By F. Zakir and S. Mahfuz
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Whenever I think I might have to leave the country someday, to pursue my dreams, I think about all the things I will miss dearly about my beloved Bangladesh, especially Dhaka. Among the many things that make living here so colorful, a significant breed that will make the top tiers will definitely be that community of people who meet and greet you, first thing in the morning to the last thing at night I talk of the rickshaw pullers, that clan of people with whom you have a love and hate relationship. They lead you to genjams, amusement, bemusement, and the likes. The lot constantly entertains me in my otherwise mundane life, while traveling to and from my destination. Below I have sketched the varieties of rickshaw pullers you are likely to have come across out in the streets.
The Grouch: This is a very common species of rickshaw puller who's well over 50. While you admit that with age cometh wisdom, experience, the whole package, (except of course, maybe- dashing good looks, and you don't count on Clint Eastwood lookalikes popping up) when you run into the elderly rickshaw puller, you will also know that with it, time delivers irritability, frequent unpredictable rises in blood pressure, and falls in patience and temper. With all due respect to the elderly, this is the type of rickshaw puller I fear and thus avoid the most. They are slow when you need them to go fast and more often than not, are in a sour mood. If asked politely "chacha, ektu jore chalan" they either completely ignore or shoot back a look of anger, sometimes even hatred (?)!
The Hopeless Romantic: Believe it or not, this type DOES exist. Especially if you are a girl, you may very well run into one today. To your bewilderment and confusion this Romeo will flirt with you, hit on you and in general try to impress you with his exceptional charming skills. One such occurrence was on a cloudy day when I didn't bring my umbrella. The rickshaw puller was this young chhokra. Suddenly out of nowhere it starts to rain in frenzy and I tell him to pull over and take out his waterproof porda. That's when his very romantic side gives in and he asks me "Apa, janen ei brishti ke ki bole?" (Do you know what they call this rain?) When I acknowledged ignorance and asked to be enlightened, his reply was "Hothat Brishti" (Sudden rain). Ahem. Apparently, name of a very romantic movie. As if this wasn't enough, what came next was more shocking. He asks, "Jhirjhir brishti ke ki bole janen Apa? Jhirjhir brishti ke bole Prem brishti" (Do you know what they call a drizzle? they call it Love rain) (!!!!!) As you can guess I didn't reply to anything else he said, as I was speechless throughout the rest of the ride.
A friend who accosted the same strain, told me how her rickshaw puller discussed the injustices of life on common people as him for around twenty minutes, then after reaching the destination, he asks for her phone number! She excused herself on grounds of not knowing him too well before dashing into the building.
The Ghowra/Stubborn: This is the rickshaw puller I have a match in the ring with. A contest arises, as to who is more ghowra/ghar tera (stubborn/stiff necked) then whom, the passenger vs. the rickshaw puller. Generally what happens is- you tell the rickshaw puller to take a shortcut because you want to catch this class you're already late for. He begins by turning a deaf year. He starts these loud voiced arguments that he knows Dhaka shohor better than you do and thus you aren't qualified to recommend routes. He implies he'd prefer it if you shut up and let him do his job. Accordingly he chooses this long bumpy complicated goli with ditches and potholes than the plain and simple route you recommended, hence losing you precious time. You get agitated and curse under your breath but to no avail. Once I had the misfortune of encountering one such ghowra rickshaw puller.
He was extremely rude and when I insisted that he take the goli I wanted him to take, he protested by threatening to drop me off in the middle of the road. He was like "Apne Peresident er maiya hoileo apnere ami loiya jamu na! Namen koilam! Gorib hoite pari kintu karo chakor na!" (You may even be the president's daughter but I won't take you! I might be poor but no one tells me what to do! So get off!) I had no choice but to keep quite while he took the lengthy, jarring journey. A lot of people will lose temper in such situations and get involved in a nasty argument or worse, a fight. This group is also infamous for demanding unreasonable fares and aggravating the passenger. My advice is- set the fair and routes before you get onto a rickshaw.
The Kid: I actually feel bad for this category. It is this lanky boy in his teens very new in the profession. They rarely know the routes and ask you for directions at every turn, most come from the village to make a living in the city, at a time when they should be in school. Unlike the former, they are submissive so you can dominate them into taking your preferred route.
The Addabaaj: This is the rickshaw puller at his best behavior. He is always grinning, (Kudroter haashi, I call it) is extremely polite, and over the top majestic with words. He will manipulate you into giving twice the fare and be engaged in sweet small talk along the way. You cannot shut him up no matter how much you try. Ignoring won't work either, as he won't stop talking till he tells you everything about him and knows everything about you. It gives them immense pleasure to talk, irrespective of the interest, or presence (!) of an audience! I think it's a clever psychological ploy. That, when you get so well acquainted, you cannot say no to whatever fare he requests with his manipulative grin. The conversation starts off with something like "Apa kun college e poren? Amar boro meyere o lehapora shikaisi…she ebar HSC dibo" (which college you go to? My eldest daugter is a HSC candidate) or "Apne dehi amgo desher lok…apnago baari ar amgo baari to pasha pashi" (hey! we are neighbors) etc. etc. He will tell you about his wife, children, the village and everything else under the sun. Makes you feel like you've bumped into a distant relative, one who can (stake) claim to your politeness, respect, loyalty, money (keep 3 nouns here) etc.
The Intellect/Philosophical: This rickshaw puller will have an opinion and wealth of knowledge on everything from politics to religion. He is a muse, a great thinker and philosopher. Otherwise a man of few words, every now and then he will look up at the sky and make a wisecracking comment like… "Desh ta ekkebare shesh hoiya gelo." (The country is going downhill) Seeing me cover my head when the Azan sounds "Meyera mathat kapur dae na aijkal, othocho meye der kapur dilei beshi sundor lageh". (Girls should hood their heads; they look better that way). You cannot help but get annoyed by his nose poking in every matter and turn a deaf ear to his words. And well, much to his disgust your veil will drop as soon as the Azan stops.
Love them or hate them, you have to admit they are an inevitable part of your life. And you cannot deny that life without them in Bangladesh seems impossible. So embrace them and keep yourself entertained by them. Till next time.