'I thought it would be easy. I was so wrong'
Zakir Hussain, 22, starts his day at 5.30am. After a quick cup of chai, he stands in line outside his chawl at Bandra Reclamation to fill water in a few cans so that he can have a bath. At 6 am, he joins another line, waiting to use the chawl's only bathroom. Rashi Talreja writes.mumbai Updated: Apr 15, 2012 12:41 IST
Zakir Hussain, 22, starts his day at 5.30am. After a quick cup of chai, he stands in line outside his chawl at Bandra Reclamation to fill water in a few cans so that he can have a bath. At 6 am, he joins another line, waiting to use the chawl's only bathroom.
The youngest of four children, and the only son, Hussain left his farming village in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, at age 16 and travelled to Mumbai, determined to finish school and 'work for a company'.
Living with his paternal uncle and aunt and their three children in the small, three-room chawl home that he still occupies, he studied till Class 9, then dropped out because he wanted to start earning his own money.
After months of hunting for an 'office job' in vain, he finally decided to become a rickshaw driver, like his uncle.
"It seemed like easy work," he says. "But I was so wrong. Being a rickshaw driver requires a lot more than just a licence and road sense. You need to be strong enough and smart enough to stay out of trouble, and you need to be very patient with all the different types of people you meet through the day."
After his bath, Hussain prays at a nearby mosque, then heads out into the already-muggy morning with a smile on his face, "even though morning commuters are always grumpy and in a rush".
Summers are the worst season for rickshaw drivers, says Hussain. "Sitting in the heat all day makes us irritable, and the customers are irritable too, ready to fight for every half rupee and waiting to criticise the way we drive."
Weather has a large hold on the rickshaw driver's day, and mood. Winters are a lot easier, says Hussain. "People are calmer then, and even I am calmer."
Come rain or shine, Hussain drives his rickshaw around the suburbs for the next six hours, ferrying people about. At 1 pm, like most of his peers in the area, he drives down a narrow lane behind Bandra's Lucky Restaurant to buy himself lunch at New Bostan, a favourite among the khaki-clad men.
If it has been a good day, Hussain forks out Rs 100 for a meal of chicken and butter naan. If it hasn't, he falls back on his home-cooked tiffin of sabzi and pays Rs 20 for rotis.
As they eat, the men discuss their work - who had an accident, whose fault it really was, who had the fussiest passenger, who had the nicest. "But it's not all work," says Hussain, smiling shyly. "Sometimes we talk about romance and love."
Hussain has been in love with a girl from his village for seven years. "I will marry her when I have made enough money," he says. "She is ready to wait."
At 2 pm sharp, Hussain rushes to get in line at the petrol pump so he can tank up on CNG for the following day.
"By this time I am exhausted, but we know all the attendants and our jokes and chats at the petrol pump help lighten the mood," he says.
His six-hour shift done, Hussain returns home with his earnings of about Rs. 300 - all that's left, on a good day, after paying Rs. 250 in daily rent for the rickshaw and about Rs. 75 as his 50% of the fuel cost.
From this, he must save for married life and send about Rs. 3,000 home to his parents each month.
Back home in Bandra, Hussain spends the rest of the afternoon sleeping, then helps his aunt with the household chores.
"I love to cook. About thrice a week, I make chicken masala for everyone at home," he says. "The only thing I just can't make are rotis."
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)