The Wretched Riders
Warning: Those with generalization allergies and post-modern subaltern consciousness are requested to go to the links given below rather than reading this article. This may involve materials that are offensive and allergic psychologically.
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Today, as I was coming back from my job, I had a self-imposed mission to return the book that I had taken from the public library, months back. The due date is on 25 July, but I may not be able to visit the library tomorrow, as the class schedules are tight on Thursdays. The book had already crossed several due dates successfully, and I had been extending the dates through my abrupt phone calls to an ever-passive librarian woman. She is adorable I should tell you.
The visit today was on the verge of cancellation at the last moment pertaining to the heavy rain pouring down in the city for some days now. I decided to cancel today’s library visit had it been raining heavily while I reached the city from college. As the bus reached the city, I realized that a bout of rain had just swept over the place, and I was in the middle of a gap before the next heavy shower.
I got off, and walked almost a kilometer to reach the library. I did not have much money to spare on an auto rickshaw. The bus I took, buses from Thaliparamba to Kannur, never went near to the old bus stand, when they reached the city. My library was located near the old bus stand and this caused me take that long walk in the evening along the crowded roads of Kannur. Indeed, it was a hard task to reach library safe among the racing buses and people, moving around everywhere carelessly. The risk was multifold—either running over by a vehicle or running into someone.
I crossed the bus stop near the Town Police Station, where most of the employees and officers from the nearby Collector’s Office gathered. All their faces were groomed to reflect some deep-rooted concern. It seems they almost enjoy their sad, sleepy and worn out expressions, as if living to the fullest the legend of their life—earn, fend for family, marry, make children, earn more, spend more on family, marry children off, wait for retirement, be old, feel old and die old. All the faces I noticed in the bus stop, near by the Town Police Station, I could sense the internal enactment of this chain of concern. Some were young and in the starting step, and some others were in the middle. I did not see any one on the last stages. Perhaps, the old people never visited the city after their retirement.
Thankfully, the reckless and arrogant drivers of private buses had made a pact among their trade unions not to hit any young man with an office bag, on this Wednesday evening. I deserve some appraisal for being able to maneuver among the rushing crowd, successfully. Condoms are a rare commodity here. The number of children increases day by day. Children grow up too, making the city, a box of human anthill, ready to burst.
I submitted the book and returned from the library. After walking a few feet, I had the privilege of stopping on the shore of the busy street and gazing upward into the sky. Normally, this would have been impossible, as the exceedingly zombisized population flowed to either direction incessantly, and one has to move accordingly, if avoiding falling down on the road or into a ditch their primary concern. The sky was dark again, as I looked up.
The mild grey sky had now transformed into a darker cabin, ready to shatter into a million water drops. About 1.5 kilometers of ditches, pits, people, road, angry drivers, reckless taxies, and cluttered buildings separated the public library and the new bus stand. Usually, I walk the distance, but today, I was concerned about the storm that I envisioned from the change of colours on the face of the sky.
A few feet back an auto rickshaw stand assured the passersby about the efficiency of the town administrative officers. Anyone could get an auto and ride anywhere, in or out of the city, WOW!
I took an auto, the first one in the row, as is the custom. A young man was in the driver’s seat. I expected a miracle—a smile, gestures of kindness, decent behaviour. I had only Rs 20 to spare, and I expected that Rs 17 would be the required charge for the auto to take me to the new bus stand.
The auto took me through the busy and crowded streets of Kannur. Its meter was running and I could see one digit changing into another. Rs. 15 is the minimum charge for autos in Kerala, for any service within one kilometer.
The meter showed Rs. 19, by the time we reached bus stand. I gave him a Rs. 20 bank note. He took it and waited. I waited inside the auto too. According to my limping sense of mathematics, I should receive Rs. 1 as balance, from the auto driver. I calculated it again. No, it is correct. Nothing to doubt about it, so I mentioned politely about the one rupee he should return me.
He did not do it deliberately, it seemed. Such a wonderful actor was he. I almost felt he did not listen to what I said. So asked him in a louder tone, what he thinks about my one rupee. Then he turned towards me. This time, he said that he did not have change for one rupee. I did not inquire about the next possible step or prolonged my indulging oratory to that person. I realized from his expressions that he would be hard to deal with if I poked him. I came out of the auto rickshaw, thinking, would they be kind enough to give me an extra one-rupee additional with salary.
If someone says that most of the auto rickshaw drivers in Kannur are thugs and sociopaths, how could we criticize them for saying such a thing, considering, what I had just experienced. It may be generalizing them all, based on just one experience, which is not very appealing in the post-modern culture. However, when I consider my other experiences with auto rickshaw drivers inside Kannur city, I should say I hardly had a single chance to meet a decent and well-behaved auto driver. Perhaps, the decent ones are all missing. In that case, I pray for their return.
The rain had come down upon the earth, by this time. I ran inside the bus stand and caught my bus.