Rickshaw Wallah

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A Bengali friend had an aside,
Prior to the end
Of a slow, hot ride:
I clutched my coins--Indian pice--
And longed for a drink
With beaucoup ice
As he said with a grin,
"Don't feel too sorry for him;
"He probably has
"A sweet little wife
"And a couple of kids."

The slender driver
With dark sunken cheeks
Negotiated from a perch
Upon his carrier's worn seat;
We clinched our deal
At a sweltering park
As the temperature hovered
Near the century mark.

The route was winding,
A sense of despair
Pervaded: stick legs grinding
Away at the demanding gear
Propelling his desperate career;
Chest hollow, body wasted
From too many rides
For a paltry sum
In the scorching sun.

Sweat glistened apace
Down his sad, pinched face,
Staining a ragged garment,
A lungi--more a skirt--
And above the common undershirt.

During the creeping miles
Of the dusty trip
His bare feet gripped
The pedals, rose and dipped
As he powered the cycle;
Not slowing his motion
Even a trifle,
Nor showing a smile
Or any other emotion.

The optimist had another point
For keeping the nose of carriers
From slipping out of joint:
"Always give the rickshaw
"Driver a drink of water;
"He'll appreciate it."
But I didn't see fit.

As we passed shop after shop
I did not urge a rest stop
To slake his thirst with chai
Or failing that to buy
Some fanta or halt in a handy lane
To sip coconut or sugar cane.

I thought at the time,
When the run was done,
A few extra pice
Amounting to nickels and dimes
Would conveniently suffice.

But later I had to wonder
At the magnitude of my blunder
In holding back rupees instead
From that calloused hand
And his happy little band
That number four, at least,
With a sweet little wife
In that town in the East.