I could not resist posting this photo of two cycle-rickshawallahs in Chowk, Varanasi. See the difference between them; one is old and experienced, the other is young and seems to be just starting out with a newish rickshaw.
As per the records of licensing department of Varanasi Municipal Corporation (VMC), there are around 10000 registered rickshaws in the city. There are far more rickshaw pullers than there are rickshaws. Some rickshawallahs own their own rickshaws, but most rent them from others. Rental is around Rs 35 per day. Typical earnings in a day are around Rs 250, and after accounting for living expenses, the rickshaw puller may save around Rs 5000 a month.
But there are many problems. Harassment by the traffic police is one of the biggest ones; and the rickshawallahs pay bribes routinely. Sometimes rickshaws are confiscated, resulting in loss of income. If the rickshawallah falls ill, he has no earning on that day. Often during festivals, weddings, deaths and other family occassions, they go back to the villages surrounding Varanasi; and they have no earnings at that time either. During harvest season also, they go home to provide labour for their family farm, and there is no earning from the rickshaw at that time.
With this kind of low income, the rickshawallah has no money to spare for any event in the family - a medical emergency, the birth of a child, or a death. For meeting these needs, the rickshawallah has to take a loan. With no access to formal credit, loans are obtained at crazily high rates from local moneylenders. The interest piles up and often older rickshawallahs are struggling under a heavy debt burden.
All these thoughts ran through my head as I saw these two men, one old, one young. I wondered what life had been like for the older one. I wondered what was in store in the future for the young one.