a shared rikshaw conversation
It was 10:15 pm, and a friend and me were wandering around Pondy looking for a rickshaw so we could get home. The first one I spotted was booked already; the driver shook his head and said "No." The second one had an entire family sleeping inside, a mother, father, teenage daughter, and two year old. That one was a no, too. We spotted the third one from far, parked outside a temple. "Looks like a religious guy," my friend joked. We stalked up to the guy, not that walking faster would help much on that deserted road. But the skinny man looked hesitant when I started negotiating a price, he frowned and looked behind him. An old woman hobbled out of the temple, her samidhi, purse and little plastic basket in hand. Then he looked back at me, shrugged and gestured for me to sit. I realized this was going to be a shared rik experience with the old woman. I smirked, and waved a goodbye as my friend hurried away looking for another rik. He needed to go in a totally different direction altogether. So I sat, and off we went to drop the old woman off. I wondered how far away her place was, since she was obviously being dropped off first. She spoke fluent English,
"Nowadays,' she said, 'people are so bad, no?'
I smiled, and nodded. Sure, there were bad people everywhere.
"These days are different, you can't believe people," she continued. I started guessing her age, she was easily seventy, her hair was pure white, and her face wrinkled. But her eyes were bright and alive, she wasn't one of those old people who get tired of life and start giving up too soon.
"But this driver here, he is a good man. He drives very well, doesn't he?" I hadn't noticed his driving skill, I looked up to notice him hurtling down an empty road with intermittent streetlights. Still, I grinned and said,
'Yep, he's very good."
She nodded, as if in agreement. We had reached. The driver and her had a short conversation in Tamil, and she got off. Then she rustled around in her little basket, looking for something. Out came a little katori made of banana leaves, heaped with prasad. She gave this to the driver, who protested vehemently, but took it anyway with a grin, and starting eating. She hobbled across the road when she noticed a watchman sitting bored, on a little steel stool. She greeted him, and he returned with a namaste. She gave him another heap of prasad; he didn't protest. He smiled, as if he was used to this, and lowered his head as he accepted. Then she remembered me and came hurrying back. She dumped a huge amount of the stuff in my hand, I protested weakly, I mean, I didn't want to, but had to out of politeness. And then we were off.
The prasad was pongal, which is basically a rice dish with some masala. It's not sweet, but its full of ghee so it's not easy to consume an entire handful. I ate it slowly on the way home, wondering how the driver had managed to eat it all in one bite.