When I went to Kolkata for my entrance exams, I stayed with a friend’s family. The first day there, Uncle took me in a cycle rickshaw. He warned me, “Don’t pay more than 8 rupees to these rickshaw-wallahs. They’ll charge you anything. They know you don’t come from Calcutta.”
I listened and nodded and cringed as the rickshaw-wallah bumped us over steep slopes and potholes. His lungi was torn. He was barefoot.
Uncle dropped me at the university and went home.
To get home myself, I diffidently approached a cycle rickshaw. If I knew my way home, I know I would simply have walked. “Golf Green?” I asked, hopefully.
The man lowered his eyes. Realising I definitely did not speak Bangla, he said for me in Hindi, “Bees (20) rupaya.”
I nodded gratefully. I cringed and clenched my hands as he laboured all the way home.
When I reached, Uncle asked how much I paid.
“Eight rupees,” I said, meekly.
“Very good!” Uncle approved. “Good girl!”
I blushed guiltily.