The Long and Winding RoadDelhi, Spring 2009

Our rickshaw driver is asleep.

I’d been looking out, watching the colors of Delhi fly past me. Theresa nudges me, and nods her head towards the auto driver. Now in the rearview mirror I watch the driver’s eyes start to close. His head drops forward, and the rickshaw starts to swerve…

I’ve had to deal with all kinds of rickshaw drivers. The one day where I had three different drivers stop to fill up on gas. Drivers that can’t wait to practice their English and tell me how much they love America. Drivers singing Bollywood songs – or blasting them out of their speakers. Ones who drive into oncoming traffic, who don’t stop for red lights. Getting offered a free ride if I would just stop at his brother-in-law’s pawn shop: ten minutes, just look, no buy.

You’re very lucky if you can get them to go by meter – usually that only happens if the distance is very far, or the driver doesn’t really know where to go. The best technique when bargaining is to scoff or laugh at the first price (they’re usually pretty ridiculous anyway) then go for what it really should be. Address them as bhaiya, the common way to address a man in the service industry that basically translates as bro (frat boys, take note). Try to keep a cheerful attitude. I’ve charmed a bhaiya or two into a better price – and you’re less likely to be standing in the street screaming Go by the meter! It’s your job! at the back of a passing rickshaw.

Now I’m screaming for a different reason. I can’t remember whether it was Theresa or me who suggested we start singing. ‘Cause baby there ain’t no mountain high enough we awkwardly warbled. The bhaiya’s head snaps up and he jerks the auto left. We’re nearly sideswiped by a white Ambassador, the really fancy cars (relics from the Imperial age, quickly being replaced with hulking Scorpions or flashy Audis). The driver honks, and out the passenger window shakes an angry fist.

For another ten minutes we sing, shout, poke and berate our driver until we arrive at the Center for classes. I suggest you take a nap, Theresa says, handing him the fare. He looks at us, bleary-eyed, nods, and drives off – leaving us standing, shell shocked and numb.

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