Poor Man’s New Year
Something was certainly different today. All the passengers who he had conveyed to their destinations were carrying packets, chickens, sweet-boxes, edible things, and bottles of drinks. Baleshwar was unable to understand why people were buying so many things on that particular day. It was not the day of any festival or religious ceremony. He scratched his head and sat on the seat to take a little rest. Hardly had he sat down when a passenger came to him and ordered Baleshwar to take him to Gandhi Nagar.
Having reached his destination, the passenger said, “How much?”
Baleshwar quoted the money and the passenger paid him without haggling. It was quite strange because often passengers quarreled with him over the fare.
Since morning the business has been good. No sooner he drops a passenger than a new passenger occupies his seat in his tricycle-rickshaw. He has been paddling for hours now and he thinks he should rest a while.
He feels that it is his lucky day because he must have seen some lucky person’s face in the morning. But he remembers that the first face was his wife’s.
Generally he leaves his hut without eating anything in the morning. On usual days he doesn’t even earn enough money to buy two square meals. When he leaves his hut empty stomach, he parks his rickshaw in front of Chaman Lal’s tea shop. He understands that Baleshwar is hungry so he gives him two bread slices and a cup of tea. After driving for about four hours, Baleshwar comes back to the tea shop for lunch and pays the price of bread slices and tea.
Today it is different. He has been getting passengers one after another. He is trying to remember the person who was his first passenger in the morning. Suddenly, he remembers that she was a fat woman. She was so fat that she had to struggle hard to adjust herself in the seat. For a second the thought of refusing to carry that lady had passed Baleshwar’s mind but he decided to drive. Actually she was his first passenger and refusing the very first passenger in the morning was definitely going to be inauspicious. The fat woman had paid her ten rupees and he was happy.
After that woman, there came a man carrying a few live chickens, their legs tied together with a rope. The birds were in panic and they were crying. Baleshwar thought how that man would feel if he were tied and hung upside down like the chickens! A thought crossed his mind that he should snatch those birds from that man and free them but then he realized that he was a passenger who was going to pay him after the ride.
“Take me to Ram Nagar!” his voice was trembling and his breath gave an indication to Baleshwar that the man was drunk.
Since the man had already taken his seat, Baleshwar had to accept it, though he did not want to take that passenger.
After about half an hour, the rickshaw was stopped at the place shown by that man.
“How much?” said the man.
“Twenty rupees,” said Baleshwar.
“I am not an outsider! Twenty rupees! This is not right!” said the man but he gave him twenty rupees.
Baleshwar muttered to himself, “Bastard! I thought he would not give me even five rupees but he gave twenty rupees.”
Though it was not the time for lunch, Baleshwar felt hungry. He came back to Chaman Lal’s tea shop.
Chaman Lal said, “What happened? Why have you come so early?”
“Is lunch ready? I am very hungry,” said Baleshwar.
When the lunch was served, he pounced as if he had not eaten for many days. Having finished his lunch, he came back to his rickshaw and occupied the passenger seat for his siesta.
Baleshwar has been driving his rickshaw for about months but today this town appears to be different. The streets and markets are more crowded than earlier days. The new hotel at the Main Road is being decorated. There are many buyers at sweet and cake shops. It is very strange. Whatever the reason be, Baleshwar is very happy. He has not been able to rest even for fifteen minutes. Having worked for more than six hours, he is not tired.
One day, being unable to control his curiosity, he had said to a passenger, “Sir, what is Republic Day?”
The passenger got angry and said, “Look in front and drive carefully. Don’t ask