'Rickshaw rides ' is just a halt in the driveway of memory lane where the train of flashbacks pulls in and I, the sole passenger alight, enter a gateway behind which is a doorway leading to a long passage ...I walk past many a door and suddenly one door flings open. A face peers at me stirring the folds of my mind.....'CHIRAI' and I am lost in a torrent of fire flies..." Bahuji sabji lena hai na...laiye thaila mujhe dijiye....babu log aap yahin rickshe pe hi rahiye...hum abhi aate hain sabji liwa ke.."
It was when I joined DAV Public School, Ara as a teacher in 1993. The school was approx. 6-7 Kilometers away from my place and punctuality was in my veins (still it is). So, reaching in time was a matter of 'doing or dying'. This problem was easily sorted out by my husband who was then posted at S.B.I. Ara. Chirai lived in the same muhalla of ours and used to pull a hired rickshaw. He always kept coaxing my husband for sanctioning a loan for a new rickshaw. Then and there, the loan was sanctioned, the rickshaw was purchased and Chirai became a rickshaw-owner from simply a rickshaw-driver.
This new 'Chirai' was not only a rickshaw owner but also our 'Djinn', always there at our beck and call.The route which meandered through Pakri lane by Ramna Maidan, Gopali Chowk, Dharman Chowk to Ramgarhia where the school was located in an old building, became the toy train route of a hill station but for the garbage filled pavements and crowded bazar with mixed traffic. We became tired but Chirai never.
His name 'Chirai' seemed to match his face with small eyes and pointed nose like a sparrow's beak. There never was a frown seen on his forehead and there always was a foolish sort of broad grin showing his tobacco used discolored gaping teeth.A childless man he was but had no dearth of love and kindness for anyone, no grudge for his fate against the Lord. Right from carrying the school bags of Mani and Shami (my sons)to the grocer's bag, he showed unusual zeal and interest in getting the right and the cheaper purchasing done.
Every year, Vijayadashmi reminds me of 'Chirai' who would carry us to 'Aranya Devi Temple' and from there to all the idols and pandals in his rickshaw, now and then commenting on the grandeur of the pandals and the money spent on their decoration. The only return he expected from us for this rickshaw-ride was 'Parvi' and this was fulfilled more than his expectation by my husband like Danvir Karn. His face would lit up with a broad smile and mine hearing the rain of blessings which he showered on my sons. Next day, he would be nowhere to be seen. After 3-4 days, he would come and when asked about his sudden disappearance, would shamefacedly admit that he had become ill (due to liquor) but the next moment, he proudly described how he had tried to please his wife by buying her a few pieces of trinkets.
Then I left D.A.V. and joined Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghthan in 1995. I had to move from Ara as my first posting was at HFC, Barauni. The Rickshaw ride was cut short but not his visits to see us whenever we visited Ara in the holidays. The loan had been paid off but not the loan of emotional bonding.
Nothing can wipe off the memory of the last meeting. After 4-5 months of my husband's death, I had been to Ara on some important errand. I was about to leave when I saw him coming- bent back, tear filled eyes. I switched off the engine and we remained there, silent for some time just feeling one another's loss and pain. When finally, I took hold of myself, I heard him murmuring "babu log sab thik-thak rahenge, bade aadmi banenge" bidding goodbye waving his thin hands at us. The rickshaw ride had really been cut short.....