On a simmering July evening, the incandescence of Bangalore’s commercial heart takes glow on MG Road; where Eastern charms recede, and the night is swept over by Western influence. Yet the charisma of its people never fades.
The perpetual horn sirens and a street vendor yells, ‘pani puri, 50 rupees’ in tandem. Through the frenzy, the voice of Pramod, a ‘rickshawala’ can be heard. ‘Please sir,’ ushering us into a rickshaw, as he steps precariously with one foot on the brake and the other on the pavement, acting like an anchor to the vehicle. The license displayed on the back of his seat offered the only semblance of trust, despite not looking anything like him. Noting our concern he jests, ‘good horn, good brakes and good luck, are my three golden rules.’
Pramod powerfully presses his foot against the accelerator, and the rickshaw jerks forward, causing a cool waft of incense and chai from the Bangalore night to enter the vehicle. Skilfully weaving between the traffic and into a clearing, Pramod turns to us and smiles, revealing his gold-plated teeth. ‘We Indians can have fun too,’ he exclaims. Suddenly Pramod turns the rickshaw into the oncoming traffic and back, as if playing a game of chicken. ‘Adhika’ translating to ‘more’, he questions.
As he slams on the brake at a red traffic light, the humid South Indian heat can be felt again, providing contrast to the adrenaline rush. Cars collect around our petite rickshaw, over-spilling to where the oncoming traffic is due. Across the junction; a mirror image. Pramod’s impatience is evident, he starts tapping a Bhangra beat on the metal bar separating us from him, ‘ek minute’ he says disembarking, to our awe. Leaving us encompassed by revving engines and drivers erring to move, like tigers on short tethers.
Pramod can be seen, unstirred, by a barbers shack, smoking a ‘bidi’ and bantering with a friend. The lights turn amber-engines begin to roar. He spits out some Betel leaf, known locally as ‘Paan’, and urges himself, ‘Jaldi, jaldi’ as he darts back toward us. He then pauses to smile, before expertly jacking up the engine.
What may appear chaotic and erratic to the outsider in India, is actually uniquely organised. Pramod embodies this. Placing each hand against the outer shell of the rickshaw, leaving the steering wheel to its own devices, he says ‘this is my life, I have it under control.’