Saturday, July 21, 2007

To be an exploiter

In the late 1950s, the young Polish journalist arrives in New Delhi on his first assignment abroad.

On the opposite side of the street, on a cramped little square, rickshaw drivers had been gathering since dawn -- skinny, stooped little men with bony, sinewy legs. They must have learned that a sahib had arrived at the hotel. A sahib, by definition, must have money, so they waited patiently, ready to serve. But the very idea of sprawling comfortably in a rickshaw pulled by a hungry, weak waif of a man with one foot already in the grave filled me with the utmost revulsion, outrage, horror. To be an exploiter? A bloodsucker! Never! I had been brought up in a precisely opposite spirit, taught that even living skeletons such as these were my brothers, kindred souls, near ones, flesh of my flesh. So when the rickshaw drivers threw themselves upon me with pleading encouragement, clamoring and fighting amongst themselves for my business, I began to firmly push them away, rebuke them, protest. They were astounded -- what was I saying, what was I doing? They had been counting on me, after all. I was their only chance, their only hope -- if only for a bowl of rice. I walked on without turning my head, impassive, resolute, a little smugly proud of not having allowed myself to be manipulated into assuming the role of leech.

-R. Kapuscinski, Travels With Herodotus, p. 18-19