My Own Boss
It’s hard work being a rickshaw-puller and the earnings are barely enough. But, at least, I can be my own man. My own boss. It’s not a life of choice but necessity. I was one among lakhs of migrant workers in the early seventies who would go to Delhi, Calcutta, Punjab and other states for a livelihood. I was engaged at a construction site, but it was backbreaking work. My work needed lots of energy but wages were meagre. So, one day, I decided to return to my hometown in Jamui district. It was the mid-80s. At that time, Biharis were heading to metro cities in search of jobs, but I decided to swim against the tide.
The decision was risky but I was sure that I would manage to earn enough to feed my family. I spent a few months in my village and then headed to Patna. Here, some acquaintances suggested pulling a rickshaw. And that is how my journey started.
Poor people are more generous, more social and more kind. The Covid-19 pandemic taught me this. When a stringent lockdown was imposed in Bihar last year, I was in Patna, confined to my single-room tenement. My meagre savings ran out fast. So did my food stock. But it was not long before I found my guardian angel, one Shahji, a Hindu grocery shop-owner who lived nearby. As long as I was confined to my room, he provided three meals every day.
By May, and with Eid approaching, I was restless to get home to my family. I had no money but I was desperate. So, I borrowed a motorised thela (cart) from a friend and reached Lakhisarai at around 7pm. Since Jamui is adjacent to Jharkhand, it has some Maoist presence. Heeding police advice not to travel at night, I spend the night at the thana. They even offered me good food.
When I reached home the next day, my family was ecstatic. Though I was empty-handed, it didn’t matter to my family. They were happy that I was fine and with them. We enjoyed the auspicious occasion together. We couldn’t arrange much food, but it is not good food that gives us happiness. Being together does.
Wheels Of Life
I am now back in Patna where my day as a rickshaw-puller starts at 8 in the morning and can stretch up to 8 in the evening, a 12-hour journey. But incomes are very low. I barely earn Rs 300 a day. I have to pay Rs 40 each day to the rickshaw owner and spend around Rs 30-40 for breakfast and lunch. I cook dinner in the rented room I share four others. We share the room rent of Rs 2,500 per month. The room is barely liveable, but I can’t afford a costlier room. Chief minister Nitish Kumar has done some good work, like constructing roads and bridges but he razed the rain basera (night shelter), where I used to stay free of cost. The CM should have thought about people like us who survive on meagre incomes. Two years ago, I had my own rickshaw. I had brought it for Rs 30,000 after taking a loan. But it was stolen. Since then, I have not gathered courage to buy another rickshaw.
Educating My Children
I didn’t have the privilege of getting decent education. But now I know how important education is to get a job or ensure a decent earning source. Two of my sons have left their studies midway and are searching for jobs. My two daughters are still studying though. They also give tuitions to supplement my income. No government schemes have reached me, but whom to complain about? I think it was not in my destiny to enjoy government schemes. I am destined to do hard work. So, I believe in my own struggle. I will pull a rickshaw as long as I can.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Street Diary")
(As told to Umesh Kumar Ray)
Shamsher Ansari Is a rickshaw-puller in Patna