Those Two Rupees…

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Garrison Keillor

“Babu, will you please give me two rupees more than your usual rickshaw-bhadda (fare)?”

The poor rickshaw-puller innocently asked me on my way to Sheltar Chak from Barabati Bali Yatra (one of the traditional carnivals of Odisha) Maidan.

Before I could say anything, he added, “I’m just requesting, don’t give if you don’t approve it”

I retorted back with irritation. “But, you had agreed for six rupees as the bhadda, why two rupees more?”

He was mum for some time and then said, “I’m falling short of  two rupees”.

From what?”, I questioned him again threateningly…

I’m falling short of two rupees to buy a Milk Dabba (can) for my 6-month old baby. I’ve collected thirty-eight rupees only from my entire day’s rickshaw- pulling, and the Milk Dabba costs forty rupees”.

I tried to open my mouth to say something. Before I could say anything, he stopped the rickshaw, looked back, saw my face and said, “no problem, I just requested you, if you don’t want.. don’t give, will wait for some more time and by God’s grace, I hope I will be able to earn two rupees more”.

Then he started paddling towards my home. After a couple of minutes, he murmured to himself (addressed to his kid), “By the time I collect two rupees more, shops will be closed, and you (his kid) will have to sleep again in hunger tonight”.

It was 11 P.M. at night in the month of November, quite late for the eastern part of India. He was pulling me in his cycle-rickshaw to my brother’s place in Cuttack. I was in my 12th standard at that time, studying at Ravenshaw College. That evening, I got late watching music and dance numbers in the famous Habib Melody. No one agreed to go for a fare of six rupees; all the rickshaw-walas (pullers) were charging ten to twelve rupees. I was bit surprised when this rickshaw-wala had agreed for six rupees after a moment’s thought. May be he was a bit calculative at that time and thought of losing the chance to earn four to six rupees more, just to get that Milk Dabba home in time. Even though he fell short of two rupees, he did not lose faith on his profession.

It is a 10-15 minute journey by rickshaw from Barabati Stadium to Sheltar Chak. In the entire conversation, I was silent for most of the time, thinking about him, his 6-month old baby, me, my friends and the society in general. I was not that matured at that time to understand everything. During Bali Yatra, I found some people throwing money on anything and buying trinkets indiscriminately. But the same people would have gone to any extent to bargain with a poor rickshaw-wala. I too had spent a lot from my pocket-money on eating and watching melodies and operas. Whereas the rickshaw-wala was struggling to save forty rupees by a whole day’s toil, in order to feed his small kid (forget about himself and his other family members).

The value of two rupees for him was the value of his kid’s life, whereas it had no meaning at all for some other people. Such is the denomination of money- something which has no value for someone might be a whole life for somebody else.

Those two rupees ….. aamjunta think about it.

%d bloggers like this: