Name: Majibul Rahman
Age: Does not remember correctly should be between 32-35 years
Marital Status: Married with two kids for 4 years. Meets his wife twice in one years
Occupation: Rickshaw puller in New Delhi for 15 years now
Earnings: Rs. 200-250 ($4-5) per day on days he works
Residence: A small room in an “unauthorized” basti that now spans from Noida toll road to sector
Originally from: some village I don’t even remember the name of now
No, I don’t remember the village he comes from but I do remember being shocked when he told me that there is no electricity in his village. The nearest city to have electricity around his home is 15 kilometers away.
This is the bio data of a Rickshaw puller in Delhi. There are over a million more like him in Delhi who come from small villages we have never heard of and find “well paying” job as a rickshaw puller. There are millions of such Indians, who work as street vendors, maids, drivers, rag pickers and some who don’t find jobs work as beggars. I was walking around in Chandani Chowk with my friend the other day and I was stunned to discover the different ways in which an ordinary Indian makes money, feed herself and run her home. To clarify what an ordinary means is the one who doesn’t own a vehicle and work in an air conditioned office. Simply put someone who never files tax because s/he doesn’t make enough income. Because there are still millions of people out there who have never logged on to the internet, who do not use facebook and who do not tweet!
I know I am not making any kind of a revelation. No! I am not saying we are a poor country with lots poor people around. I would let the foreign Goras coming in to make movies about that to let us know what we really are. What I felt after returning from United States is that India lives in layers and stratas. Its upper class never interacts with middle class. Its middle class very rarely maintain contacts with the lower middle class and brings up its children telling that the poor kids are not to be spoken to. We grow up mistrusting and mistreating the section of the society that does the most amount of physical labor and makes least money simply because they make less money.
How little I know an average Indian, (not an ordinary Indian), is something I realized when I spoke to one of the Rickshaw driver for the shoot of my documentary. He was kind enough to take us to his jhuggi. We sat there for an hour and he opened up his life to us in one conversation. It was a small room where he said up to 5 people could live at a time. There was a small fan on the ceiling, a lamp, an old suitcase, mat on the floor. A few papers, carry bags and clothes were piled on each other on a corner and he sat in the center. There was a tap right outside his room and one his neighbor was washing clothes outside his room. He said a room of his own in the basti could cost uptp Rs 30000.
He makes around Rs 4,000-5,000 a month after pulling his rickshaw everyday for 9-10 hours, pays around Rs 700 as his rent, Rs 300 as phone bill and sends Rs. 2,000-3,000 every month. Back home in his village in West Bengal he has his parents, his wife, and two kids. He has a small piece of land on which his family does farming. Sometimes they hire labourers at a daily wage rate of Rs. 100 per day.
While most rickshay walley in Delhi rent their Rickshaws from contractors who are referred to as “Rickshaw Mafias”, Majibul owns his rickshaw. When I asked Majibul about his problems a rickshaw wala, he had no complaints. What struck me the most in this conversation was that though from my perspective I could see his problems but from where he stood, he had a satisfactory life. He had did not want anything more from his life. He did not have goals set in his mind or “stress” that gave high blood pressure at young age. In a small room he lived with a big heart. Even though we were strangers to him, he had the heart to let us into his home, offer us bottled water and Coke because he was so sure we wouldn’t drink water from the bottle he carried around for himself.
How many Indians and how much of India I really know I wonder now. A proud Dilliwali, I am, But how often have I tried understand how people live in the small jhuggis that we complain the landscape of Delhi. Who are these people who come small villages into big cities and do all sorts of jobs. Who are these who clean your table after you walk off from the Dhaba after a meal, who is the lady who cleans up my room, who is man who pulls me from home to Metro station on his rickshaw, who is the guy who sells me onions, who is the guy who cleans up my car each morning for Rs 250 a month and yet leaves my Rs. 500 back into dash board when I drop it in my car. Who are these people. Indians. My fellow Indians.