The breakdown was bound to happen, it was just a matter of time. What could not have been expected was the side trip to the slum, the instant fame that we would undeservedly receive or the insane ride through Pune rush hour traffic pushing the ‘Shaw to it’s final resting place.
For this we lost the race, but earned the “Bonkers” Award.
Here’s how it went down.
We just happened to breakdown directly in front of a tuk-tuk taxi stand. Instead of calling our mechanics we chose to hire the most sane looking Taxi driver to help repair the Shaw. It just so happened that the man spoke absolutely no english and communicated all day in Hindi and twisty headbobs. It took 10 hours to understand just how badly we’d fucked the Shaw.
Mr. Taxi driver knelt down next to Vinnie – pointing and bobbing and chatting away. After some initial language difficulties Vin finally understood that new parts were needed, but that someone must stay with the Shaw. That left me, a white woman in a sari, alone in a rickshaw that wouldn’t move, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers with camera phones. INDIA INSANITY!
White people in India are always stared at and if you don’t respond properly, the attention can grow until there is a mob of people surrounding you. During the race we quickly learned the best way to mitigate the fame is to smile and then pretend that people aren’t blatently undressing you with their eyes. Being a single woman in India can be slightly terrifying especially when a large group of men surround your vehicle, wanting to touch you, get your autograph or pinch you.
Luckily just seconds after Vinnie left there was a massive, near-fatal motorcycle accident. Watching a man fly head first into the pavement provided more excitement than a white woman in a rickshaw. I would consider this a mixed blessing, but it was only the first death of the day.
Shaw repairs continued but the crowd refused to dissapate. Mr. Rickshaw driver had Vinnie drive his taxi while he coaxed the Shaw one block down the road into a small wooded alley. We spent the next 3 hours in the rain, trying to figure out just what could have gone so terribly wrong.
The problem with the Shaw went from having muffler issues to having no muffler. From spark plugs not firing to a complete meltdown of the alternator. Basically we needed to buy a new Rickshaw, simple repairs were not going to fix the beast.
We also needed more help. Mr. Taxi driver convinced his friend Mr. Repairman to enter the fray. (Mr. Repairman also spoke no English). Together they needed to drive the stalled Rickshaw three miles to Mr. Repairman’s shop.
Just how do you drive a stalled rickshaw?
It turns out that you can’t drive a stalled rickshaw, you must push it. And since no one wanted to push a rickshaw for three miles, the men came up with an alternate solution.
That’s right. He pushed it WITH HIS FOOT for THREE MILES! Along the way he also stopped to pick up a fare!
Vinnie, me, Mr. Repairman and a random woman crammed into the Taxi Rickshaw. Mr Repairman floored the gas, driving straight towards our Shaw where the Mr. Taxi driver sat waiting. Within inches of hitting the Shaw, Mr. Repairman stuck out his foot and began driving while pushing our stalled rickshaw through traffic. WITH HIS FOOT.
Needless to say this was exhausting. The traffic surrounded us, blowing their horns, cursing and shouting at us. We stopped twice. Once to drop off our passenger and second time to grab a quick chai.
As we finally approached the shop, Mr. Repairman changed his mind. Instead of driving us to the repair shop, he drove us to his home, where he felt that I would be more comfortable hanging out with his wife and mother.
Specifically, Mr. Repairman drove me to his slum, where we walked through goat shit and dirty laundry to find his very small, dirt floor single room abode. Outside the room was a metal bed of springs, where an old woman lay, mouth open, trying to breathe her last breath. A younger woman appeared from the room wearing Lycra gloves covered in puss, clearly in the middle of caring for this dying woman.
“My wife!” Mr. Repairman smiled and motioning to the dying woman on the bed, “My mother.”
The old woman was covered in flies and stared at the ceiling gargling. His wife stared at me in horror, saying something to the effect of “your mother is dying on our only chair. This white girl can not stay here, and besides there is there is no place for her to sit.”
Thank God in heaven that Indians strongly respect marriage. “My husband!” I cried. “I can’t leave my husband! We’re married! We stay together!”
I was pleading in English and the Repairman only spoke Marathi but somehow this seemed to translate. With a huge measure of relief, we were once again off to repair the Shaw.
The repair shop was more of a street corner. A street corner where a man stood all day pressing clothes, and an old woman sold spices. The corner had never seen such a sight! Women in burkas would slow down to stare, others gathered on balconies to point and shout. At once point school let out and crowds of children gathered around just to witness the reality of white people dressed like Indians. I have never received so many compliments in my life, “You look like beautiful woman!” or “You’re a proper lady!”
With the day coming to a close, there was only one problem. None of the electric worked and the Shaw was essentially hotwired. We set off once more to find the right pieces, ending up at a temple where goats, cows and hundreds of little kids spent their day.
This proved to be the ne plus utlra of fame. We gave stickers to the little boys who surrounded us. They put the stickers on every available surface, including the side of a goat and cows ass. One the stickers were gone, they ran back asking for more! and more! Each movement was tracked by hundreds of curious adult men who motioned for us to give them a sticker and take their picture. Soon everyone from the street was crowded around our rickshaw, shaking our hands, asking for autographs and blocking all other traffic.
We also witnessed some type of funeral procession.
We drove off with children running alongside the still-hotwired Shaw. That’s right, it was never fully repaired. It was the end of the day and had begin to rain. We were too exhausted to care that the Shaw was still broken and after 10 hours called it a day.
This proved to be the most fantastic part of our journey and the ‘real’ part of India. The part where strangers spend 10 hours repairing your vehicle and invite you into their homes. Where women are treated like little ladies who must be protected and shouldn’t help the men with their mechanics. And where kids and agricultural animals roam around the streets with stickers on their head.
It’s crazy and we love it!