Saturday, December 02, 2006

a conversation with rikshawala

This post is based on a real life incident that happened to me a few days ago.. well you would better like to call it a real life conversation than an "incident".

A few days after I came back from my Australian adventure to amchi Pune, I decided to go a bit earlier than usual to the lab. Unfortunately the time I choose was really bad, it was the peek hour in Pune traffic and PMTs and the six seater rikshwas simply didn't stop because all of them were overcrowded. Finally bored at the plight of traffic, I started looking out for the 3 seater rikshwas (tum tum), or the poor man's taxi. After ignoring a couple of "old" ones, I spotted a not so old but one with a large green diamond shaped label sticked to the left upper corner of front glass shield. It read LPG. The rikshawala apparently spotting my curiosity somehow managed to get an eye contact with me and asked me if I want to board it. "Can you take me next to Sasson?", I asked (Sasson is the City general hospital in Pune). He said, "But it will be on meter". I said that would be fine and just pushed my self inside the comfort of this rikshwa, sill somehow wondering about LPG. Liquid Petroleum Gas based vehicles were made mandatory for new as well as some old vehicles a few year ago in India. But I didn't know that they had started enforcing this in Pune about 1-1/2 years ago. Unable to curtail my curiosity, I asked my driver (the rikshawala) as to when did he convert his vehicle to use LPG. "It has been almost a year now", came a prompt reply. And then without a word from me, he stared talking with me! He continued on to tell me the economics of using LPG instead of Petrol. He had bought his Bajaj 3 wheeler Rikshaw in 1985, which was quite contrary to what I had guessed when I saw that "not too old" taxi. For 1 liter of LPG, he had to shell out some 25 Rs while a liter of petrol almost cost double this amount. However, the mileage that he gets out from using the LPG powered was less that what he got when he used to run on petrol. But using LPG was still economical, as he didn't have to buy a new vehicle which according to him are poor in quality and break down in 5-6 years of service; priding himself that he has a 20 year old model which never had given him any major problem to date!

So how was his experience with the Regional Transport Office [RTO] when he went on to do the conversion of LPG? At this point he really started opening up and expressed his views rather openly. On the backdrop of the violence that happened in Maharashtra, just the day before he remarked that the situation here would be worst than in Kashmir today if we can't control our emotions, build good people and a strong society. I was just starting to wonder that probably every Indian thinks that way.. Then came a twist, he began to tell me why the continuing reservation policy is affecting the overall progress of the society. Of incompetent officers being promoted over more competent and experienced peers. Of the reservation policy not benefiting the poor people who really need it. Of providing the benefit of reservation to a person only once in his life time, preferentially only at the early schooling days, because he said once you are given an equal opportunity, every once should prove their competence to go ahead. Providing reservation at each stage for even the well off people serves no means and it just widens the gap in the society. And of corruption and vote bank politics effecting this whole scenario that needs rationalization for a better and all involving India. Of every Indian cherishing the value and the tradition of being an Indian and contributing to her prosperity.

I just couldn't imagine that a talk was just getting deeper. He asked me if I was learning medicine (in BJ), probably for the second time. With a negative answer from me, he asked "then where?". I said I am at Pune University. He continued with his talk, voicing his support for the recent strike by resident doctors all over India against the recently passed bill on extending reservation policy. Its a question of life and death, best people should be the only once that go to medicine, by not having merit as the only basis he said we are sure to get below par medical service.

The journey to my destined place for that day was coming to an end, but probably a few things that my rikshwala said were really troublesome to me and still rang in my ears. Thats why probably I decided to just jot down about it. The last time I had a similar encounter was in Hyderabad, just before the assembly elections there. When I tried to understand if the hyped "Cyberabad" had any impact on the lives of locals (probably i think, a rikshwala is a best person to voice the general view). To my surprise I was to find an interesting and affirmative answer... probably reserved for another post (of course if i get time ;))

Disclaimer: This is my jotting of a real conversation that happend between me an unknown rikshwala. By no means this should be considered a public viewpoint on any of the issues mentioned in the post.

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