This isn’t a travel-tale in the exact sense of the word.But it did change something in me, forever.
My dad is into a transferable job, because of which, I have had the opportunity to visit him at places where travelers do not venture in flocks. One such city was Ambikapur, in Chhattisgarh. Honestly, if you ask me, Chhattisgarh, in entirety is a state that is fairly under-explored and has tremendous scope, when it comes to backpacking. The state has perpetual rave-party going on, with Marijuana growing EVERYWHERE. And the lower-middle class of the tribal communities have it as a part of their daily routine. In fact, they come back to senses only when it is absolutely needed.
So yes, after his initial few weeks, me and my mother visited my father. The train, back then, used to go only uptill nearby town, called Bishrampur (an hour and half’s drive away from Ambikapur). So you either switched to the-once-a-day narrow-gauge train plying between Anuppur and Bishrampur, or took an overnight bus from Varanasi to Ambikapur.
Looking back, I think I miss this narrow-gauge train ride the most. It had the feel of the pre-independence era, with barely two people hogging the entire compartment. The TC couldn’t be bothered about checking tickets. The train stopped just about anywhere and everywhere. You could get down, click a few pictures on the reddish soil and a landscape that changed like a high-society socialite’s handbag, not bothering to repeat itself.
One of the most gorgeous sites that would forever be etched on to my traveler-heart is, when the Ambikapur-Shahdol Passenger Express would appear in sight to the waiting passengers, at Ambikapur station during the misty winter mornings. I so regret not having a camera back then!!
Yeah, so back to the topic.
One noon, both of us decided to get our individual bank accounts done. So we stepped out. In the sun, that could have doubled up as a mass-‘tandoor’, back here in Delhi. The only mode of local-transport in the city was the cycle-rickshaw for majority of the time. As we stepped out of our lane, we saw a line-up of rickshaws, albeit with the rickshaw-puller sleeping/napping on top of it.
We asked one guy. He refused. Second one. He too refused. Third one was too high, perhaps on the Marijuana. A shopkeeper, who was observing the matter from a distanced, sent his errand-boy for us. He asked us what was wrong and we explained it to. He rightly guessed that we were new to the town. The expectation to ‘work hard through-out the day’ proving to be the give-away of our being strangers to the town was slightly discouraging. At least for me. I wondered how were they expecting to grow, if they slept through the day.
The shopkeeper’s errands-boy explained it to us then. That all the rickshaw-pullers work since 6:00am and by 10:00am, they earn what is needed for the day, for their whole family. There is no concept of tomorrow in their life. I think it took me some 3 days to recover from the shock back then. All these factors contributed to making the town all the more sleepy. What if they fell ill? and if terminally so? What
if their kids wanted to go for higher studies?
We gradually realised that not just the rickshaw-pullers, almost the entire town functioned this way. Step out between noon and early evening and you would be greeted with deserted roads, shops with no customers at all, doctor’s clinic- minus the doctor, government offices with only the peon trying to pass his time, or worse, with the door locked. I was dying to know where does everyone go?
I decided to bookmark my thoughts on the matter and get the doubts cleared at the first chance I have.
A week later, as I stepped out with my dad for some work, I chatted up a rickshaw-puller to dig more on the topic. Read the conversation that followed, and tell me which of the two bunches (we, the-so-called-educated ones, or they) has the smarter approach for life.
This is what the conversation was like:
Me:’If you guys are able to earn for the day in 4 hours, why don’t you work more? Say, for tomorrow?”
Rickshaw-puller: ”WHY should I work for tomorrow. Whatever I need tomorrow, I’ll work for it tomorrow only! And who knows if I am going to remain alive till tomorrow?”
Me: ”Yeah! But if you have extra money at hand, then maybe you can lead a better life. Maybe you can build yourself a home.”
Rickshaw-puller: ”By the time the house would be made, how many years would I have at hand to live? Is it worth it? And what is a better life?” (Life-expectancy is low in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.)
Me: ( I had no answer to his question) ”If you don’t need a house, how about an early retirement?”
RP: ”And what do you propose that I do in that “early retirement”? It makes sense to keep the machinery of the body running for as long as possible. Sitting at home, I’ll catch 100 of ailments. By sweating it out, I can avoid it.”
Me: ”But you should have SOME extra money at hand.”
RP: ”YOU tell me why do I need the extra money first!!!!”
Peeved, I gave up.
As a result of that conversation,I am still trying to figure out a few concepts of the urban life, like- “better life”, “safe future”, “better standard of living”, “more opportunities” etc. (feel free to add more if you want). Basically, the factors that constitute the hedonic-treadmill. The rut of “bigger-car” “better-phone” and “bigger-house”. As the result of the “consumerist-culture”, the lines between want, need, and luxury have blurred at an alarming rate. And as we try to earn more, these things seamlessly move from one lot to the other.
And yes! I later found out that the shopkeepers, government officials (only some), doctors with private practices, people working in private offices used to go home for lunch, coupled with a nap and show back at work only after 3:00 pm. According to them, there is a time for everything. I am not a fan of the practice in entirety, but it does give one enough food for thought!
High time we got off OUR hedonic-treadmill and travelled, no? 😀