Vinodini was reading the newspaper which highlighted a news item. A teaseller’s girl had cracked and got through Punjab Civil Services examination with hi-fi ranks. Vinodini was not so greatly impressed by that news. She thought it was somewhat degrading the values of girls’ ability as if girls could not achieve anything substantial. What was the need for a small victory of a girl to be unduly glorified as though she had moved mountains? A girl passing out in Civil Services was not something unusual. She thought of herself. “So, what! Even I am doing it. Why this hulla-gulla about a girl’s success? Will the newspaper media bother so much if the candidate was a guy? These media people always underestimate the power of women and hence even a small bit of victory, has to be shown as a great achievement. I can do much more! That’s why I refused a photo shoot and subsequent media glare upon my clearing the Indian Administration Services and becoming IAS officer.”
Mainly she refused the fanfare and aura of her success to be publicised because, the media would be stressing upon her father’s low-grade profession as a rickshaw puller and she being his daughter. Her victory would be announced as another story of ‘Rags to Riches’. She was a self-made person and not a mere rickshaw puller’s daughter.
She never liked her father pulling the rickshaw and in fact she disliked the very act of a man pulling another man. Why should the pullers reduce themselves to animals and drive the vehicle as an animal driven cart? But these pullers considered it as a source of livelihood. Each and every puller would first worship their own carts as Gods and offer prayers before stretching it on roads. The first rider of the day was considered as an honourable soul like a ‘charm called Boni’. They strongly believed the first rider of the day would bring in many more riders for the day assuring steady flow of day’s income.
Whatever be their sentiments, Vinodini had strong aversion to their deeds. Her father had told her a number of times that it was their traditional work, handed over to him by his father. His forefathers too were rickshaw pullers only. He insisted on saying that there was no case of feeling ‘below dignity’ as long as a person worked and earned his livelihood. He even confirmed that when Vinodini would grow up to marriageable age, he would look for a suitable rickshaw puller for her. That very thought shuddered her imaginations. She was afraid of that day. Even to go to school, she refused to sit in her father’s rickshaw. Instead she walked.
Right from childhood, she vowed to herself that she should study hard and excel and prove to the world that she was born to scale greater heights. Once she improved the financial status of her family, obviously her father would give up this dirty ignominious animal-like cart pulling lifestyle and she too would be set free from the fear of marrying a rickshaw puller. She studied hard. It was her sheer hard work and nothing else that lifted her from being a rickshaw puller’s daughter to a prestigious position of an IAS officer. That day was not far off when she would be entering the Collectorate office as District Collector. She could not help imagining herself signing the very first circular order by which all rickshaws in the town would be banned once and for all. No human being would be allowed to carry or pull another fellow human being.
She kept aside the newspaper. Just then the photo of that particular news of the teaseller girl’s achievement caught her attention. She was awe struck. The girl in the photo was seen offering floral bouquet to an emotionally charged man and others holding him strongly. Just underneath it was written a “proud moments for parents”. After that only she realized that the very daughter was offering bouquet to her father. Earlier she had dismissed the photo thinking that some nondescript judge was offering bouquet to a teaseller in honour of his daughter’s accomplishments. When she went through the full script of the news item, she was thrilled. “Surinderkumar, a teaseller never imagined that his daughter Shruti will one day become a judge at the same court where he was selling tea.” No doubt it was a very proud moment to her parents. Indeed, it was for the nation as a whole. It depicted the great values deeply imbibed in our culture. A daughter showing her respects and gratitude to her parents in a most humble but effective manner was showcased.
That incident created ripples in her. Both Shruti and herself grew up in almost same backgrounds. There was not much of a difference. One father was a teaseller and the other one was a rickshaw puller. But how the two girls reacted after accomplishing their goals – there was a huge difference. Shruti accepted and acknowledged her father’s pains and pressures and did not say anything adverse about his profession. There was no demeaning or degrading his job as below dignity.
Vinodini felt herself that she fell short of morals as far as in not recognising her father’s job nor his role in raising her to be a good human being. While she was feeling a bit guilty about her own definitions on dignity of labour, she got a phone call from her close friend cum fellow colleague Anuraag. He directed her to switch on TV and watch a particular channel. She found that one more colleague of hers was posted in Kerala and that too in her own place. Nice to know she got her posting to her place of choice. But that was not the piece of news.
The new Kerala Collector was going to a hotel, a not so popular one, but a decent one. There she went straight to the cashier and asked for the hotel’s owner. The manager rang up and called the owner to come to the hotel. A surprise in waiting! An old man in his late sixties came and wanted to know what it was all about. As soon the Collector Lady saw him, she fell at his feet and sought for his blessings. Obviously, the old man was so confused and was perplexed. Then she revealed her identity. She was the very Collector of the district standing in front of him. Then she recollected an old incident. Years ago, when she scored highest marks and topped the district in her board exams, her father, a poor man, brought her to this hotel. That was in honouring a promise he made to her for her standing top in the list. Father, poor as he was, he ordered only one plate of Masala Dosa for his dear daughter. He did not want to deprive his daughter of her prestigious celebration. The waiter wanted to know what father would like to have instead. Poor old father simply accepted his poor condition and insisted on having only one plate of Dosa, exclusively for the girl and that too, exclusively in honour of her, standing first in Board exam. The waiter before serving what was ordered, went to the owner and told that the bill for the order would be met by him solely and it was being given as a token of appreciation of the young girl’s achievement. The hotel owner felt very happy and thought his servant was so great. On his part he told the waiter to serve both father and daughter same Masala Dosa and it was a free gift from him. Then the owner went to the girl and congratulated her for her unique performance. He told them that as a measure of appreciation, he was extending their favourite dish to both of them. All those who were in the hall there stood up and applauded the girl and wished her heartily for her bright future.
The above incident took place quite some years ago. But the girl in limelight was the same girl who was standing now as Collector of the district. She wanted to show her respects and gratitude to both owner and the waiter who extended their generosity in encouraging her in her tender years. What a great revelation of her thanks giving! Hard to believe!
Vinodini was spellbound by the two incidents she came across just now. The teaseller’s girl’s response to her mentors and the present Kerala Collector’s expression of thanks giving to the hotel owner. She felt she was slapped harshly by these two women. There was something terribly wrong in her understanding of ethics.
Again, the phone rang. Same friend of hers. “Have you seen? How do you feel? Isn’t it great? Very nice of her to remember the past. She did not kick the ladder she climbed. She honoured them. Hello Vino, are you listening? Why silent?” Vinodini was in tears as she was filled with self-pity. Then she told him about her present predicament. She was born to a rickshaw puller and she rose from that level to the present status was of course, a great thing. But what was she going to do in return? There she got confused. She asked him for a solution.
He laughed aloud. Then told her, “Do one thing. Ask your father to be seated in his own rickshaw and you pull the cart. Tell him boldly that this very rickshaw only helped her to come to this level. And one more thing! Do not limit it to driving your father only. Extend the same honour to a few more of his fellow pullers also. Let them know what hard labour had gone into making a girl like you, to shine so brightly. Some more small tips from me if you care to listen. As a collector, you can try thinking of converting hand-pulled rickshaws to cycle rickshaws, then later motor driven cycle rickshaws and then still later, slowly converting them to solar-powered motorised cycle rickshaw. Think about it.” He again called her to say “Hello dear, my best wishes to you for your bright career. All the best in everything.”
“Simply superb. I will do it immediately. Will you come to Shobhabazaar tomorrow? I will be implementing your idea tomorrow.”
As she went to the Kolkatta’s busy Shobhabazar, her colleague Anuraag was already there. Her father was dressed up in new lungi and tee-shirt. He was also having a bright tilak on his forehead. As already promised, Vinodini touched the cart, offered her sincere prayers, helped her father to be seated in his rickshaw and she lifted the arms of the vehicle and pulled it, first slowly, then faster and faster. No sooner she lifted the rickshaw, there was a sudden flood of media people with their cameras running behind her. She was least disturbed by their rants and thirst for sensational scoops. She did not stop with her father. She gave free rides and surprised other rickshaw pullers too. They were ecstatic about the ride. Daily they were pulling their rickshaws. Today they enjoyed the jolly ride driven by a girl, their familiar good and kind hearted friend’s daughter.
She turned to her colleague Anuraag. “What about you? Will you have a ride?”
“No, no. I am happy as a puller than being a rider.”
Vinodini was waiting for this moment. She asked her appa to teach this young man all nuances of rickshaw pulling. “Appa make him a good rickshaw puller. Your problem of looking for one good rickshaw puller for me will be solved.”
Does a father have anything to say though he wanted to say a lot? He silently said to himself as though telling her, “From childhood you were against my rickshaw. Now you appreciate rickshaw pulling! Great. My tradition apart, leave it on one side, alongside let your dreams also come true.”
Does he need to convince her anymore on rickshaw pulling or for that matter pursuing any type of job? A Father’s heart-felt blessings always guide his children, even if they don’t care.