Saturday, August 27, 2005

the disadvantages of car travel: looking up at the sky and agnelo

amits helmet

the world looks so different when you are outside the capsule of the car. for the past few days i have been moving around in alternative modes of transportation around the city. it is wonderful, it is strangely new. the same streets seem completely transformed.

today i went with amit to our ghatkopar site on his motorcycle. for a change i could see the sky above bright blue with white clouds, squinting in the sun and the wind, and being able to actually experience the city first hand. that’s the thing about a motorcycle. there is something so primal about it. speed and sound. even at traffic jams, all i had to do was to reach out and touch another auto rickshaw or car. the distance that a glass pane places in between was absent and the 360 degree view helps. above us all along the way were the suspended dahi handis of gokulashthami and many trucks carrying hordes of strapping young men in matching t-shirts and shorts: “mitr mandals” of different types, on their way to conquer, singing songs, beating drums.

the frame wall being filled

on the way back from ghatkopar i caught a rickshaw and the driver took me through a new road connecting andheri and ghatkopar. on the way i was entertained by the epic drama of his life.

agnelo was his name (albert for short) and he was brought up in an orphanage near the mills of parel after his drunkard father abandoned his entire family. he studied in the local convent till the eight standard when poverty forced him to get out of school. he then decided to go to karwar – his ‘native’ place to survive. barely being able to live there he was soon back in bombay, working in a dance bar and earning 15 rupees a day with which he used to buy a vada pao every night and sleep.

he finally made it big when the father of his church gave him a recommendation letter with which he got a job at the leela kempinski’s accounts department where he met a great many people who were generous and pleasant. they all loved him for his impeccable honesty (and for his good looks) especially a man who ended up being his mentor. this man, agnelo still looks up to and says he can give his life up for him.

the entire process of getting the job was another long story that i shall skip for this record. it involves a borrowed shirt, 5 rupees in his pocket and a ticket collector he pushed onto the tracks for catching him without a ticket..

anyways, these he says were the best times in his life. after 6years of working there however, he left because of what he called ‘management politics’. he still regrets that decision. he says that if he had continued he would be earning 15000 rupees a day. anyways, after that our hero fractured his hand and realized that he has no one to take care of him- cook him food, make his bed, and realized that a man needs a maid. he saw a neighbor of a cousin and asked if that girl would marry him. she agreed, surprisingly. but it seems that angelo used to be able to do 300 suryanamaskars in one day, so he was quite a hunk. so he got married and threw a party for a few of his friends with country liquor, whiskey, beer and a hired taxi as the wedding vehicle.

at that time, angelo had become quite the entrepreneur. he had two rickshaws and one motorcycle of his own, and things were looking great. however there was still no child in the family. the problem was solved when one rainy evening he was taking a couple huddled in the back seat of his rickshaw to ghatkopar station through aarey milk colony. in their arms was a tiny bundle of white cloth in which was wrapped a small child. thinking that agnelo was a bhaiyya the couple were discussing leaving the baby somewhere in aarey as it seems, she was the illegitimate daughter of the girl. the man had dumped her and left. the girl, from what he told me was a model and could not afford this stain on her image.

agnelo at that moment interrupted the couple in the back seat and told them that he would adopt the baby. they were initially shocked but then agreed. agnelo then took them to ghatkopar station and got ‘transfer of the baby’ papers made from a friend of his. the baby was signed over to him and no contact with the couple was to be entertained since that day. agnelo even shifted his house from where he was to chembur where he still lives today (he seems to have seen the fire station- thinks that i must have earned a lot of money with it- hah! little does he know).

when he got this little girl back to his house his wife was livid and asked him to give the kid back to the people he had got her from. but angelo refused. he decided instead to take care of the kid himself. she (for the kid was a girl) slept in the back of the rickshaw while he drove passengers form place to place. one day while angelo was watching tv and the baby slept on his lap he fell asleep and the baby was injured on her chin. though the injury was not severe, angelo’s hindu kannada wife got suddenly very emotional and broke down and cried. suddenly a new found love emerged in her heart and ellis, for that was her name, has not left her side since.

the marol church was where agnelo tried to get the girl baptized but the father was hesitant when he learnt about the fact that she was adopted. ‘there was paperwork that needed to be done” he said. agnelo stormed out and lied at the vakola church and got the girl baptized. since that day he has completely forsaken the curch. the girl is now 9 years old and goes to an english medium school. angelo says that she is extremely intelligent and good looking. he says it is because of her genes from a higher class.

it was an illness that shrunk him from the body builder he was to the rather scrawny man i met today. an illness of the liver that made him so weak, he was not sure that he would survive. he sold his rickshaws and his motorcycles for the doctors’ treatments. however, the money was still not enough. his mentor then gave him the money and finally agnelo got better.

today he drives a rickshaw that belongs to someone else in the eastern suburbs of mumbai and talks a lot to passengers who sit in the back seat.

agnelo's rickshaw

today i learnt one of the most important disadvantages of car travel- i would never have gotten to hear this story.

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