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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Munnsamy of the cycle-rickshaw

Forget count-downs, and send offs, and trumpets, and burning latin capitals and 11th houring. The fact is that I am to leave this country for two years in little more than 24 hours, and:

a) I still haven't packed.

b) I still haven't loaded all the music I want onto my ipod.

c) I haven't written, visited, said, called or mailed all that I set out to.

Vae victis. Funnily enough, my Fall this time is due to no hubris. This time round, my hamartia is nothing but bad time management. And Im sure if these IIM gods ever got to chatting up aristotle, I'd actually have a greek term for it.

Dischronus, maybe.

Sounds good at least.

Anyway, inspite of my tragic flaw, yesterday I set out bravely in the evening to try and accomplish filling my ipod [who's name is Arion. That's another story, another post] with music from a friend's collection- everything, from Tull to the Doobie brothers, with a whooshing sweep of the entire Pink collection, right from saucerful of secrets down to... yeah well. Its a 20 Gb 'pod, so thats a lot of songs. I set out at 5:20, hoping to put everything in at least by 8.

Pounding along the road in sweaty striding socks I realized that this would probably be the last time I haggle with a madrasi auto-driver. The thought instead of softening my outlook, turned the embering need of driving a good bargain up into a burning Will To Not Pay More Than What Was Right.

Right. So the 41 degrees had put all auto-dudes in a bad mood. No one felt sportive enough to indulge in the back-and-forth. While my fourth wet-blanket victim was puttering off in a huff, I noticed yells in the vernacular being emitted from the other side of the road. The word "meddem" was heard. Figured the guy was referring to me.

Its a good feeling, this. Being recognised on the road, even if its just for commercial need, is still a heart-warming fact. You and your money are called out to, cajoled. I two-stepped over to the one who was "medemming" and it was when I was at the exact centre of the road that I noticed the murky yellow cycle rickshaw he was standing with.

One does not pause in the middle of roads. One does, however, think of time and the lack thereof and humbly accept a 35 rupee auto-driver statement because of ipodical needs.

Me and One don't seem very alike. I stood there, letting self-righteous little puttering autos go by, letting time tick-tock on, letting more "meddems" bang on the doors of my mind cheerfully.

The cycle rickshaw man promised to get me there "fasht only, meddem". He thumped the seat and beamed at me from behind his slow dripping curtain of sweat.


I did not think of time. I did not think of still incomplete packing. I instead thought of how much fun it would be to go on my first cycle rickshaw ride just when I was leaving this country.

I delicately heaved myself onto the seat, bemused. Pulled out my phone [yes his name is STILL Barney] and began messaging 3 people of my adventure.

One of them was dad. Who immediately called up to cordially enquire whether I was sure I was feeling alright, and was it very hot outside, and maybe I should've taken a hat to prevent the heat from getting to my brain, which it evidently had already done. He then chirpily proceeded to order me off the rickshaw. I nodded, verbally, and continued rolling along after he had rung off.

The same route I had travelled everyday of my life for the past three years, for aforementioned friend lived near college. Familiar faces and canine tails passed by- very slowly, tis true, but passed by they did: Auto-stands and their inhabitants, tea kadais, a sweet mongrel with a pink nose, trees, cops, garbage piles.... slowly, very slowly.

Maybe the shot of glee was gulped down by my mind and spine the way it was because all that slow parade meant only one thing to me- I would never see all of this for a while, and when I did see it again, it would not be the same way. And I would not be the same way either. And that is good.


A bit of a feel of Caesar re-entering Rome with captured nubians then, but that all ended the moment the rickshaw, the white shirted-dhotied sweating man and I came upon the over-bridge near my house. Its then that I started concentrating on Munnsamy.

For that is his name, as I found out later.

From where I sat, I could see his cable-thin tendons stretched and could feel the immense deluge of sweat that can only come when you peddle me up an lazily curving bridge in traffic under a 41 degree sky. He was just one strained line, from his neck to his ankle tendons, was Munnsamy. Shiny mahogany, all these men of southern dust. Slight, with a face roughly carved out of the wrinkly shell of a nut. This little man in white peddled till he could no more, then hopped off his cycle to guide his rickshaw through traffic and carry me over the bridge.


The bear went over the mountain,
the bear went over the mountain,
the bear went over the mountain
to see what he could see.

Sigh.

Funnily enough, my half sheepish, half furtive and all amused looks around me showed me that no one thought it was funny for Munnsamy to be pulling this large, red-haired person up a bridge on a vehicle usually used for midget school children, squalling in bunches of 5's and 6's, all wearing blue uniforms and water-bottles. No police men yelled, and buses though lumbering whales otherwise, gently grumbled by, letting him pass.

Letting his pass. In a city where everyone is trying to get as fast as they can to wherever they must be, no one yelled at Munnsamy. This struck me as pretty cool, and I say that because there is no other phrase that can catch the unconcerned nuance of the thing. Madras may have killer water-lorries, ambulances who use their sirens to get through traffic lights, and multiple lane traffic which lack yellow lines.... but it does have a heart and roadspace for cycle rickshaws.

Munnsamy finds the leftest side of the road the moment we reach level ground, the ends of both his legs firmly planted into pedals that pump slow down and over.

The ends of both his legs, firmly planted into pedals that pumps slow down and over are just stumps. Munnsamy has no feet. He told me that an electrical cable fell on them and that's how it happened. This fact was preceeded and followed by him earnestly mentioning his four children. He later said there were three- whether due to a sudden burst of conscience, fatigue or coz he considered 3 a more auspicious number than 4, which it is, Im not sure.

The entire experience was punctuated by me appealing to him with my pidgin tamil to please stop, very nice now will pay already late. To which, Munnsamy wiped his face with the palm of his hand briskly and shook his head at me with the ferocity of a hippopotamus who's been interrupted in his first mating of the season.

I was overwhelmed. This little man would not let me down. No reasoning would work- He had undertaken to peddle me 4 kms, and peddle me he did. The last half a km was punctuated with him mentioning hospital visits and children's sicknesses and such.
Which I also like.

Get this straight, Jack Canfield. Chicken soup may work elsewhere, but here our stories are more simple, our angels more uneven-tempered, our sacrifices often at first hesitant and often-jovially so- grumbled about with family and friends.

How on earth am I supposed to know the right price for a cycle rickshaw ride of 4kms in evening traffic? I was an hour late, and a steel knob and my coccyx became close friends. And yet- he had peddled like a trojan hero, if trojan heroes did ever cycle. He had stumps that he capitalized on only while disputing the fare. He sulked when I gave him 50 bucks. Him showing me the telephone number of his children's teacher, saying that she would verify that what he said about his kids was the truth. Me handing him notes with all the "sandhosham" or happiness and gratefulness that he invoked when I asked him "how much?". That followed by the mutterings, the grumblings. Exasperated, I asked him why can't you tell me a price and I will pay?

No. Out of "sandhosham". I jumped across the road and scurried into the lane in which my friend lives, leaving Munnsamy to ask for water from a nearby watchman and peddle wherever else he had to go.

"Sandhosham". That's all I suppose he lives on these days, apart from his determined peddling, albeit the lack of toes. Achilles had more written about him, but was lesser than Munnsamy. There, a pierced heel killed him, and much pollution coz of pyric flames and then- Nothing. Munnsamy grumbles, mumbles, sweats and cycles with stumps that he walks and cycles with.

"Many heroes are not yet born, many have already died.
To be alive to hear this song, is a victory"
- West African Song.

Someone please tell me what I should've payed him. And yes- albeit sounds good too. Like Dischronus.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finally...'tis arrived!

Great blog, 'meddem'!

And life goes on...

"Ever wondered why we never ponder upon the unnaturalness of life? Reality can be a whole lot more difficult to percieve and comprehend than fiction"

...for all those many millions we never even glance at the second time.

Yenjayable, yet yejucatif, no?

Anonymous said...

q":-D

Munnsamy the Cycle-Rickshaw Driver sure reminded me of Butt the Mail-bus Driver.

Gul said...

talk about a story. dint the kids have school that day that he was going around lugging big red haired girls? 50 was ample... more than enough. it was natural for him to try n get more out of a customer, especially one who's sympathy he knew he'd won... he prob thought u were a firang for all u know. ah well, still, what a story!

Gul said...

why are most of the people commenting on your blog 'anonymous'?

Anonymous said...

The anonymous, BTB, is the 11 1/2 footer according to a Mr. Aman. ;-D

Hey Gul...you missing the great cookie cruncher?

Hey Cookie Cruncher...missin the replies... :-(

Gul said...

enough now, dont make fun of my aman! :P no arindham, its been almost 3 years now,miss her once in a while, but its not going to be much different for me, either way she's far away :( i'm used to it, i'm a brave kido now! it's u im wondering about, how be u? ain't it terrible when u don't get to be wid her :( took me about a yr to get over d fact that we're gonna have to make it on 2 opp ends of our mother india, n now on d opposite pole of d whooole bigg world :(

A Hairy Snail said...

:-) First of all...no offence was ever intended to Aman... Haven't met him, but think he's one helluva guy already. Secondly...yeah..missing her big time. But atleast there's this great communication system that I intend to make full use of. Trying to get used to the fact that calling her or talking to her isn't exactly that easy anymore. Ah well...as I always say...life goes on. How's the exams going?
And hey there Pretty Momma (hope the Joey accent falls through)...howyu doin'?
And Gul...do mail me through my blog or something, would love to add you onto ryze...

Ciao all.