulder and careened. My aunt, despite her bulk, embarrassedly picked herself up unhurt, from the river sand mound. But Palani had twisted his ankle.

There were no street lights. It was drizzling. My uncle, an action king, brought the situation under control. He picked up Palani and carefully deposited him in the rickshaw. And started pulling the vehicle to the doctor’s clinic, a street away, unmindful of the protests of the horrified Palani. ‘Agreed, I will not ride in a hand-pulled rickshaw. Never did I tell say will not pull one,’ he told startled Auntie.

After Palani’s ankle healed, Uncle gave him a brand new cycle rickshaw so he would need only to pedal. Not pull.

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