Friday, February 10, 2012

Cycle-rickshaws: hiring them means dealing with ethical issues :(

I had made reservations to stay at Hotel Ginger, which was right by the New Delhi train station.  From my two previous experiences with Ginger at two other cities, I was confident that I could count on a clean and spacious room, with clean bathrooms.  All for a price that the budget traveler that I am can afford.

The hotel website said it was a 200 meter walk from the station to the hotel.  I told my friend "S" about it. She was familiar with the hotel, and had a suggestion: "as you exit the station, get a cycle-rickshaw.  He might ask for about 30 rupees.  It will be better than you walking, because you won't be able to drag your suitcase through all that dirt."

It was a wonderful and practical suggestion, I thought.

Until ...

... I had to face the situation at 2:30 in the afternoon after I was swept out of the station by the exiting crowds.

I couldn't think of sitting there while another human pedaled away.  When machines power an autorickshaw or a car, it feels different from when a human powers the transport.

"Holy crap!" I thought to myself.

Meanwhile, my brain also recognizes the numbers of cycle-rickshaws there.  Their livelihood, and perhaps their families' welfare, depends on people like me using their services.

If only I had a 1-800-ethicist to call to sort this out!

Finally, I decided to look strictly from the driver's perspective.  Like somebody digging ditches with his muscle power in order to earn his parathas, a cycle-rickshaw driver trades his muscle power for earnings.  In my job, I try to use my brain power to earn my salary.  So, what if I focused only on the dignity of the labor involved and the laborer?

I approached a driver.  Pointing to the hotel, I told him in my awful Hindi, "humko woh Hotel Ginger jaana.  Kitne rupiah?"

He replied "Ththeese."

"S" was so right on the dot with her thirty rupees.

A little uncomfortably I sat on the seat, and he pedaled away.

When we reached the hotel, he stopped outside the gate.  I figured that the hotel didn't want cycle-rickshaws inside the property, and I didn't want to force any issue there.  I got down and paid him 30 rupees.

Later in the evening, when I was walking back after spending a delightfully refreshing couple of hours at the energetic Connaught Place, cycle-rickshaw drivers tried to get me to ride with them.  One after another approached me.  I kept walking.

And then I remembered another instance from a few years ago when I was traveling with my parents.  As we got off the train, dad looked around for a porter.  I told him that I would easily carry the bags.  Dad said it was his way of helping them out--the porters needed to earn money, he said.  So, we ended up hiring one.

I thought that I needed to spend the little bit of money I had, which will mean a lot to the rickshaw-wallahs.  When the next guy approached me, I told him "Hotel Ginger, station ke paas."  He wanted 50 rupees.

I sat while he pedaled away., and decided that I would ignore my own issues with hiring cycle-rickshaws!  Or, perhaps what I ended up doing is the right way after all.

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