Nuhash and I were looking for a rickshaw and found one coming down the street. The rickshawala was old. He was very old. I don’t think we quite realized how old he was until we were already in it and going. It was clearly difficult for him. We were slow. He had to get down and pull a couple times on slopes that we would have gone over easily with a younger rickshawala.
Nuhash said, “I wonder what life situation you’d have to have to be pulling a rickshaw at this point.”
I said, ”Still feeding someone, I guess.”
“Or no one there to feed him. Which is probably worse.”
As soon as we were going, I started feeling bad. At one point, I said to Nuhash, we need to get down from this rickshaw. But of course, that’s never really the solution. It’s always tough to know what to do in these cases, when it’s a rickshawala who’s very old or very young. You don’t really want to get in it, but at the same time that doesn’t make any sense either because they of course need the business. So then you do get in it and feel awful the entire time.
So you just overpay, I guess? We went about 30 takas (about a third of a dollar)worth a distance, 25 if you really wanted to bargain it down. I handed him a 50 tk note and he went for his pocket for change and I told him to keep it all. He stared at me in surprise – oh, remembering how he stared at me, the first time in our interaction that I properly looked at his face, now I realize just how old he was. He seemed stunned that I would do that. He didn’t smile, exactly, or say thank you – it isn’t common to go around thanking people for everything here. He said, Really? Really? And stared at the money in his hand and back at me and back at the money again. And I said, yes, keep it, take care, and I smiled because I didn’t know what else to do, and then Nuhash and I walked away.
Now I keep thinking about that old rickshawala (who I’ll always think of as the old rickshawala, I didn’t even ask his name) and that 50tk. He was so happy. So surprised that I’d give him so much more than what the rate was. Now, back at home, I’m thinking, why didn’t I just give him a 100? What is it to me? For that matter, I could have given him two hundreds. Or three. Or five. I can afford it. Would that have made sense? Would other rickshawalas have stared at us? How insulting is it to overpay just because you can? I can overpay him, but what about everyone else? When you’re a rich girl getting in a rickshaw, what exactly are you supposed to do?
I’m starting to realize, first hand, how rich people deal with their guilt. We don’t deal, because we don’t have that much guilt to begin with. Because we don’t have to. We can just pay ourselves away from it. We distance ourselves, don’t we, so that we don’t have to feel it? I’ve read things like this before, heard people talk about them, whatever. But it’s different, these days everything is different. The pieces don’t sit comfortably anymore, no matter how many ways I rearrange them. You can go around Dhaka city in your big empty car all the time, swiping through the photos on your iphone, and not actually look at the crowds of people trying to get on a moving bus. You can, actually, physically, not look. That is, after all, what your money bought you. You can buy a 3000tk sari (and I did, today, and first I didn’t want to write that here but I made myself do it, and now I want to apologize for it). And hop right back into that car. Your big AC car with only you in it and an empty seat to your left and your right.
How is it possible that it’s only now that I’m realizing this? Oh, I’ve gotten in a rickshaw and overpaid before. But. How is it possible that it’s only now that I’m realizing this? How distanced, and dirty I am?