THE Maharashtra chief minister proudly announces he was once a auto rickshaw driver, that’s good, but I hope he’s not flirting with politics as I see rickshaws flirting with death: It lay smashed on the side of the road. Frail and pathetic, like a small defenceless animal that had been ripped apart by a monster.
Its tubular frame bent inwards as if some giant hand had squeezed it all together. The tiny, impertinent wheel which should have been in front, was now pushed inward and looked like another gear wheel of the engine. There was no driver’s seat, and the passenger seat was twisted like a piece of pliant plastic.
“What happened?” I ask the paanwalla, whose shop was nearby. “Driver died, passenger seriously injured,” he said, as he handed an extra special paan to a customer. The customer looked at me as he placed the paan between his teeth. “We had to call the fire brigade to get the bodies out.” I looked at the twisted pieces of metal that had once formed part of a proud three-wheeler. “Why?” I wonder, “do they flirt so dangerously with death?”
“Rickshaw,” shouts a customer, and the rickshaw driver without a second thought of who is behind or at his side cuts across road to the waiting passenger. Cars and buses, cyclists and pedestrians do not exist for the driver of the three-wheeler. The passenger gets in and the flirting starts. I watch a speeding truck apply emergency brakes, as the fragile machine darts across its path.
The truck driver shouts, his cleaner swears, but a little machine below, oblivious of its missed brush with death carries on regardless … and through road and gully, smooth or potholed, it flits from one side to another, narrowly missing men and machines, narrowly brushing past instant death a hundred times.
The drivers are experts. There is no doubt about that, but do we have to tolerate this performance of skill and dexterity on our overcrowded roads, when a racing track or a rally trail would serve them better. That small naughty wheel in front, nudges and pushes, dodges and manoeuvres, and scuttles through traffic, but causes with each turn, other brushes and scrapes, to other vehicles trying to avoid it. The auto rickshaw, a boon they say to the penny saving passenger, but a toll being paid to skim and flirt with death everyday.
Next time, lean across and tell the fellow to slow down … tell him you value your life … even if he doesn’t his. I look with sadness at the pathetic remains of what was once a three wheeled monstrosity, a contraption that defies all safety standards … a vehicle that should either be banned, or checked stringently by not just the law, but by us. Flirting is dangerous, especially when it’s with death! I hope the former rickshaw driver now a political leader does something about the safety of the ‘flirter with death’..!