In the scorching heat of summer, it’s hard to walk under the open sky. Thirsty throats seek a source of quenching itself, the sweats make you bath, the deodorants are useless. But still, people work for their daily dose of bread without giving much fuss to the burning sun, the rain or the dusty wind…bothered only about their families.
My wife, Sanju, is a teacher at a private school in Guwahati. By the time the school gets over in the afternoon, it is hot and dusty. At this point, she just wants to come home as soon as possible. We all notice that most of the rickshaw pullers in the city know the places where, and at what time, their prospective passengers gather. One such place is Sanju’s school. She takes a rickshaw back home every day. The rickshaw puller would paddle his three-wheeler, in the scorching heat, and make way through the dusty wind, carefully maneuvering the rickshaw avoiding potholes.
Since the schools end at a fixed time, you can, most of the time see similar faces of those rickshaw pullers. Interestingly, my wife gets the same every day. The rickshaw puller knows the address so he would need no guidance. Whenever he sees her coming out of the school gate, he would come forward with his ‘chariot’.
This afternoon, on her way back home, Sanju noticed that all the shops were closed. “What happened? Why are the shops closed?” she asked. “They say it’s a trade union strike today,” the rickshaw puller answered.
“If I would have known this earlier, I would have rested today…” he continued. “I came to know about the strike only when I reached here.”
“But madam, if I rest for a day, I lose a lot of money,” he continued, slowly maneuvering the bad roads.
“You know madam; I work very hard for my kid. I got him admitted in an English medium school, like yours.”
“Oh, good, which school?” my wife was curious.
“My family is in Nagaon… my son studies there. It’s very tough to manage the expenses these days. In the month of January, I paid Rs 7,000 for his admission and books, near about Rs 1,500 for the uniforms. His monthly fees and the school van costs a lot.”
The rickshaw puller kept on saying and my wife kept listening with the occasional “Hmm” and “Acha”.
“But still I will work harder madam for my family. I was a laughing stock at home since I could not complete my 5th standard. But I supported my wife in completing her BA. I worked day and night and accumulated some money to buy a piece of land in Nagaon; not in the town of course.”
“Oh that’s good, but if your wife is a graduate, why don’t you ask her to get a job; at least a teaching job?” my wife tried advising.
“Oh yes, she does,” he exclaimed. “I did not want her to sit idle just because she is a woman. I struggled very hard to get her a job. She teaches in an Anganwadi school. You can’t imagine how I had to bribe the officers to get her the job. But I will still work hard.”
“You know madam; my wife wants my son to be a lawyer. But I have no such plans. I want him to be a good human being and choose whatever he wants to become. My wife is saving from her salary and accumulating money for our son’s studies.”
“You stay so far away from them, don’t you miss them?” my wife asked.
“I do madam. But here I can earn more. Sometimes I do feel sad… really sad; some people bully us, do not pay us after going long distance, they beat us as well for no fault of ours. But madam I do not say all these to my wife. She will not be able to tolerate this. No matter what, I still will have to work; I will have to see my son as a respected individual. I don’t want him to pull rickshaws like I do. Nor I want him to be someone without values – educated people who only work for selfish reasons. Such people run after money, they know only money, they only have certificates but, I believe, we are better than them – at least we do not betray, we do not backstab, we do not think ill for others.”
“I want my son to be a real educated man, who is also a good human being. One day my wife and I would be proud of him.”
The rickshaw finally halted in front of our gate. Sanju got down and paid him. He took the money and said, “Madam, please pray for my family.”
While I sit with Sanju discussing what the rickshaw puller told, the only question came to mind: Who is more educated?