South Asia Studies Major Alex Polyak (C'15) spent last summer on an internship in Pune, India. His commute by rickshaw became his favorite part of the day.
I awake to the same sound that I fell asleep to; the persistent patter of monsoon rain on the window pane. After putting on my kurta and pajamas, fetching my umbrella, and scoffing down some bourbon biscuits with a steaming mug of chai, I exit the apartment and enter the whirlwind outdoors.
The unpaved street is richly muddy and both I and the poor blokes on their scooters curse wildly at the rickshaw drivers as they tear right through the puddles, spraying our freshly bleached pajamas and incurring our wrath. I then face India's most Olympian sport, namely that of crossing a major urban street during morning rush hour. It is an exquisite art with its own strange rules of fencing: a car will not run you over if you are in the middle of the street, but you will not enter the street if you cannot get through without being crushed. In short, neither party wants to die, but neither party wants to give way.
After finally securing the services of a rickshaw, explaining in my broken Hindi where I'd like to go, I settle back for my favorite part of my daily routine. The rickshaw-walla throws the flaps down along the sides of the rickshaw to keep the monsoon out; it is a futile gesture. I don't mind. I have never felt as alive as when I am driving through bustling Pune during rush hour, a cacophony of never-ending horn beeping and cursing, the rain seeping through the side of the rickshaw the most refreshing feeling in the world. And alongside me, I see a river of humanity attempting to navigate the stormy waves, metaphoric and literal.
You pass the villager bringing his vegetables to the curbside markets, the student lovers madly perched on a motorcycle that is teetering from the weight of textbooks, the middle-class clerk in his newly polished black boots and mud-spattered linen pants, cursing from atop his Hero Honda. The smell of roadside pakoras drifts in on one side of the rickshaw, the sounds of the dosa stands brisk morning business drift in from the other. So do the hands of emaciated children and desperately persistent peddlers, fixing their eyes on the foreigner in the back of the rickshaw. It is not all fun and games.
The rickshaw drops me off on SB Road across from the grandiose pile of the Pune Convention Centre. I dash across the street in a typical frenzy of Indians: immaculately groomed IT workers, drenched rickshaw-wallas, wizened grandmothers rushing off to make puja at the nearby temple. The chai-walla is making a killing as per usual at the height of monsoon season.
I climb the hill to the office bungalow, passing by the aluminum sheds that house half of the street's population. These sheds are perched along the back brick gate of Pride Portal Society, a noticeably upper-middle class housing society whose security guards wear the resigned looks of men who know that they will not see a warm, dry space for many hours.
The schoolchildren wait underneath the tips of their tin roofs, waiting for the municipal school bus. My co-workers drift by on a mix of Hero Hondas and the occasional rickshaw, rushing for the warmth of the office. I look back around the corner, taking in the smells and sounds one last time, feeling the rain against my cheek. Then I step into the office for freshly brewed chai, my morning commute successful.