There’s a young man, Mahesh, who sells flowers outside the shala each morning. There are countless people selling these garlands of jasmine, kanakambaram and roses that people offer at temple or with which they adorn their own altars. I generally buy a 10 or 15 rupee strand each morning for my own makeshift altar at home. Mahesh, who is effusive in his thanks each time I make a purchase, remembered me from last year.
“I’ve bought a new rickshaw!” he tells me proudly and points to a shiny vehicle parked a few yards away. “You need a ride, you call me,” he says and hands me a simple white card with the words “Mahesh for Everything.”
How could I not be charmed?
I didn’t call him, but when a group of of students met for lunch, he was one of our rickshaw drivers. He had a new meter in the car, which he of course didn’t use. It’s usually an argument to get the drivers to use the meter, especially for Westerners for whom they routinely inflate their prices, our being here a sign of our wealth no matter how we might measure ourselves on a Western scale of class. The savviest of our group decided on his fee, which was more than favorable, but I could tell he was slightly crestfallen. More seasoned drivers may have told him how good a living he could make driving rickshaw for the Western students. I felt for him, sweet Mahesh who has yet to grow hard and stubborn about setting too-high fees, even as I dreaded the day he does.