Rickshaw Drivers Holiday

by

In Tiruvannamalai in the worst of summer (April and May before the monsoon comes) most of the western visitors stay away. The rickshaw drivers we know, who depend on these visitors for their livelihood, have very little business. For the last few weeks they have used this idle time to gather near our house, under the shade of coconut palms, to play a form of Rummy and gamble. This is in comparison to other villagers who must keep working all the time. I have a few photos taken last Saturday, May 20, 2008 that show a bit of this.

On one side of our house, men are working at sawing palm trees, recently cut down, into pieces that can be carried away, while women work in the next field. The temperature is approaching 100 F in the shade. They are not working in the shade, though.

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Meanwhile, on another side of our house, we see this collection of rickshaws. There are seven or eight of them here today. If you wonder why it is harder to find one by Ramanasramam, this is why.

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They play with Arunachala in the background.

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There are two games going on in order to accommodate all the players. This is the “A table.” There are six men playing and three, with not enough money to play, watch the game. I note that those with no money are watching the game instead of staying at their rickshaw stand waiting for work. Either there is no work, or they just love being together like this during this very slow season.  

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Here is the “B table,” only three play here.

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In the foreground, notice a wood stove made of bricks. The next day, Sunday, they cooked a fish dish, and brought us a bit. It was very tasty, though also very hot with spices. These man can cook just fine (when they want to).

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Near to the game there are more workers, men and women constructing a house. The men work as brick and cement masons. The women do all the heavy lifting. The women are probably paid about Rs 90 per day (about $2.00 US). The men will get more. A good mason will make Rs 200 per day, maybe more if there is much work going on and their skills are needed by too many builders.

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The rain started. This did not end the card game, it just moved it into a thatched hut near our house. They played there until after dark. The hut has no electricity, so when it is dark they play by the lights from their cell phones.

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In the field next door, then men and women are through for the day, so the farmer comes with a tractor and wagon.

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They are dropping manure compost, to fertilize the field before they plant again. The rain certainly does not stop this work.

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Work also goes on at the house construction site. Now you can tell who the supervisor is. He is the one with the umbrella. If you watch closely, you will see that everybody else is working. He just watches to make sure that each thing is done correctly. This is how one does this kind of construction here, with labor that may not be too skilled and with supervision all the time, every day.

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I don’t begrudge the rickshaw drivers taking time off to play cards and be with each other, though I do wonder what else they could be doing, like being with their family and children. The rest of the year they work seven days a week, 12 or more hours each day. The contrast with the villagers though is great – these people also work every day, long hours in the sun. And I think the only days they have off are during the monsoon when it is raining too hard to work outside.  Life here is not easy for any of these people.

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