My mother had once said: you should know how to use public transportation so if the day ever comes that you don’t have access to a car, you’d know what to do. That, and coupled with the fact that I had several other demanding siblings at home and just one car meant that at times in order to get to destinations, I’d have to use a rickshaw. Since then, I have met many others who do too. These are my experiences; they are the rickshaw diaries.
Hailing a rickshaw is easy: all you have to do is extend your arm towards the street and wave it as a rickshaw passes by. The rickshaw driver will always quote you a higher fee than is reasonable, completely depending on how well-dressed and stupid he thinks you are. You bargain and bring the amount down by 30 to 50 per cent. You climb in, clutch your bag tightly to your chest (the ride will be jittery at best and you want to remain uh… ‘close and tight’), and say a little prayer. The first thing you will notice is the change in ‘street attitude’ when shifting from a car to a rickshaw: staring, which is a national male hobby (most consider it their birthright) will shift gears with those in cars indifferent to your presence and those in buses and motorcycles suddenly believing that you are in their league.
Occasionally being harassed comes hand-in-hand with riding in a rickshaw. Rarely will bus passengers make the effort to yell something at you, but on occasion they will. You probably can’t do anything about it: the window is too high up for you to get off and slap the harasser and if you wedge one foot on the rickshaw for leverage, there is a very good chance of you falling off when the traffic signal goes green. Remember: you are a strong… woman, not John Rambo.
Motorcycle wallas fall in the worst category. The ease and independence with which they can move gives them much confidence. They will do everything from riding their motorcycle beside your rickshaw and jeering at you to trying to follow you home (try to arouse the rickshaw drivers’ desi inborn concept of ghairat and he’ll work on giving the motorcycle walla the slip without additional charge) to actually just drive fast enough to be able to tug at your (flowing) dupatta from behind the vehicle. As most desi women are trained to either slap or ignore, this would be the time to ignore. The moment will pass. The motorcycle walla will get his kick and leave. Scream (you will do little more than to amuse him) and endure a second round of the touch-the-dupatta game.
I once ended up with a rickshaw driver who probably believed that he was actually a formula one car driver than one who drove a puny vehicle with very small wheels. Off we went, in the middle of a cold and windy Karachi winter, flying over every small rock, threatening to smash into every little hole in the road. I held on for dear life. By the time we got to one of our stops, not only did I feel like a frozen popsicle but the vomit that was building inside me this entire time was frozen as well. When I came back several minutes later I was told by the driver that “I don’t like to wait. I will gladly drive you to any end of the Earth, but I can’t stand waiting for someone. It’s boring.”
There was this one time I did not bargain the fare. That was because I was too shocked to argue. I absentmindedly started talking to the driver in English and he responded… in English! As it turned out, the driver held a masters degree in both Persian and English and had a vast knowledge of physics and math. He was very talkative and had an opinion on everything that passed by. I, only had one question that dominated my mind: how can a person having attained such education be a rickshaw driver?! When I did manage to ask him that, he looked visibly shattered, told me that was something he didn’t want to talk about and drove away. Since then, I’ve really learnt not to judge or stereotype anyone driving a ‘puny vehicle with small wheels’.
– Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed