On the busy streets of Mumbai, I learned a lesson for a lifetime.
It was a Wednesday evening, around 8 PM. I left work and was waiting at Malad station to catch a rickshaw to Goregaon.
The traffic was mad. The road was in full chaos, and finding a rickshaw in the middle of it looked like hard work. It wasn’t just me: there were a few other people who were yelling out for rickshaws to take them home, or wherever else they might be going.
After 20 to 25 minutes of hoping for a rickshaw without success, I started to think I should maybe take the train. I decided to try my luck for another five, and then leave.
I began shouting for rickshaws again – "Ooooo Bhai Sahab, Goregaon chaloge kya?"
And the rickshaws continued to take flight upon hearing of my destination.
While all this was going on, I noticed a woman standing near me. She was desperate, just like me, to find a ride. I heard her shouting "Goregaon" on the loop, like some musical song playing with a single drumbeat.
Since we shared the same destination, I decided that, in the next five minutes, if either of us got a rickshaw, we would share it. It would save some effort for both of us.
It so happened that I was the one who got it. Phew! And I called out this woman: "Wanna share the ride? I am also going to Goregaon."
Her expressions, I remember them vividly. Her face turned from a rotten mango to a fresh Alphonso. Her smile spread like a wild breeze across her cheeks. She hopped into my rickshaw like a hungry bull.
The ride started, and she flashed a huge smile at me. Ouch. It’s too bright. But I was glad that I'd made her happy. Happy. That’s what I thought she was at that moment. But it didn’t take her more than a minute to turn her smile topsy-turvy. She came back to her initial expression of a rotten mango.
Then, I heard her mumbling something. I looked at her, and, taking the hint, she started speaking, which, I soon realized, was complaining.
"OMG! These rickshaws, huh, I tell you, these rickshaws!" I could not control my smile. I loved how she said it – very funny. She continued, "OMG! I never travel by rickshaw; they are just so cheap. I mean, 50–60 rupees a ride, is that even a fare? It’s so funny! Ha ha ha!"
It got me confused. Was that a sarcastic remark? Or did she mean it? I got to know soon.
She did not wait for my reply. She did not seem to care, actually. She kept on speaking, and I kept on nodding at her. She was disappointed, "I never travel by rickshaw. Today the situation was different, you know."
I didn’t know. But never mind.
She continued, "So, I always prefer some expensive mode of travel. It gives you comfort, you know."
I didn’t know again. I travel by rickshaw only. It’s very comforting for me. I didn’t tell her this, though, because she never gave me a chance to speak.
She continued, "But it’s just for one day ha. This rickshaw ride.” Then, she pulled herself on the seat, back and forth, and continued making faces, “Gosh! Look at the seats; they don’t even stretch back. How do you guys survive this torture? Back in my office, I have a cabin, and I tell you, my chair is so soft … so, so soft. My back has begun to hurt sitting on this trashy seat." And then, as if she spoke enough, she went quiet. Thankfully.
I looked outside the rickshaw and enjoyed the weather. It was cold and wintery. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the air on my face. What peace lies in these little things!
But this Madame sitting beside me seemed unable to keep quiet for a long while. So she fired up her complaint box again. "OMG! It’s so hot. I’m sweating.” She began dabbing her upper lip with a tissue she pulled from her purse. “Somebody give me my daily luxurious ride back."
This time, I got curious. What is her mode of transportation, after all? What beats the comfort of a rickshaw?
“How do you travel daily?” I asked her. And she finally said it, the three magic letters: BUS.
I chortled. A loud chortle. Now, wasn’t that funny? She traveled by bus and thought that it was a luxury. Well, good for her. Then, she argued, “OMG, you don’t know the bus I’m talking about. It’s not the laal dabba ha. It’s the famous, the best of all, the luxurious grande, City Flo bus.”
I had never taken a City Flo bus before. She did not keep me in suspense. She said, "It’s a premium AC bus. I know it’s a little costly, but it’s really good." And then, for the next five minutes, she kept bragging about the bus company as if she were its brand ambassador.
Meanwhile, I started thinking, "This woman looks rich." I mean, I don’t know how much a ride on the City Flo bus costs, but the way she described it, it sounds expensive. Then another thought added up in my mind, “What if this woman paid for our rickshaw ride by herself?” It seemed that money did not matter much to her. She wouldn’t mind paying for the entire ride.
But, I thought, "Oh no, I should show some courtesy." So, I thought of a plan. She would get down and offer to pay for the entire ride, but I would pretend to be giving half the money by searching for my wallet. And then, she would be offended, "OMG! You don’t have to pay. This fare is like a rupee to me. Don’t bother."
Before I told her, "It’s okay. I can still contribute," she would have forcefully handed over the money to the rickshaw driver (who, meanwhile, might be thinking, "Aree behen, merko mera paisa do aur jo karna hai wo karo" and would bid me goodbye.
Her talking suddenly stopped. That’s when I came back to this moment. I realized that her stop had come. And my stop was next – just two minutes away from hers.
She got off the rickshaw, and I knew what to do: start pretending to look for my wallet.
She took out her wallet, and I stole a glance at it. How much money was she bringing out? 100? 200? 500? Or 2,000? I hoped she wouldn’t say that she didn’t have the change. I didn’t want to pay for the ride all by myself with such a “rich woman” along with me. Not after listening to her blabbering all this while.
So, I acted as if my wallet was lost somewhere deep inside my bag while continuing to look at her wallet in secret. "Take out the money, lady. Be quick." I ordered her in my mind. And then came the moment when she finally did it.
I looked at the amount and was stunned. Nobody, I mean it, would have guessed the amount.
Should I tell you? Okay, It was an entire two-rupee coin. She took it out, handed it over to me, and put it away in her wallet.
What the hell just happened? I was speechless.
She told me, "Oh dear, I think I am running short of cash, you know. Please pay for the ride."
Well. If that was the case, why did she bore me throughout the journey when her wallet was empty? This was funny, but also annoying. I did not listen to her complaining for free. She had to pay the price for it.
So I told her, "Oh, I think you should check again. Maybe you've got some money somewhere in the purse."
"Oh honey," she said, casting upon me a look of sympathy, "let me see how I can help you."
She dug into her purse and took out a note – a 10 rupee note. "I hope you will be good with this," she said to me.
Before I could think or say anything, she forced the money into my hand (as opposed to my imagination, where she was forcing it into the rickshaw driver’s hand) and fled away.
This was one such incident that perfectly portrays the message – Jo dikhta hai, wo hota nahi.
I don’t know if that woman was poor or a miser, but one thing was for sure: she was a hypocrite! A funny hypocrite!
PS: The world is full of such people. So beware.
Story by Pooja Kakde.