Robert Hirschfield finds “some holy men carry long staffs, others carry rickshaws.”

I DON’T THINK he ever had a rider. Maybe he didn’t want one.

He treated his rickshaw like it was his living room. He lounged on the high seat, took tea inside the pull bars, threw me his weird, sexy smile when he saw me coming, his black mustache puckering in the heat.

“Rickshaw?” he’d say as a kind of afterthought.


He’d seem relieved. He was fat with swollen feet. Content, in middle age, to just be. An improbable round still point that everything moved around.

The other rickshaw guys were like broomsticks. They would bore into the rumps of the racked up traffic on Free School Street, maintaining their dignity as a Calcutta transport institution.

I imagined them flying over rooftops like those shtetl figures Chagall used to paint, made of air and pain, in need of release from the earth.

Their colleague was a plump root who had colonized his spot on Sudder Street without lifting a finger. I sometimes had the feeling his vehicle was just a prop. Some holy men carry long staffs, others carry rickshaws. His outrageous smile was always there for me, migrating from his polluted spot to my polluted spot. It was never refused.

What did you think of this article?