I took a break in the middle of an awesome ride around bbay late at night (thane to borivali via ghodbunder road, about 130 am, to be specific)
my phone has been giving trouble (it only charges when switched off), so i was just standing near my bike and having my chai (more like waiting for it to cool to a drinkable temperature, actually), and observing the people there.
there was a random assortment of people at the chaiwalla, quite appropriate for that hour: all guys, some in cars, some standing with their bikes, chit-chatting, some smoking, others having tea, and one group having cheap "chinese" food in plastic plates and bowls at the only table at the stall.
while i was there, a rickshaw pulled up and a driver got out. he didn't buy anything though. he just stood and leaned against his rickshaw, visibly drunk. after some time, he walked up to me and pointed at my bike's rear turning lights, and asked me if I had them custom made. i wasn't particularly interested in talking to him, but it'd be rude to not answer, so i told him that yes, I actually had them custom made. he asked me if it was just for show. I told him that no, it was so that I could fix my bags on my bike without them getting in the way.
he was curious about why someone would need to have bags there, so i described my saddle bags and told him I use them for long bike rides.
he asked me how far I had ridden. i told him I have done bike trips up to 4000 km, and i was expecting to do an even longer one in a few days. unlike most people who usually react with surprise, he took this in rather matter-of-factly and wanted to know more. he asked me where I had ridden to, whether I ride in the day or night, and even what makes me decide to ride at night.
he noticed my patched-up mudguard and asked me if it was an accident. i told him it was potholes in aarey road.
the conversation seemed pretty normal until now, when the topic changed and he started talking about his day. he said that he didn't know that there's a different permit for drivers in Mumbai and Thane, and he found out the hard way today, after 9 months, when he was stopped by cops. he also doesn't have a license, just a photocopy - the original was confiscated months ago and he didn't bother collecting it as he didn't want to pay the fine. he also didn't know when the registration and insurance papers disappeared from his rickshaw. apparently when he had taken a few days off, the substitute driver had stolen the papers. so when he was stopped today he didn't have a license, permit, or papers. he said he was lucky, the cop was sympathetic. he had 250 rs with him, so the cop pocketed 150 and left him with 100 rs for fuel.
he said he was lucky, if it wasn't just a lone cop at the checkpost, he'd definitely be jailed and his rickshaw impounded.
i told him that drinking and driving was even worse.
that got him started.
he told me, he does only one trip every day. there are ladies who live in malad that he has to ferry to work in nalasopara, and back home. he has to pick them up at 9:30 pm, and he reaches them at a bar at nalasopara at precisely 10:10pm. never later than 10:15pm. and he reaches them back when the bar shuts in the wee hours of the morning. they pay for his food and drinks while he waits for them: he said that he had a plate of chicken lollipops and a quarter of whisky today.
I didn't want to ask him questions, wondering if he was some sort of pimp or something. he continued his story anyway: they pay him 800 bucks a day, flat. they don't always pay him daily, but by the end of the week the makes sure he gets his 800 for each day. they never go with anyone else, and he doesn't bother with any other rides even though he very well could.
he said that life is good. he has a family, has a place to live (he even told me where, somewhere in bhayendar), and he has his day to himself. he even has time to have a drink or two before setting off for work in the evening. and he gets 800 bucks a day, every single day. he even asked me to calculate how much that adds up to.
he said there are 3 ladies, and their job is to serve drinks and deal cards at the bar. he said that sometimes these ladies wear little more than just underwear. he told me I should come to the bar sometime, to eat and drink with him, and he'll tell me stories.
as i finished my now cold cup of chai, and wore my bag to get ready to ride off, he told me his brother had once brought a bike, but he had an accident not far from where we were, and broke his leg. after that he decided that he will never try riding a bike.
as i rode off, he told me we should meet again. I wonder if we will.