Singing To My Rickshaw Drivers

March 11th, 2020

“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.”

– Khalil Gibran

In early December, I was very happy. My school routine fell into place and felt fulfilling, I had found some of my best friends, I loved my host family, and I felt like I was really getting to know India and more specifically, Pune. I had projects going, I finally read the books I had been staring at for months, and I had things to look forward to.  I had created a community and within it, I found happiness. So much happiness in fact, that I couldn’t stop singing. 

It started when I would come home after dark on nights with friends, other fellows, or just out on my own. Rickshaws, to me, are one of the first things I fell in love with about India. They have a strange way of taking you where you want to go while also allowing you to get to know the city as if you’d walked it. It has remained a place of comfort, a place that has held me through all waves of my experience here. I have taken one almost daily and because of that, rickshaws have been a part of some of my happiest moments, but also some of my worst. Sometimes they grounded me, a sharp jolt from a pothole that rushes up my spine to the stem of my brain, bringing me back to earth. This is a feeling India fellows know all too well. I began to feel at peace in them. And when I’m at peace, and also happy, I sing. 

Whenever I was alone in an auto after that, I would put my earbuds in and sing the whole way home. Sometimes the drivers paid attention, sometimes there was no response, and sometimes they would look in the rear view mirror with a confused face and laugh when I smiled at them. I always kept singing. I started to think of it as a sort of “thank you” to them, for holding that space for me. It gave me, and I hoped for them, joy. 

That continued until I left for independent travel in January. When I came back, I had a hard time re-assimilating into my life: I lacked a routine, and physical and mental stability. Experiences like this year don’t come without challenges, and I would say most are internal rather than external. February was a difficult month. 

On February sixteenth, at around 9:30 the morning on my way to see some friends after a particularly bad day, my rickshaw driver put his headphones on, played his music, and sang. He sang so loudly, listening to my own music was pointless. But I didn’t want to anyway. I watched him in the mirror, we made eye contact and he smiled. He laughed and kept singing. He never stopped. 

I got out of that auto and felt the sunlight on my face. It was beginning to get hot, as Indian summers usually do. I turned back to him, paused, and said “Thank you.” He probably thought I meant for the ride, but it was much more than that. 

Thank you for allowing me to give joy, and giving me joy in return. In my moments of darkness, you have reminded me of light. 

To my other GCY Fellows, although our year is unfortunately coming to an abrupt end, I hope you try to remember your own moments of light. I am grateful for the time, the laughs, the struggles, the views, the lessons, the food, the chai, the sunsets, the soft touches, the warmth, the music, the dancing, the wind, the tears, the movement, and most of all, the sheer amount of love I have found this year in others and in myself. How this year ended (thank you, coronavirus) does not diminish any of it. Your moments of light can never be taken away. 

I am grateful. I am loved. I am love. 

And you are too.