Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire

All of this last week, in Kolkata, we revisited with bitterness that feeling of constantly walking in water. A mere 300 kilometers away, our sleepy Industrial township has summers when, if you happen to go out in the sun in late morning or mid-afternoon, in all probability you'll catch the loo (not what you think/ plis check out the link) and peacefully drop down and die. On the other hand, if you can mostly stay in the shade and have something cool to drink you'll be fine. Not so in Kolkata. There, thirty seconds outside air-conditioning can get you so wet the sweat will get into your eyes. BTW, I saw the same thing happening to Dhoni in Chennai the other evening. (T20 can be a cruel game, Charlie Brown.)

One evening, while coming back from hospital after visiting a post-surgery uncle, we met this creature.

We had to walk a few hundred yards home, and it was starting to pitter patter. So we hailed, and he did oblige. We sat, he pedaled. His rickshaw was a pleasure vehicle. The seats were low-slung, wider, softer and the hood, when raised, would allow you to sit straight even if you weren't a dwarf. As opposed to your house and garden variety rickshaws in a Kolkata neighborhood. Man was the ride way comphier than any other pedicab! And that peekaboo window at the back, so romantic! Before you raise your hands and holler, yes, the photo was taken the morning after. Be coming back to that.

We reached home and had to alight. Could've gone on for miles y'know. Radio Mirchi was playing Tashan Se on the rickshaw's sound system. We asked him how much. Just being polite. We Knew the fare. He said, "Ja Ichhchhey Diye Din" (Whatever you dim right) "Aar to ei sapta-ta achhi. Next week theke ar amake paben na." (You won't find me here next week on)
"Why? Is anything the matter?"
No. Apparently the Bangla Cinema-r lok-ra had come and talked him into working in a film, so he'd be busy with shooting and all.
The missus, cruel woman, still asked, was it your special pedicab, or yourself, that got them so interested? The man replied mischievously, both, Boudi, both. Thus ended an enjoyable evening of rickshaw-riding. I remember inquiring after the Director and Producer of his debut feature. Only he wasn't into those unimportant details. And how did the Bangla Cinema-r lok find him? Oh, they must have read his interviews in Bartaman and watched him on Tara Bangla.
We nodded in awe, and silently entered home. Us ordinary mortals, with the distinct feeling of having peeked into celebrity zone.

But the slow fluorescence kept itself flickering in my head. By next morn I had seen light. This man had to be put on yonder blog. I went to the rickshaw stand he plied from. He was out, So I had to leave a message and a number. Within minutes, a missed call. I called back, asked him to wait, and went fortified with my camera. I hope this video does justice to the cosiness of the rickshaw, resplendent with all sorts of blinking lights, and belting out chartbusters one after another.

One final nugget. While parting, I offered the fellow a twenty. Compensation for time spent, lost fare and all. I might have taken, like, fifteen minutes of his time. Surprisingly, while he was indifferent about fare earlier on, this time he practically snatched away another fifty with a smile and all the charm of a smooth operator. I was awestruck once again. This man clearly had star quality. He already knew the market economics of interviews and photo shoots. He also knew where real money was for the making. Maybe all these media people have got him wizened up.

Shooting starts on 29th. Wish Ashok-da all the very best.

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