Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Photo: Lal Mohammed, Jaipur

After my Delhi Metro post the other day and the expression of relief that I didn't have to deal with rickshaw wallahs so much anymore, I realized that I was maybe being a little bit unfair. Every once in a while, a positive rickshaw experience occurs, and occasionally, it even gets documented.

The man in the above photo is a Jaipur rickshaw wallah named Lal Mohammed. Here is how I ended up taking his photo.

In January, 2006, I was in Jaipur, where I lived for a year in 1999-2000, to see some friends and revisit old haunts. (And, yes, to shop at the huge Anokhi store there.) Because rickshaws in Jaipur have no meters and always require haggling, I did a lot of walking. But one place I couldn't walk was to Jaimala's house. When I had lived in Jaipur, Jaimala and her mother and sister Mala had lived in the servants' quarters behind Sunil's house, where I was living. But in the years since, they had saved enough money to first buy a plot of land and then to build their own house. Two years earlier, I'd gone out with Sunil to see them and their house, which had just been completed weeks earlier. They had since added more rooms, and Jaimala invited me for lunch on my last afternoon in Jaipur.

But how to get there? The house was on the edge of Jaipur in what was becoming a new development. I had never taken the bus in Jaipur so had no idea where to start. I couldn't go home on the bus with Jaimala because it would be Sunday, and she would already be home. Jaimala and I sat in front of Sunil's house, where she still worked for his tenant, and pondered the dilemma for awhile. Until Jaimala beamed at me, and said in Hindi, "I know, Sue-didi--Lal Mohammed can bring you." "Who is Lal Mohammed," I asked, reasonably. "A rickshaw-wallah," she said, going on to say that Lal Mohammed had brought them home on occasion and knew where they lived. "But how will we find Lal Mohammed?" I asked. I thought of all the rickshaw wallahs in Jaipur and wondered how he might be found. Jaimala looked at me as if I were dim. "I have his mobile number," she said. "We'll phone him."

Now, this would seem very logical to me--it's very clear to me how much life in India is now entirely dependent on a massive number of people having mobiles. But then, I hadn't quite grasped it yet.

Jaimala called Lal Mohammed on his mobile. It turned out that he wasn't far away, so he came over in his rickshaw, and we made the arrangements. And so, two days later, I myself called Lal Mohammed's mobile phone and told him I was ready. He came to my hotel and picked me up. We drove out to Jaimala's new house together. And while Jaimala and Mala and their mother and I gossiped and ate and caught up, Lal Mohammed also ate a plate of Jaimala's excellent curry-chawal. While Jaimala and Mala and I wandered through the nearby fields, chatting with women picking peas, looking at houses in early states of construction, Lal Mohammed watched cricket on TV.

Afterwards, we all drank tea. Jaimala and Mala wanted photos of themselves in front of their house, so I took several (one is below). Mala asked if I would take one of Lal Mohammed as well, and so I did. (That's Mala and Dolly, the dog, on the right.)

Lal Mohammed got me to the train station in plenty of time, and I paid him the sum we'd agreed on. (I can no longer remember what it was, but it was not exorbitant in any way.) He bid me farewell, and I went into the station to catch my train back to Delhi.

I haven't been back to Jaipur since, but I like to think that Lal Mohammed is still driving his rickshaw and that if I needed to, I could call him on his mobile, and he could take me where I needed to go with a minimum of fuss.


Anjuli said...

A great tribute to a good auto rickshaw driver! It is great that he sticks out in your memory- despite life moving forward & you gravitating more towards metro stations.

Milliver's Travels said...

Loved this story! If I ever end up in Jaipur, I will ask you for Lal Mohammed's mobile number so I can avoid all the haggling.

It was heartwarming to hear that your friends finally got their own house. They look like proud and happy homeowners in the photo.

Sue Dickman said...

Thanks for stopping by, Milli! It was a wonderful thing for Jaimala and her family to get that house--for 3 uneducated women on their own, it was also a real triumph (not to mention well-timed, given the real estate boom in Jaipur).

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