The Last Smile

Arey bhaiya… kyun dimag ki maa behen ek kar rahe, baith jao” he insisted once again in his crooked Hindi; but I was firm, and with a very blunt stance I waved at him and said “kyu maa behen ek karwa rahe ho, chale jao mujhe doosra mil jayega”, turning my face away, I started my sluggish walk away from him, trying to give him an impression that I didn’t need him rather he did.

THUD!!! A loud and harsh sound behind my back and I turned around. He had hit his forehead with his palm. He got down from his three wheeler, irritated and now in pain (after hitting his forehead with his own hand out of frustration) and commanded. “Bhaiya… yaha se konkane chowk janeka tum 50 kis hisaab se bol raha hai? 70 barabar hai” Having stayed in Pune (outskirts) for 2 years I added: “Mein aap ko naya dikhai de raha hoon kya yaha pe? Aksar jate rehta hoon mein konkane chowk, aur 50 bhi zada hi hai dhai kilometer ke hisaab se.”

Was Konkane Chowk really 2.5 KM from Wakad? I wondered.

He knew I would not pay a dime more. He re-tried. “Chalo bhaiya, na aapka na mera 60 dedo.” I had traveled to that place before and yes even Rs 50 was a lot. I said no and looked for another auto.

Expectedly, he called me out,”Ajao bhaiya, baitho.” I sat with a grin on my face. I stretched out both my arms and rested them on the back rest of the seat and took the center space. I owned him. All the 3 capacities were booked for me at the price that I quoted. I had won that bargain. I was the winner. At least, that’s what I felt like, then. But this war was far from over. Pune outskirts is Sparta for Rickshaw walas and I did not know that I was dealing with “Leonidas” himself.

His Rickshaw would have clocked around 200 meters when he uttered with a persisting voice “Koi aur sawari try karta hoon, nahi milti to 60 dedena”. With a resilient and stern voice I countered “Apne 50 bol ke baithaya hai, mein pachas hi dunga.” I answered, “Mujhe waise bhi aur agey jana hai wo to mere pass utne hi paise hai aap ko dene ke liye isliye chowk tak hi bola”. I went on “Chahiye to mera wallet dekh lo, 70 rupaye hai …. 50 aap ko dunga fir baki 20 deke wapas bhi jana hai, abhi urgent hai isliye 50 de raha hoon, nahi to bus se jata”. He said “Arey aisa mat bolo sir, agey kaha tak jana hai bolo udhar tak jayega mai and mujhe ek bhi paise mat do, chalega”. I thought I convinced him in my bluff.

He insisted on dropping me till my destination without taking any money. He went past the chowk without stopping. I ordered him “Rokdo yahi pe”, but he was determined to sleep satisfied that night. He constantly inquired about where I actually wanted to go. Now I started feeling pity for the man. I thought to myself – c’mon on Shivam you can pay him extra Rs 10 even if it is not worth it. The Rs 10 matters to him…

I asked him to pull over and told him that I would pay Rs 60; he denied initially, but then he accepted. I gave him Rs 60 with a sympathetic smile. He took the money and smiled back. And soon we both stopped smiling.

We just looked at each other for some time. The reality struck. I had paid him what he initially wanted. The war was over NOW!!! And he had won it. His last look said to me: “Kid, you might not be new here, but I was born here.”

He grinned and drove off.

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