Must be something about rickshaws in Ahmedabad and me...
Yesterday, I took one clear across the city; a chuckling old man was my driver and we drove for far longer than seemed necessary. Though when I started to wonder aloud if he was driving me in circles to get more money out of me, he pointed heavenwards with a trembling finger. "If I did that, sir, I'll have to answer to bhagwan up there! What's the use of making another five or ten rupees then?"
Anyway, at one point a man on a battered scooter draws alongside and begins gesturing angrily at my driver to pull over. He's yelling too, but I can't hear him over the traffic noise. From his gestures, I gather that he thinks we have bumped his scooter and he wants us to pull over so that he can have it out with the driver. My driver actually turns to me and points at him, laughing. I have felt no bump, but then that means nothing. Nevertheless, I remember that previous rickshaw drive in this city, that previous pulling over, and even if I can't see how this man might carry a long sturdy stick on his scooter, I tell my driver not to stop. I yell back at the scooter man, it's OK, let it go.
Eventually, he does.
Today, a new friend and I are in a rickshaw going over a bridge. To our right in the heavy traffic, I see a woman on a scooter wobble, try to regain her balance, wobble some more and then, almost as if it had to happen and in near slow-motion, she tumbles to the ground in a flurry of pink salwar kameez and flying dupatta and flailing arms and black scooter metal and streaming long hair and the blur of rushing swerving traffic.
We stop as soon as we can and rush back to her. A young man has run up too, together the three of us help her to her feet, pick our way through the traffic that will not slow but will gawk, to the side of the road and sit her down. She has a cut on her nose, a bump on her forehead, but her real pain and shock seems to come from her right arm, which is hanging awkwardly. She holds it and moans, twice she seems about to faint from the sun and the trauma. I fish out my bottle of water and urge her to drink; she takes a couple of sips but then asks, weakly, if we will pour it over her head and face.
"Can you put my arm back?" she asks. The accident dislocated it at the shoulder, she says, and she wants one of us to "put it back" so she can drive home. Certainly I don't feel competent to try something like this, not least because she moans in pain every time we even touch that arm. Nor does my friend, nor the young man, nor any of the others who have gathered around us. And even if we could do this, we can't let her try to drive home in this state.
Someone remembers that there's a doctor of sorts somewhere just below the bridge. So we get her to stand, then quickly sit her down again because she starts fainting. Eventually, she does stand, and we manoeuvre her into our rickshaw as gently as we can. Every move draws a wince and a moan. The young man says he will drive her scooter and follow us to the doc.
Down the bridge, a U-turn, drive 50 metres to a right turn, then another 100 metres down that road. But it is a slow and tortuous journey. The road is mud and stones, and every bump of any size, however slowly we take it, draws an agonized squeal of pain from her. My nerves are on edge by the time we reach the doctor.
And this is a harvaid, a bonesetter. I'm sceptical of these guys, at best, but here we have no choice. She's in such agony that what's most urgent is some relief, and she'll get that here.
Inside, the man looks her over, asks some questions, pokes firmly at her shoulder drawing more squeals. Then he brings a towel, sticks it under her arm, holds it firmly and -- drawing one long loud moan -- twists and pulls and pushes, seemingly in one fluid businesslike motion. "It's OK now," he announces to her and us. And it is. She says she doesn't have the courage to try moving the arm, but he moves it for her, gently, to show her that it's back in place.
"But you've got to be careful for the next six months!" he tells her. No lifting things above her head, no driving around ... "But what will I do?" she wails. "What about my kids?"
"Tell your husband," he advises.
"Mera pati chhe mahine pehle off ho gaya", she says. "My husband died six months ago."
The doc says he needs to put a splint on her shoulder -- he's cutting a strip of what looks like flattened bamboo as he speaks -- which means she will not be able to put her kameez back on over it. She shakes her head. My new friend tells the woman she will go buy a top for her. She shakes her head again. Eventually, the harvaid uses her dupatta and some gauze to immobilize the arm, and says we can take her home, provided she gets herself a splint within an hour.
It's another long and tortuous journey, most of it on roads whose horrible state I would not notice, were the poor woman not moaning in desperation every time we even approach a bump, or pothole, or a rough patch. The young man drives her scooter. At her building finally, she is able to give us a weak smile, and say "You must at least come up to my home!"
We do. We settle her on her sofa, have a glass of water, remind her gently about the splint, and leave.
And it's now I'd like to say to Hiral (the new friend) and Hardeep (the young man): you remind me what humanity is. And to Ramjibhai Chauhan (the harvaid) -- who refused to take any money for his swift, gentle and effective kindness -- I'm not so sceptical any more, and you too remind me what humanity is. And to Ghazala-ben (the lady with the restored shoulder), I'm going to call you in a day. You better have that splint on.