When we move back to Canada in another month or so, we will take a lot of India with us in our hearts, a lot of strong friendships and special experiences. We'll also take back some of our stuff, including our most recent purchase, a cycle rickshaw.
Yesterday morning, I drove down to the bicycle market in Jhandewalan near Connaught Place and picked up our special piece of nostalgia. I had ordered it a couple weeks earlier and hoped that it would be ready. Thankfully, when we arrived at the shop, my hope was fulfilled. My kids were excited. Instead of having the rickshaw delivered by truck back to our place in South Delhi, I decided to ride it myself the 16 kilometers with my daughters on the back and my wife close by in the car. I had mapped out my route so as to avoid areas where rickshaws were not allowed. I had also planned for a couple rest stops on the way, including lunch at our favorite restaurant, The Big Chill, in Khan Market, which was exactly halfway between the bicycle shop and our home in New Friends Colony.
We settled the bill with our new friends at Durga Cycle Mart (contact details below) and set out from the shop at 11 a.m. As I began peddling, we immediately noticed that people were amused to see a rickshaw being ridden by a foreigner. Adding to the impact, of course, were three blonde girls riding on the back seat. We expected the attention, but we were amazed to see how much joy it brought to people. They seemed to accept it as a special gesture of cultural affirmation and as an act of solidarity with the common man. People honked and waved, the young and old alike. Some stopped us to take photos. Other rickshaw wallas cheered us on. Even the police applauded. As my legs grew tired and the temperature rose above 40 degrees Celsius, the encouragement from onlookers gave us strength and motivation.
As we came down Janpath and approached Rajpath in between India Gate and the parliament buildings, we took a break in the shade to enjoy some ice cream from a street vendor. People gathered around us. A police officer came from across the street and began questioning me in a purely friendly and curious tone. After a few minutes, we set out again across Janpath only to have the ice cream walla chase after us down the road. In all the commotion, I had forgotten to pay him! Fortunately, his face was the only angry one on the entire ride.
By noon, we reached Khan Market near Lodi Gardens and were sitting comfortably at The Big Chill, enjoying our pasta and salad and fresh lime sodas. After a good rest there, we set out into more familiar territory through Lodi Colony and into Nizamuddin. There, the wider streets of Central Delhi give way to the congestion of South Delhi. With that, the space between vehicles becomes less and the battle grows more intense. I began to use the bell on my handlebars more frequently and found myself brushing up against at least two city buses (with paint scrapes to prove it, according to my daughter, Alexis). On Mathura Road, the chain came off twice, leaving us wondering a little. But both times we were able to fix it quickly and move on. By Ashram Chowk, everything felt heavier and I was beginning to feel dehydrated. However, as we pushed our way through the massive intersection, two rickshaw wallas from a couple lanes over began to cheer loudly over the noise of the traffic and to raise their hands in approval. I received their commendation gratefully and kept peddling. Taking the short-cut through the more serene streets of Maharani Bagh, we came across another rickshaw walla who trundled up beside us and started up a conversation. Of course, among other questions, he asked how much we had paid for the cycle. In India, we’ve become accustomed to paying more for things as foreigners and, on this purchase, I had only asked two different shops for a price comparison. So I was pleasantly surprised when the rickshaw walla told us that his rickshaw had cost the same amount as we had just paid for ours, further solidifying the feelings of concord and camaraderie between us.
By 1 p.m. we entered the gates of A-Block in New Friends Colony to the sunny smiles of our neighborhood security guards. After a few photos with them, we rounded the last corner and rolled onto our lane. Alexis, my eldest daughter, had asked if she could ride it the last few meters to our building, and so I hopped off and walked alongside as she brought us home, completing a journey that we will not soon forget.
Next month, in Canada, another journey begins and I suppose we will feel special again as we set out down the country roads of British Columbia on our shiny new cycle rickshaw. I expect we will be noticed there too, but it is hard to believe that the smiles will be as bright or as numerous as yesterday in New Delhi.
**For anyone who’s interested, I purchased my rickshaw from Durga Cycle Mart (Shop #93A) in the Jhandewalan Cycle Market, New Delhi. I don’t mind saying that I paid 7500 Indian Rupees for it, which is the equivalent to about $165 Canadian/US. I dealt with a guy named Sudhir and his co-worker, Ranjit, who threw in the bell and a few other extras for free. If you want to buy your own and need some help, let me know.
Follow this link below to view the long-awaited video version of “The Rickshaw Ride.”