My school was 8-9 kms away from my home. The very popular mode of transport during school days was rickshaw (as rest of the country calls it Auto, but in ahmedabad we call it rickshaw). I was the second person to be picked up and then there were 8 more to be collected on the way to school. Yes thats right, 10 children stuffed in one rick alongwith our huge school bags hanging out of the ricks and some were kept by the rickshawwala uncle near his feet.
I remember the name of all my rickshawala uncles. There was one muslim uncle called Sikander. He had a serious face, though when he smiled, it was so warm. He was the only rickshawala uncle who used to call me by my pet name. I remember one incident very clearly. I was in 2nd std. and my mother was in clinic, expecting my brother. So after my school, Sikander uncle used to hold my hand and drop me till the room where my mother was admitted and he used to talk to me on the way about how i will be happy getting a sibling.
After a few months, suddenly some other uncle came to pick us up and then a few days later, we came to know that Sikander uncle had left the city. It took us time to adjust to the new uncle, Narendra uncle. He had a round face, a round belly, and round cheeks, always full of paan. His teeth always red. After every five minutes, he would spit out the red pichkari. However, a few months later we became friendly with him and we insisted him to leave eating paan and tobacco. He surely did stop eating it atleast before us.
Then there was Nitin uncle, who used to take us to Saibaba temple every thursday. We were always excited about it, since after the prayers, we used to get a packet of pedas to share amongst us and a single rose which was given on rotation basis.
Then in 9th std. there was this Riyaz uncle...errr....wont call him uncle...he was too young to be called that...and infact he used to flirt with my best friend, who didnt come with us in the rick as she stayed near to the school. I was so irritated by this behaviour, but couldnt help as my friend too enjoyed the flirting thinking she was beautiful enough to attract him...
The best part was the day before the dhuleti holiday. After school, all rickshawala uncles drove their ricks to a common place. We were prepared for this and we put on another tshirt to save our uniforms. From under the seats, we used to take out our colors and pichkaris and there goes the color war between the gangs, one rickshaw team worses the other. It was fun!
And then on the last day before summer holidays, uncle used to decorate the rickshaw with the glittering ribbons and balloons. After the last exam, it was an ice-cream treat. Now when i understand what they earned, I really wonder, how they managed our celebrations at their expense? Definately they didnt have big money, but definately had big hearts!!!
After school, the only interaction with rickshawwalas is when we go to railway station or when we are in a different city. I tell you, beware of the Delhi-autowalas. You need to get a consensus from 10 autowalas to get the correct fare rate, if you are new to the place and are unaware of the distance. But i really admire the Mumbai and Hyderabad autowalas. They are really helpful, especially in Hyderabad, they are more like guides than autowalas. Ahmedabad rickshawwalas cant cheat as they go by meter, but again the Baroda ones are another looters.
And then there are these poor pag-rickshawalas in Kolkata. Sometimes you feel pity seeing them pulling huge bodies with so much luggage. But then, if you dont sit after them, from where are they going to earn?
And in Rajasthan, you will find these colourfully decorated rickshaws with dhinchak music system, and flower vases and a clock in it, with comfortable and attractive seat covers.
There goes a gujarati song dedicated to all Ahmedabad rickshawalas -
"Hoon amdavad no rickshawado chhuu...." Thats Naresh Kanodia, the famous gujarati actor, happily singing in his role as a rickshawala.