It is Painting Day #3, and I am bouncing along in the back of an auto-rickshaw, on my way out to our new village. My husband is there already, diligently plugging away at the never-ending task of wall preparation, and I am bringing him another 5 kg of plaster. He has vowed to make this his last layer, no matter what it looks like.
My attention is drawn back to the road. There is a particular place where the rickshaw wallahs always want to turn, and I need to be ready to tell him sidhe chalo – “Go straight.” We live around the back of the village, and I want to make sure we go the most direct route… which also happens to be the only route I know.
We approach the intersection. I lean forward: “Bhaya, sidhe chalo.” He seems not to notice, and steadfastly curves around the round-about to turn right. Loudly this time, “Bhaya! Sidhe!” He shakes his head and completes the turn. We are now headed toward the front side of the village; I do not know my way through it. Somehow I must make him turn back. Taking a deep breath, I begin give my Hindi skills their greatest workout yet.
“Brother, we live on the backside of Naya Gau.”
“I do not know this side.”
“Madhya Murg is a good road. I know that road.”
“It’s toward the hospital.”
“It is my friend’s house. I go there every day.”
“Please stop, brother.”
No matter what I try, it seems he won’t believe me. I am watching his face in the rear-view mirror, and it is getting decidedly red – the brows decidedly furrowed. He’s getting mad.
And so am I! I am his paying customer! I know where I am going – why won’t he just go where I say?! Suddenly he pulls over. From the look on his face, I wonder if he is going to make me get out and walk! But no, a college-student is walking by; he waves her down.
“Do you speak English?” he asks. When she nods, he gestures angrily toward the backseat, where I sit. “Yes, can I help you?” she asks sweetly. I explain to her in both Hindi and English exactly what I have already explained to him. As she translates, the confusion only deepens on his face. Finally, I say plainly – in English: “I know where I am going. I go there every day. If he will listen to me, we will have no problem. “ She laughs and tells the driver just to listen to me.
On the road again! He takes us off our detour and back on my desired road, which makes me happy for a moment. Then he hurls these words over his shoulder – “150 rupees!” Carefully I consider. We have agreed to Rs. 80. Since he has gone a bit out of his way, and he obviously didn’t know where he was taking me to begin with, I decide to give a little more.
“I will give you 100 rupees,” I say calmly.
“120!” he throws back loudly. I say nothing.
Every turn we take, his anger grows. Inwardly I pray: Oh God, what should I do? I will get to my new house, but I will have made an enemy instead of a friend. My answer comes immediately: “Humble yourself. ”
He is turning into our community now. I decide that I will be kind to him and walk the rest of the way, since he obviously doesn’t want to be here. I touch his shoulder and he stops. In Hindi, I say, “Right here is fine. Thank you.” And then I obey the inner prompting. “My Hindi is not good. Please forgive me.” I speak with my hands pressed together and lower my head.
I look up in time to see a miracle. The anger on his face swiftly lifts and his eyes brighten. He turns back to face the road downright cheerfully. “Where is the house?” he asks. I direct him a little further, and still intending to give him as little trouble as possible, tell him to stop at the rickshaw stand where he can pick up another customer. “No, no,” he says. “I will take you to the house,” and he smiles!
When he stops the auto, I have another moment of tension. Will he take the Rs. 100 I offer? I hold it out with both hands. “Will you take one hundred?” He shifts uncomfortably. “I went so far,” he says. “Give 120.” Praying inwardly for favour, and maintaining a smile the whole time, I quietly say, “I come here every day. One hundred rupees is expensive. One hundred rupees is extra!” He suddenly grins and takes it. I ask his name as I step out, and he asks mine.
Humility has made a friend today. And I have learned a lesson.