After a 9 hour delay, the train finally chugged onto platform 6 on New Delhi Railway Station. I quickly alighted from the train and rushed to the luggage compartment to unload my bicycle.
Navigating our way through the sea of people on the platform, we finally reached the parcel office. I got an exit pass for the bicycle and we were free to hit the road.
Outside the railway station, I stopped to affix my pannier bags and backpack onto the bicycle. I had my helmet on and the safety lights Buddha had left for me were flashing intermittently. I put on a reflective jacket to make myself more visible in the traffic.
Quite evidently, it was not a common sight in that area and I was the subject of fascination for those five fleeting minutes. Once I finished fixing the bags, and safety lights I looked up to the stares of a dozen rickshaw pullers. Virtually invisible in the the dark oblivion of their existence, their faces lit up with each flicker of the safety lights on the bike.
Rickshaw pullers have a challenging life in Delhi. They have a tricycle which houses two passengers at the back, sometimes their luggage too. Never do they carry less than a hundred kgs on a trip.
They have to pull an old, ungeared tricycle through the maze of traffic in sweltering heat of summer. It was evening already at that moment but the air was warm and scathing. They are too many in number, fighting for a living that promises just enough food to get by, a space to sleep in their own rickshaw under a flyover and a dreamless sleep earned from exhaustion.
A little life they wrestle out of the spiral of their own fate.
I would find myself to be happy about carrying three big bags on my bicycle around Thailand. I thought I grew strong and tough with that experience. But the sight of these rickshaw pullers annihilated even a tiniest shred of pride I had in my heart.
I am going to bicycle further north from Delhi towards the foothills of the Himalayas. The ride will be mostly uphill and challenging.
But, I have an unfair advantage that life gave me without my asking.
The advantage, of having the freedom to choose my challenges, my struggles.
I have the liberty to take the road I like, of how much weight I want to carry, to stop if I am tired or if find a moment worth capturing.
Comparing it to the misery of a life the rickshaw puller leads where he cannot choose the load he has to carry, the route he wishes to take, to grant himself a modicum of rest to recover,
I felt my challenge was far too easier, for it was a challenge of my own choosing.
I left the scene quite soon, leaving them with a topic to discuss with each other before they had earned enough to call it a night.
I realised that even the freedom to choose a journey full of struggles is a privilege.
For, when your life is interminably leashed to a struggle that your fate brings with it,
And you don’t even have the choice to rest, forget choosing your own struggle,
One feels like the mythical Sisyphus, tasked to roll up a huge stone uphill, that only rolls back downhill eventually.
And every day, my brothers on three wheels, start downhill with full awareness that they will also end up downhill at night, maybe on every night of their lives.
There is never an uphill vantage point for them to take a moment and enjoy.
Helpless, yet grateful,
I pedal on slowly,
With the weight of the realisation,
Of how simple my struggle is.