The other day Gautam heard the story of someone taking a long walk in suburban Mumbai. He came to know how upset that poor guy was watching the condition of the pavements under his feet. It seemed to him that authorities have absolutely no empathy for the plight of the citizens, especially senior citizens. They are so vulnerable to trip and fall, hurting themselves seriously. And any fracture in that ripe age can ultimately result in his or her death…
Yesterday Gautam was coming home in an auto rickshaw. It was drizzling. He was thinking about that guy walker. Same sight was playing in front of him right now. People walking hurriedly holding their plastic bags in one hand and the umbrellas in the other but their eyes were focused on the ground. No one dared to look up straight and walk. They all had to be alert to all kinds of bumps, ups and downs, broken tiles etc on the surface right under their feet. The traffic signal had turned red at the last minute. There was going to be a fairly long wait now. Gautam decided to strike a conversation with the rickshaw driver. He does it often. In the bargain he often ends up getting enriched by experiences. So today too, internally a little playfully, but serious outwardly Gautam dragged the driver into a shockingly unlikely topic;
Gautam: If I should leave Mumbai, then where should I go? You have some place in mind?
It took quite a few seconds for the driver to register this strange topic. It certainly was very surprising for a passenger to talk about such deep personal problem to him. People mostly ask them about maps and routes or talk about driver’s village, their land, family etc. But this guy wasn’t a regular one.
Gautam continued: the roads and footpaths are so horrible here. I really feel that we are being given a raw deal by the authorities.
Driver: go to your village.
Gautam: I don’t have a village or a native place. My parents are no more and any ways they had sold everything. So, I have nowhere to go.
Driver: (looking away) go live with your children then.
Gautam: my children are here only.
Driver: then Mumbai only is fine. It is a good place.
Gautam: but look at the city.
Driver: sir, like that every place will have some or the other problem. You can’t keep running away from problems. The best city according to you will also have problems, may be of a different kind. But problems surely will be there.
Gautam: we are being treated like animals here. Can anyone think that our good money has been spent on making such horrible roads and footpaths?
Driver: (with surrender and finality in his tone) sir, as long as we live, problems will live with us. No one can run away from them.
Light turned green. He put the rickshaw in first gear and moved ahead with traffic. Gautam had earned his points.
(24 June 2013)