A stretch of the road and pavement of a small street. On the pavement there are two wooden benches, 5 – 6 metres apart. On the brick wall behind the benches there is a large colourful poster, an advertisement for some Bollywood film: a number of beauties in bright-coloured saris and the film’s title in Indian.
An Englishman aged about thirty appears from the left. He is dressed in a white T-shirt and pale-brown short trousers; on his feet he is wearing white leather trainers and in his hand he is carrying a plastic bottle containing water. The T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and trainers are all as clean as a hound’s tooth and have probably only been worn a few times. The perspiring, ruddy face and lethargic movements of their owner clearly indicate that the temperature in the shade is above thirty degrees Centigrade.
The man goes over towards the nearer, left bench and sits down wearily. He takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the sweat from his face, after which he opens the bottle and takes a few swigs.
While he is sitting and taking a rest, an Indian appears from the right, pulling a simple wooden rickshaw behind him. He is also about thirty years old, but this is the only similarity with the man on the bench. His darker complexion, distinct leanness, black moustache, faded and almost transparent short-sleeved shirt, wooden slippers and an indefinable piece of clothing round his waist, clearly distinguish him from the other Homo sapiens.
The Indian approaches the bench and stops.
INDIAN: The gentleman is surely from England?
The Englishman nods his head wearily.
INDIAN: And is staying in the Siddhartha Hotel?
Another affirmative nod of the head.
INDIAN: Please get in. (Pointing to the rickshaw.) Continue your rest in my humble carriage, which will take you right up to the entrance of your hotel.
An apologetic smile and a rejective shake of the head.
INDIAN: Please, I insist. It’s very hot and the hotel is a long way away. Please.
ENGLISHMAN (with the same smile): No, thank you.
INDIAN: Just climb up. I can see how tired you are. That’s why I’m going to drive you for half-price.
ENGLISHMAN: Thank you very much, but I really don’t want to. (Gets up from the bench.)
INDIAN: But it’s a perfect offer. Nobody else would take you from here any cheaper.
ENGLISHMAN: I believe you, but I want to go to the hotel on my own.
INDIAN: But why, when you can ride like a gentleman for half-price? I’m telling you, I’ll drive you for almost nothing.
ENGLISHMAN: I believe you, but I want to walk. I’m really sorry. (Moves off towards the right.)
INDIAN (grabs him by the arm and stops him): But it’s obvious that you’re tired. Why should you carry on exerting yourself in this heat, when you could be enjoying yourself?
ENGLISHMAN (pulling his arm away): Because I don’t want to ride in a rickshaw. All right?
INDIAN: All right. But it’s not fair from your point of view. Down on the square there are at least ten rickshaws waiting for you. You’re prepared to give someone else the full price, whereas you don’t want to give me, who saw you first, half that sum.
ENGLISHMAN: I can assure you that I won’t pay anyone anything, because I‘m not going to ride in anyone’s rickshaw.
INDIAN: That’s what you think, but nobody down there on the square will let you get away like I’ve done. They’ll leap on you as soon as they see you.
ENGLISHMAN (smiling): Well, you haven’t let me get away yet, either. And as far as they are concerned, I swear to you that as long as I live I’m not going to sit in anyone’s rickshaw. They can leap on me as much as they like, but I’m going to keep walking on my own two legs.
INDIAN: But why, my good man? It’s quite obvious that you’re not used to walking in such heat. Why are you torturing yourself?
ENGLISHMAN: Because I don’t want another human being to pull me along while I sit. I am tired, yes, but even if I was on my death-bed, I couldn’t use and humiliate another man like that.
INDIAN: But then why have you come here? What I mean is, you must have known what to expect. I once had the opportunity of seeing the commercial that our government has made for you people from the West. In it, smiling tourists are lying down while Indians massage them, they are sitting while Indians pull them in rickshaws and eating while Indians bow down to them and bring them their next course. Surely you must have seen that commercial while you were deciding where to go on holiday?
ENGLISHMAN: Yes, I did see it – if not that one, a commercial that was very much like it. But it was also showing a very different picture. There were Indians playing the sitar and dancing in colourful costumes and there were magnificent temples with amazingly shaped statues and buses painted in bright colours. I came here because of all that, and not because of the picture you’ve been painting for me. I’ve come to see your country and the different people who live in it – I’ve come to get to know your ancient culture and customs, and not to allow members of your nation to humiliate themselves because of me.
(While they are talking, a second Indian enters from the right, with a rolled up newspaper in his hand. His dress, as opposed to the rickshaw driver’s, although not completely new and perfectly ironed, is very striking: white trousers, yellow shirt and a light, pale-green jacket. His moustache is not bushy and unkempt like the rickshaw driver’s, but consists of two thin, perfectly symmetrical lines. He sits down on the right bench, throws a disinterested glance at the rickshaw driver and Englishman, opens his newspaper and begins to read. However, as the conversation at the left bench unfolds, he pays more and more attention to it and in the end he folds up his newspaper and pays full attention to the two collocutors.)
INDIAN: But they both go together, just like in the commercial. You came here because of our culture, but many of your fellow-countrymen come here primarily to be massaged and pulled along and to have people bowing and kneeling down to them. As you want both, and our offer includes both one and the other, in return you leave us your money. You pay for your hotel and food, you pay the entrance fees for the temples and museums, but you are also expected to pay for a rickshaw and massage. You come from a country that is much richer than ours, from a country that has partly become rich at the expense of our and other countries, and so it’s only fair that you should pay us well for the services we offer you.
ENGLISHMAN: I agree with you. In the past my country did use yours and it is only right that we should pay for our visit. I don’t begrudge the money. I would willingly pay far more for my visit to a museum, but not feel that I had to pay for a rickshaw. Because, when an Indian is harnessed like a horse to a rickshaw in which I am sitting comfortably, it makes the reason for my coming to India in the first place impossible. I’ve come to get to know you and your country, but also that through me you get to know my country and my people. I’ve come so that we can get to know each other, to learn something about each other and to get closer to each other, to pull down the fences that distance, history and politics have built between us. But if I ride on you in your country, all that becomes impossible and the abyss between us becomes even deeper.
INDIAN: Perhaps, but there’s still no way of bridging that abyss.
ENGLISHMAN: Why not?
INDIAN: Because the two of us belong to completely different worlds. To be more precise, to different castes.
ENGLISHMAN: Now you’re going too far. Even I know that in India the caste system is something from the past.
INDIAN: On paper, maybe, but in reality, in spite of the broadening of education and the modernization of the way of life, the caste system is only too present. And not only in India. I did not have the opportunity to continue my education when I reached sixteen, but I have continued to educate myself whenever I can find the time. You have probably noticed that my English, even though I am only a rickshaw driver, is almost perfect.
ENGLISHMAN: It’s better than mine.
INDIAN: That’s because I try to read something every day – something in English and something in Indian. In any case, I didn’t have to read many books to realize that not only have castes not been abolished in India, they haven’t been abolished anywhere in the world.
ENGLISHMAN: Now there I can’t agree with you. In my country nothing like the caste system exists.
INDIAN: Really? And what happens if a beggar tries to touch the director of some bank? His bodyguard will remove him in a second. Doesn’t that remind you of the Indian pariahs, or “untouchables”? Believe me, castes, even if they are not so-called, exist in your country as well, it’s just that the whole caste system is at a much higher level than ours. Your poor people live much better than ours, but that does not make them any happier than our poor people. Because both one and the other know that they are at the bottom and would like to move up. Even if the poorest person in your country had a big house and lots of food, he would dream of the golden palaces and exotic specialities that the higher castes have at their disposal.
ENGLISHMAN: Yes, I understand what you want to say. I live very respectably – it wasn’t until I saw your suburbs that I realized quite how respectably, but I’m still dissatisfied.
INDIAN: That’s because you know that you belong to your particular caste and that your life is limited to the area within it. Of course, theoretically, you could move up into a higher caste, but I think we both know that in practice this is very difficult to achieve. I am convinced that I could very successfully go in for writing, or at least translating, but I simply don’t have the time to spend doing it. Every morning I have to come out with my rickshaw to ensure that my children have enough to eat that day. If instead of that I spent my time writing, or looking for work in a newspaper office or publishing house, they would have nothing to eat that day. And in addition, I would never get a job, as I don’t have a suitable diploma and I don’t know the right people. Thus we are all stuck in our own castes and are just familiar with other members of the same caste. I and the rich Indian I carry in my rickshaw have nothing in common and we both know that this is the case. The distance separating us is far too great to be bridged. And you and I are even farther apart. Not only do you in your country belong to a higher caste than I do in mine, but also your country belongs to a higher caste than mine. Because the whole world is nothing more than a caste system, which is made up not of people, but countries and nations.
ENGLISHMAN: But even if everything is as black as you paint it, it can change. Man progresses every day and I have no doubt that one day we shall all be equal, both states and individuals. That’s why it’s important for us all to work at it and not to accept rules by which higher castes mistreat the lower ones.
INDIAN: I also once thought that everything could change, until my parents were killed and I had to leave school – in fact until the clash with reality brought me to my senses. I no longer believe it. Castes exist everywhere, they always have existed and they always will exist. What is certain is that the two of us can’t change a thing. So stop fantasizing and climb up onto the rickshaw, because your refusal makes things even worse. Don’t be deceived by our friendly conversation. If you don’t appear in my rickshaw soon, I’ll start to hate you. I’ve told you already that the other rickshaw drivers are far more aggressive – far more skilled in rickshaw work. That’s why it’s far more difficult for me to find customers than it is for them, and I hardly manage to earn enough to buy enough rice for my family. Your refusal could possibly prevent me from providing enough food today for my wife and children. That’s why I beg you to stop all this and start playing by the established rules. In our commercial we’ve shown you clearly what we have to offer and you’ve accepted it. So, since you are here, get into the rickshaw and let me drive you to your hotel. It really will cost you half as much as usual. Please get in. (He points towards the rickshaw.)
ENGLISHMAN (looks at the rickshaw for a few moments and then turns towards the Indian): I’m sorry, but I really can’t. But don’t worry, I’ll play by the rules. I’ve come to your country and I’ll leave behind the money I’m expected to leave. Tell me how much the ride would cost, and we can complete everything without my sitting in the rickshaw.
INDIAN: You want to give me money without my giving you a ride?
ENGLISHMAN: Precisely that. Isn’t that the best solution? That way both you and I will be satisfied.
INDIAN: You obviously don’t realize what you are suggesting.
ENGLISHMAN: What do you mean?
INDIAN: What I mean is that by suggesting that you are humiliating me. For the past half-hour you’ve been grumbling: “I can’t ill-treat a human being, I can’t humiliate other people,” and now you are offering me charity. I maybe not as well-fed as you, but these skinny arms are tougher than you might imagine. They’ve pulled loads that are twice – even three times – as heavy as you. Every day they earn food for me and my family. That’s less food than my average colleague takes home, but even so, it’s enough to satisfy my wife’s and children’s hunger. And as long as there’s strength left in these arms, my family won’t have to worry that they will die of hunger. As long as these arms are capable of holding this rickshaw, I shall earn my rice by doing an honest day’s work and by the sweat of my brow, just as I have done up to now. As long as these arms are able to move, I shall not accept charity from anyone at all, and certainly not from you. Believe me, you will humiliate me far less if you allow me to pull you to your hotel with these honest arms of mine, instead of throwing down a coin as if I was a helpless beggar – even though I am as strong as I ever have been. That would really be an insult.
ENGLISHMAN: I’m sorry, but it was never my intention to insult you. You didn’t understand me correctly. I’m not offering you charity, I’m paying for a service, just as I would have paid you if you’d taken me to my hotel in your rickshaw. Look, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I can’t say that I fully agree with your theory about castes – it’s too gloomy for me to accept without a challenge, it’s too different from the way I’m used to looking at myself, my country and the rest of the world. But apart from that, I realize that there’s a lot of truth in it and that I shall be thinking a lot about it in the future. Thanks to this conversation with you, I’ve learned something new and I already see and understand certain things more clearly. Isn’t that worth every bit as much as a journey to my hotel? You said yourself that you’d like to take up writing. If you did, wouldn’t you earn money doing it? People would buy your books and learn something new. The only difference is that I’ve heard it directly from you, instead of reading it on the page. So you see it’s not a question of charity, but of honestly earned money, earned just as honestly as that earned by pulling a rickshaw.
INDIAN: You’re not right. Your comparison with reading a book that I might have written would make more sense if instead of our dialogue it had been a question of my monologue – if I had done all the talking and you had just listened. As it is, we both listened and we both talked and we both learned something new. Because I’ve got something out of our conversation as well. If nothing else, you showed me, by your inability to oppose my theory, that my view of the world is the true one, or at least truer than yours. That way, you’ve already paid me for what you were listening to, with what I was listening to when you were talking. So it’s true that you’re offering me charity.
ENGLISHMAN: I can see that you’re not going to give in easily, but I think that I shall succeed in being a worthy opponent. Because you’ve overlooked something: that our conversation, which we both got something out of, took place while you and I were in completely different situations. You see, at the moment I happen to be on holiday, in an ideal situation for chatting, while you are at work and don’t have time to waste. Every minute wasted during working hours means a loss of money, because time is money, as we in the West are continually repeating. Maybe you did get some philosophical benefit from our conversation, but at the moment you should only be interested in monetary benefits. Because during the time you’ve been talking with me, you could have found some other customer and taken him to his hotel and charged him a fare. I’ve held you up, talking with you, and thus done you out of a certain sum of money. So, by all accounts, I should repay you that money. So please tell me how much I owe you. Estimate how many journeys you would have had if I hadn’t held you up and charge me that amount. I think that would be perfectly fair and has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of charity. I shall be playing by the rules of tourism and leaving a certain sum of money in your country, and you will be quite honourably obtaining rice for your family. I now feel completely rested and it would be quite senseless for you to pull me anywhere. Like this we can part as friends and will have experienced that side of tourism that you won’t find in tourist commercials, meaning familiarization and rapprochement between members of different peoples and cultures. So, how much do I owe you?
INDIAN: You don’t owe me anything.
ENGLISHMAN: What do you mean, I don’t owe you anything? I’ve explained to you quite clearly that because of me you’ve wasted a part of your working hours, during which…
INDIAN: I’m aware of what you want to say, but you are quite simply not right.
ENGLISHMAN: How’s that? I mean, while you were talking with me you wasted time that you could have used to…
INDIAN: I haven’t wasted any time at all. My conversation with you had no negative effect on my working hours at all – in fact it represented an integral part of them.
ENGLISHMAN: What do you mean?
INDIAN: It’s very simple. My work does not entail simply pulling people along, as you put it, in my rickshaw. In order to get the opportunity to pull someone along, I first have to convince him to get up into the rickshaw, just as our government convinced you in that commercial to come to our country. They convinced you to sit in a plane, and now I’m trying to convince you to sit in a rickshaw. Only this particular convincing is taking a little bit longer and appears to be somewhat different from usual, but it still counts as convincing a customer and as such it’s an integral part of my working hours.
ENGLISHMAN: Do you mean to tell me that all this time you have been talking with me in order to convince me to let you pull me to my hotel?
INDIAN: Of course.
ENGLISHMAN: You mean that you made up your theory about the rules of tourism and the world’s caste structure just because of that?
INDIAN: No. I truly believe everything I said, but I wouldn’t have made such an effort had I lost hope of eventually convincing you to climb up into my rickshaw.
ENGLISHMAN: And I thought that it was just a friendly exchange of views. I was beginning to look on you as a friend, while you were deliberately trying to create such a feeling in order to abuse it.
INDIAN: Please don’t talk such rubbish. If I’d wanted to abuse your friendship, I would have taken the money that you offered me a moment ago and gone off to find another customer. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and also have friendly feelings towards you. That’s an even greater reason for your finally agreeing to let me take you to your hotel. If someone you look on as a friend asks you so persistently to do something, then it’s only right that you should do it.
ENGLISHMAN: But my good man, why is it so important to you for me to climb up into your bloody rickshaw?
INDIAN: For the same reason that it is so important to you not to do just that. Look, I’ve already told you several times that I’m less successful at my job than my average colleague, that other rickshaw drivers succeed in convincing far more people to get into their rickshaw. My neighbour, who is also a rickshaw driver, brings home three times as much money as I do, and my wife is continually criticizing me because of that. That’s the real reason why it’s important to me that you should climb up into my rickshaw, because I’m absolutely convinced that neither my neighbour nor any other rickshaw driver would succeed in convincing you to do so. I’m sure that their usual methods, aggressive persuasion, pulling at the sleeve, flattery and begging, all of which make them more successful than me, would have no effect on you whatsoever. Am I right?
ENGLISHMAN: Yes. In the end I should probably give the most persistent of them some money to leave me in peace.
INDIAN: That’s what I thought. And for this very reason I have to convince you to make an exception in my case. The journey to the hotel takes us through the square where the rickshaw drivers usually gather, and there’s a very good chance that there, or in front of the hotel, we’ll come across my neighbour. I plan to pass close by him to be certain that he sees you in my rickshaw, and then I’ll persuade him to try to take you himself, today or tomorrow. Of course, you’ll refuse, because he won’t be able to interest you with talk about tourism or the caste system, like me. Then I’ll ask him about you in front of his wife and he – my neighbour never lies – will confirm it. Do you realize what a triumph this will be for me? My wife, who continually criticizes me because of my lack of success in getting customers, will hear how I succeeded in carrying a tourist who not even my neighbour, who is considered to be one of the most successful rickshaw drivers in our area, could convince to climb up into his rickshaw. I can already see her eyes sparkling with pride. Do you really want to deprive me of that – the proud look of a loving wife? Don’t get me wrong – I know that my wife loves me just as I am, a rickshaw driver who earns less than the others, but I want to show her that I can be good at my work, that my love for books is not the shortcoming she thinks it is. Because she is convinced that my difficulty in getting customers comes from my evening reading. I always read for at least two hours before going to sleep and she is convinced that I would be better off spending the time with the other rickshaw drivers in out street, who at that time are usually drinking tea together. “It would be better to go off with them, than to ruin your eyes reading all those books. It’s not surprising that you don’t know how to get money out of people, when you don’t speak with anyone except me. Go and learn something from them, and leave books to professors who don’t have to pull rickshaws.” I think she’s trying to tell me that customers sense something in what I am saying that I have picked up from these books, something fanciful, something far away from them and their real, everyday life. I read that Borges said that the word “tiger” conjured up in his head a picture of a tiger in an encyclopaedia that he had read as a child. My wife probably thinks that it’s much better to see a real tiger than a picture of one in a book, that one would then have a much better chance of survival the next time one met a tiger. I believe it’s important to see both one and the other, both the real tiger and the picture, that it’s only then that one can know what a tiger really is. Perhaps she’s right and I’m not, but in any case I now have the chance of proving that my books aren’t completely useless, that rare tigers exist that one can only come across once in a lifetime and that man can only prepare himself for such an occasion with the help of a book. Because that’s just what you are – an example of a very rare tiger. Because in the real world, outside books, a man who does not want to ill-treat another man is just like a green tiger with red stripes. It’s sad, but true. Fortunately, with the help of books, I have learned that such people do exist and I was prepared for my meeting with you and, unlike other rickshaw drivers, I’ve succeeded in having a confrontation with you.
ENGLISHMAN: Once again, you’re going too far. I’m convinced that there are a lot of people in this world who don’t want to mistreat other people. Or at least who try to mistreat them as little as possible. I accept that there is something in your theory about castes, and judging from this theory, the majority of us mistreat other people in one way or another, but I can’t agree with your conviction that the majority of people do it on purpose. I think that people from birth simply leap into a saddle that has already been placed on other people’s backs and so for them riding becomes every bit as natural as walking. I’m convinced that the majority of people are not the slightest bit aware of the people who are wearing their saddle and that a very small number of people really enjoy riding others, or as you put it, really want to ride other people. I think it is precisely these people, and not me, who represent your green and red tigers.
INDIAN: All right, perhaps this time I really have gone too far, but it’s Borges’ tiger’s fault. I quite simply could not resist continuing and using the comparison between a real tiger and its picture in a book, so I exaggerated a bit and, because of the beauty of rhetoric, sacrificed both the truth and my own real convictions. But I still insist that it is necessary to see both one and the other, that both one and the other can be of use in the real world. You are the very person, even though your coat is yellow and black, who demonstrates this. If I hadn’t read those books and reflected on what I read, I would not be in a position to express my views on tourism and the global caste system and, accordingly, to catch your interest and to keep you in conversation with me, even though you don’t want to get into the rickshaw. If I eventually succeed in convincing you and you do climb up into it, it will persuade my wife that my reading is not completely useless and she will stop nagging me not to bring books home from the library. And what’s even more important, she’ll stop trying to convince me that our eldest son should start helping me in my work. She thinks that he’s already a grown man and that my insistence on his continuing his schooling is pointless and that he should start driving a rickshaw and find himself a wife. Please don’t get the wrong impression and think of my wife as some sort of witch who is trying to deprive her son of a good education and the chance of a better life. No, she wants the best for both him and me. I think she is convinced that the fact that I spent some time at secondary school and later started pulling a rickshaw was the reason for my lack of effectiveness in my job. That’s why she wants our son to start in good time, to learn to be a good rickshaw driver and to bring home more money to his future wife than I do to her. She probably thinks that I still believe that it’s possible to move up into a higher caste and that I’m trying to use my son’s success to make up for my lack of it. Of course, she probably doesn’t think about all this in precisely this way or use the same terminology, but I am convinced that in essence it’s all the same. She believes that the son of a rickshaw driver is also a rickshaw driver and that school and books are of no use to him whatsoever. If you agree to let me take you to your hotel, you will be helping me to show her the opposite, that it’s important for our children to go to school for as long as possible and to read as much as possible. I told you that I don’t believe in the possibility of moving up into a higher caste, but it’s now clear to me that I was expressing my wife’s convictions. Actually, I still hope, although I’m keeping it hidden from my own self, that at least one of my children will succeed in doing that. But that isn’t the only reason why I want them to be well-educated. Even if they aren’t successful at school, even if, like me, they have to cut short their education, and even if there isn’t the slightest chance of their climbing higher up the social ladder than me, I want them to get in the habit of spending at least one hour a day with a book in their hands. Even if my son is no more than a rickshaw driver, I want him to be aware of where he stands in relation to other people and other castes. I want my children to be aware of the position they happen to have been put in by birth and the position of those who were mounted on their backs from the moment they were born. You say that I take a dim view of everything, but I am probably just making myself out to be a greater pessimist than I really am. Perhaps it’s some sort of superstition, pretending that things are worse than I really think, in order to prevent them from actually becoming worse. Like you, I still believe that this world can perhaps be better and more honest, and that people will become more equal. But I believe this thanks to the fact that I read; if I just looked at the world as it is, I would have given up hope ages ago. I believe that only people who read can believe that, that only well-read people can change the world. But today, as many as twenty percent of the population are illiterate, in spite of all the stories about the progress of civilization. And when you add to all this those literate people who are incapable of reading anything a little more complicated, literate people who haven’t the desire, will or time to read, it becomes clear that only a very small number of people read seriously. That’s why I think that it’s important that even rickshaw drivers read, and that’s why I think it’s important that my children, if they can’t move up into the castes of those who have more money and who live more comfortably, at least enter the caste of people who read, because this is perhaps the most privileged caste of all. In this caste you find people who read because they want to read – it doesn’t matter whether they read literary, philosophical or scientific works – people who want to find out as much that is new as possible and who, even if they don’t write themselves, think intensively about what they have read. These people make up a caste of their own, the only caste that is not entered by mistreating people, the only caste in which you don’t have to mistreat others in order to remain in it. It’s the only caste that brings privileges that no one can take away from you, privileges that don’t lose their value when others join it. Because these privileges are not palaces or banks, armies or money, but knowledge, an understanding of the world and the castes that exist in it. It’s the only caste that is interested in the position of other castes and for this reason it’s the only caste that has knowledge of the world as a whole, of the global system and mutual abuse. This is why it’s the only caste that can change the world and the only one that wants to, because change will not bring about a loss of privilege. That’s why it’s important that the caste of those who read should have more and more members, in order for one day to have the strength to change the world and create a better one, which will consist of just one caste: the caste of those who read. Because only those who read and reflect know that a well-equipped and well-nurtured mind is the greatest treasure and most powerful weapon, and that there’s no need to mistreat anyone at all to obtain it. Of course, one cannot live just from reading, but there is still enough food on the planet for us all to satisfy our hunger every day. But when the members of the highest castes finally realize that they don’t need anything more than a well-stocked brain and a satiated, healthy and dressed body to be complete human beings, they will give the food that they throw away to those who are dying of hunger, the rooms they don’t use to those who sleep on the streets and the clothes that they have never worn to those who go about naked. But they won’t realize this until we force them to, if we don’t make the effort to get this information to them. This is why it’s important for us to spread this truth among people, and it’s not possible to do this only by word of mouth, because on the whole we only speak with members of our own caste, and it’s important that the truth reaches the members of every caste. Only then will those at the top stop ill-treating those below them, without being afraid that they will then ill-treat them. This is why it’s essential for as many people as possible to read, reflect and write, because, unlike us, books aren’t restricted to particular castes and can reach all of them. That’s why it’s important that my children, however poor they might be and however hard they might have to work, find some time for reading and reflecting on what they have read, and perhaps even some time for writing. This is why it’s important that they get into this habit now, but my wife won’t let them if I don’t prove to her how important books are in real life. And this won’t happen unless…
ENGLISHMAN: …I climb up into your rickshaw.
INDIAN: That’s right.
ENGLISHMAN: You keep on emphasizing that you’re not particularly good at persuading customers into your rickshaw, but I think that you are a genius. You have got me to feel that the future of the entire world depends on my decision whether or not I let you carry me. You have done this in a truly masterly way.
INDIAN: Help me, so that my wife knows all this too.
ENGLISHMAN: By my climbing up into you rickshaw?
INDIAN: Precisely. Please take a seat.
The Englishman looks at the rickshaw for a few moments. He walks towards it, but suddenly stops.
ENGLISHMAN: You know what…?
INDIAN: Please don’t start all over again. If you’re not interested in changing the world, the rules of tourism or the literacy of my children, do it for me. I am absolutely worn-out from convincing you, and if you start expanding the argument again…
ENGLISHMAN: I won’t expand it anymore.
INDIAN: But you’ll refuse me outright.
ENGLISHMAN: Neither will I refuse you outright.
INDIAN: You mean at last you accept?
ENGLISHMAN: I accept.
INDIAN: A ride to the hotel?
ENGLISHMAN: A ride to the hotel. But on one condition.
INDIAN: Tell me.
ENGLISHMAN: That I drive you.
INDIAN: You drive me?
ENGLISHMAN: That’s right. You climb up into the rickshaw and I’ll pull you to the hotel.
INDIAN (looks round): There’s no shade to take shelter in. Yes, it’s all my fault. I should have left you alone and looked for another customer, and not kept you out in the sun for so long. You’re obviously not used to it and now it’s gone to your head. Come on, quickly get up into the rickshaw and I’ll take you to the hotel. I won’t charge you anything. As soon as you get to your room, take a shower, drink an aspirin and lie down. Don’t go out into the sun for the rest of today and tomorrow. And drink plenty of lemonade. Come on, get in at once, so I don’t have it on my conscience.
ENGLISHMAN: A good try, but you know very well that it’s not a matter of sunstroke. I completely consciously and with a clear mind repeat: I only accept on condition that that I pull you.
INDIAN (coldly): Listen, if you think I’m going to pay you…
ENGLISHMAN: Of course not. I shall pay you.
INDIAN: You’ll pay me for taking me to the hotel?
ENGLISHMAN: Why not? I’ve come here to get to know India and its citizens. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know you, through an extremely interesting and informative conversation, but I shan’t really get to know you until I pull your rickshaw through these streets, as you do every day. Only then will I really be able to imagine what your everyday life is like and get to know at least one Indian fully. That’s why I’ve come and I’m prepared to pay for it. Not to mention that for me this will be a completely new experience, which is one of the reasons why people travel to the other side of the world. Just imagine my going home and telling everyone at work what I did. Everyone who goes to India talks about how they went for a ride in a rickshaw, and only I shall be able to boast that I pulled an Indian in a rickshaw. I can already imagine the expressions on their faces and this will be well worth the money I’m going to pay you. On top of that, you’re going to get your money, which is the main reason why your country invites us to come here, and you will have the opportunity of seeing what it is like to be a tourist. You will have the opportunity of experiencing another human being pulling you in all the heat to your hotel, while you sit comfortably stretched out in the rickshaw. You will show me the way, so that we’ll pass through the square. Just imagine the reaction of your neighbour when he sees us.
INDIAN: He’ll gasp in wonder.
ENGLISHMAN: Probably. And just imagine when he tells your wife what he’s seen. Her husband, who she thought didn’t know how to attract customers into his rickshaw has not only managed to charge a tourist for a ride, but has succeeded in charging him to actually pull him. She’ll be fascinated.
INDIAN: Or horrified. Perhaps she’ll think that I’ve found some poor, retarded tourist and taken advantage of him.
ENGLISHMAN: Then you’ll persuade your neighbour to try to drive me tomorrow. He’ll see that I’m no fool, and that he won’t succeed in charging to drive me, let alone the other way around, and he’ll tell all this to your wife. So, what do you say?
INDIAN: Are you seriously suggesting this?
ENGLISHMAN: Absolutely seriously.
INDIAN: Do you think it’s easy to pull someone in a rickshaw?
ENGLISHMAN: No offence, but if you, who lives on rice, can do it, so can I.
INDIAN: Don’t take offence, but I think that your appearance is just a facade and that behind it there’s no real strength. You probably eat well and a wide variety of food, and go for a run before breakfast, but believe me, there’s no real strength without real work. I may be thin, but my arms have been fortified by pulling hundreds of customers, while yours have probably not held anything heavier than a toothbrush.
ENGLISHMAN: That’s about right. But in spite of that, I’m certain that I have enough strength to pull you to the hotel. Perhaps I’ll do it more slowly than you, but even so, I’ll do it. So, enough chat: hand over the rickshaw to me and climb up. You know, you’ve begun to remind me of myself, with all this dragging things out.
INDIAN: I’ll probably remind you even more of yourself when I tell you that I’m not going to hand over my rickshaw to you.
ENGLISHMAN: Why not?
INDIAN: I don’t know. I’m simply not taken with the idea of passing through the streets sitting comfortably while you’re sweating.
ENGLISHMAN: Now you see what it’s like. And you were trying to persuade me that it was nothing at all.
INDIAN: I was wrong. Now I realize that it’s not exactly easy climbing up onto someone’s back.
ENGLISHMAN: What’s this I hear? Do my ears deceive me, or is someone grumbling because someone else is offering to be mistreated by him? Quick, call a zoologist because a green and red tiger has just appeared on the scene.
INDIAN: And not just one, but two.
They both laugh. The Englishman gives the Indian a friendly pat on the shoulder.
ENGLISHMAN: It seems to me that we have a problem here.
INDIAN: It seems that way to me, too.
ENGLISHMAN: We have two people who have agreed to pull the rickshaw to the hotel.
INDIAN: But neither of them wants to sit in the rickshaw.
ENGLISHMAN: In other words, we have a carriage and two horses.
INDIAN: But we haven’t got a coachman.
ENGLISHMAN: So it just remains for us to pull an empty carriage to the hotel together.
INDIAN: We can’t, it’s a one-horse carriage.
ENGLISHMAN: What are we going to do then?
INDIAN: I don’t know.
ENGLISHMAN: Hmm. A carriage and two horses. Of course – we just have to find a coachman. We’ll stop the first tourist we come across and I’ll take him to the hotel.
INDIAN: And what will I do?
ENGLISHMAN: Nothing. You will walk alongside us like a gentleman – as a sort of guide. You will take us past your neighbours and fascinate your wife. How many rickshaw drivers before you managed to convince a tourist to pull another tourist? On top of all that, at the end of the journey you will charge him for the ride.
INDIAN: But it’s not fair that you should do all the work while I take the money. What do you get out of it?
ENGLISHMAN: What do I get out of it? I shall get what I came here for: I shall get to know something about the everyday life of an Indian citizen. As I told you, I’m ready to pay for that, so you will be getting the money from me, the money I’ve earned from pulling another tourist.
INDIAN: I still don’t think it’s fair. I agree, but on condition that we share the money. We’ll charge him double and take half each. All right?
ENGLISHMAN: If you really insist. But careful. I might like it and decide to look for more customers. If I charge five passengers double fare, you’ll be sorry that you’ve renounced half of it.
INDIAN: I very much doubt that you’ll like it. But even if you do, if you manage to take money from five customers, I shall be quite satisfied with half that sum. But you’ll see that it’s not all that easy to persuade five people to take a rickshaw. Particularly if there are others nearby – real rickshaw drivers who are more skillful at their job. That’s why I choose less busy areas, like this one. Fewer customers, but no competition.
ENGLISHMAN: There’s no reason to fear competition. We’ll be at an advantage compared with them, because we’re offering something completely new, a carriage to which a well-dressed tourist is harnessed, instead of an Indian. I read somewhere that a new product, when it has just appeared on the market, immediately attracts at least a third of the total number of purchasers of that product. For that reason, we won’t have to offer our services, they’ll jump into the rickshaw of their own accord. If you like, you can negotiate and I’ll just follow you, harnessed and ready. If it catches on, we can develop our business and start a new branch of tourism.
INDIAN: What do you mean?
ENGLISHMAN: It’s easy. In England I’ll open a tourist agency and pay for a commercial, while you wait here for the tourists. You just harness them to the rickshaw and send them into the street, and the two of us will share the proceeds. What do you say?
INDIAN: Do you really think that people will pay to be harnessed to a rickshaw? I mean, anyone else except you?
ENGLISHMAN: I’m absolutely certain. It will be enough for them to see the commercial. I sometimes sit in front of the television and simply can’t believe the sort of commercials that exist. How many unnecessary things, how much lack of taste, how much obvious deception. But people buy it all, including me. Because on top of the commercials, there are the people around us. Like children, as soon as they see that somebody’s got something new, they all want to have the same, in spite of whether or not they can afford it, in spite of whether or not they need it, in spite of whether or not they have a use for it. That’s why, when I get back to England, I’m going to tell everyone what a fantastic time I’ve had, how I took advantage of the latest tourist offer, a week of rickshaw driving in India. At the same time I shall pay for a commercial, something in the style of “Be a smiling rickshaw driver in the picturesque streets of India”, and next season we will already have twenty customers and the following year at least two hundred. In three years half of England will want to spend a week or ten days living the life of an Indian rickshaw driver.
INDIAN: But if they really want to live the life of a rickshaw driver, even for only seven days, it’s not enough just to pull a rickshaw. That’s only one part of my life. If they really want to get to know how he lives, during those seven days they should feed themselves from just what they earn from pulling a rickshaw, they should live in one room with their entire family, without a television, a washing machine and air-conditioning. And nobody will agree to that, however attractive the commercial may be.
ENGLISHMAN: Oh, they’ll agree to it, you’ll see. It’s because you don’t have a television that you don’t realize what a commercial can do. It’s all the same whether in the commercial you are riding others or whether they are riding you. It’s enough for a pleasant voice to tell you that it’s going to be a wonderful, completely new experience. It’s enough for someone to ask for money for something to make you think it’s really worth it. And our offer really will be worth it. Even if they don’t want to, they will have the opportunity to see what life is like in a lower caste, to see quite how privileged they are. I read an interview with that new Russian president, in which he mentions that during the time of the Soviet Union, although he was a student of Science in law, he went to plant potatoes somewhere in the country. As far as I could understand, during communism this was a regular and obligatory part of the life of every citizen. However, the Soviet Union fell apart and he cited this as the stupidity of a particular period. It would seem that people are not particularly interested in equality, because by that it is understood that everybody works, and everybody mistreats others but are themselves mistreated in their turn. This is probably why communism was not really established anywhere. That’s why we’re going to give them the opportunity of paying for it. What calls for solidarity or threats have not succeeded in achieving, will be achieved by commercials. Because of these commercials they will immediately want to pay money to come into your little room, to eat rice and pull a rickshaw. Thus, without knowing it, they will take some of the burden off a lower caste and give it some of their money. A little bit of the burden and a small amount of money – but not bad for a start. Then, if it catches on, we can later develop a new kind of caste tourism. For example: “A fortnight’s starvation in the burning Africa sun”. I know it sounds tasteless, but after such a commercial, many people will be ready to pay for some other unfortunate being to starve in his place.
INDIAN: You know, that isn’t such a bad idea. Recently I read that the number of people who have absolutely nothing to eat has increased drastically and will soon reach a billion. If you are right, and if commercials and the fact that such a form of tourism is now in fashion, it would be enough to persuade wealthy men to take the place of those unfortunate people for ten days and this would certainly save the life of some of them. Politicians and the United Nations are continually talking about solving the problem of hunger, but people are still dying every day, even though in your and other rich countries they throw away mountains of food. Is it really so difficult in the twenty-first century to transport food from one corner of the world to another? Of course it’s not. The fact is that there’s no real desire to solve the problem – instead, as was the case with communism, it all ends in empty talk. A classless society and a world without hunger are worthless phrases, because there’s no real desire to create a classless society and a society without hunger. It’s a fact that it’s only those right at the bottom who want such changes, members of the lowest world caste, the homeless and hungry, but they don’t have the power to do anything about it. Even those who find themselves in one caste higher up, who have at least something, even if it’s only a crumb, await very warily any call to a revolution that might bring about equality. Although this equality means that they would have more than they have at the moment, they still prefer to hang on to the crumb that they already have. Why? Because somewhere deep down in themselves they feel that this equality is just an empty word, because their genetic make-up tells them that castes have always existed and will exist for ever, and it is better to be in the second from last than take the risk of ending up after a revolution in the lowest caste and losing that crumb. Because revolutions don’t get rid of castes, they just lead to migration from one caste to another; they cause regrouping, a change in the name and characteristics of castes, but the castes themselves, in one form or another, always remain the same. Some revolutions are better than others, some really do bring improvement to a large number of people, some are perhaps necessary at a particular moment, but they never bring about complete equality. People are aware of this and that’s why they are generally unwilling to take part in such ventures, afraid that it will bring about a worsening in their situation instead of an improvement. For this reason, those at the very bottom, people who are dying of hunger, don’t have the support of those who find themselves just a little above them, let alone that of people at the top, who really could help them. They are dying of hunger every day, while representatives of the United Nations make speeches about solidarity and the rich are bathing in milk. That’s why it seems that the only thing that’s left is your caste tourism. However, quite frankly it seems to me difficult to believe that your omnipotent commercial will succeed, and that because of it, someone will be prepared to pay a man who has nothing to eat so as to starve in his place.
ENGLISHMAN: Oh, there are plenty of people who’ll be prepared to do this, believe me. There’s nothing I hate more than going to the seaside, and yet I go there nearly every year. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see the blue sea and enjoy a drink beneath a palm tree. The first day I even like to have a swim, to feel the sand beneath my feet and the taste of salt in my mouth. But that’s all. The rest is sheer torture. Spending every day suffering on the beach, which is covered in naked, semi-conscious bodies, looking more like a cattle market. You lie there, trying to find a comfortable position, but not succeeding; it’s hot and you want to go to sleep, but you simply can’t drop off and all the time the other tourists are trampling and dripping all over you. Your skin is burnt and dry, your legs cut and dirty and your stomach upset by the local food and water. You try to find escape in the water, but it’s no good. The shallows are full of naked, sunburnt people, who are either lying there in a stupor or screaming and jumping over each other’s heads. If you swim out a little deeper, you run the risk of being cut into pieces by some peasant in a speedboat or being scared out of your wits by some harmless sea creature. You can’t wait for the evening, to drag yourself back to your hotel for a shower, but after everything you’ve been through, you are so worn out that not even your evening drink can bring you satisfaction. By now it’s not so hot, there’s a pleasant breeze blowing, music playing and you are surrounded by palm trees and beauties, but you are too tired to move. Stuck in your chair, knocked for six, you douse yourself with alcohol while you have the strength and then you drag yourself to bed. Day after day you go through the same process. I always get back from my holiday more tired than when I set off and I need at least ten days to somehow get over it. Every time I tell myself that I’ll never do it again, but I always do, if not the following summer, then the one after. Why? Because for months the commercials keep telling me that it’s just what I need. And when the time comes, I genuinely believe that this time it will be better. Not to mention the fact that everyone around me expects me to go on holiday. They ask me where I’m going and where I’ve been, and seeing that they’ve all been or are going somewhere, I don’t want to be the odd one out. The more money I need to get to my destination, the greater impression I create on those around me. This is why we’ll make the starving holiday the most expensive of all. This way we’ll enable the hungry to have money for food for as long as possible, but we’ll also be encouraging the rich to make the decision to pay them. They’ll all want to boast how they’ve spent ten days starving, because all the others will know how much it has cost them. Just like in the days when, after dinner, my fellow-countrymen, freshly shaved and wearing smart suits, surrounded by open-mouthed ladies, used to boast about pushing their way through the damp and dangerous jungles of Africa, these new lords will now boast about how they spent ten days starving. In other words, they’ll be letting the ladies in their company know that not only are they rich and powerful, but also healthy and resistant. Being hungry in Africa or Southern Asia will become a matter of prestige, something that will both confirm and increase your reputation. Believe me, people will be falling over each other to pay for such a holiday and to move down into the lowest caste of all.
INDIAN: If that’s the case, then it would seem that this is the only way to reduce the difference between castes, in fact perhaps one day to even get rid of them completely. The best thing about all this is that we won’t start the process of getting rid of them by suggesting we get rid of them. As I’ve mentioned already, regardless of which caste they belong to, people don’t believe that they can be got rid of, and the whole idea isn’t anything like as attractive as some people might think, as attractive as perhaps it should be. I am convinced that even those at the very bottom, who are the only ones who are always ready for change, don’t believe in getting rid of the castes, but just want, in the turmoil of a revolution, to perhaps move one rung up the ladder. For this reason, it seems to me that your caste tourism could possibly catch on. Instead of preaching against castes and seeking their removal, we’ll do precisely the opposite: we will make them official, register and organize them, thus making them seem more stable and permanent. We will divide the whole world into a precise number of castes. For example, the richest and most powerful citizens from the richest and most powerful countries will represent caste A1, those who in the same countries are one rung lower down the ladder will be in caste A2, and so on. The slightly less rich and powerful states will be divided into castes B1, B2, B3, etc., developing countries will be castes C1, C2, C3, and so on. We’ll make a table in which we’ll sort them all out in such a way that all the castes that have similar power and wealth on a world level will be at the same level in the table. For example, below caste A1, which will be the only caste in the first row, will come caste A2, but also caste B1. The cost of caste tourism will depend on both the level you go into and the row you find yourself in at the moment. For example, the most expensive will be going from the highest caste A1 into the lowest caste, represented by citizens of the world who are dying of hunger. Of course, for the relevant sum of money you could go on holiday in any other caste. Just imagine. During the holiday period, the caste system would suddenly fall apart, as if a number of revolutions were happening throughout the world at the same time. People would move from one caste into another and when they returned home they would have left a part of their own caste, meaning part of what is the basis of every caste, money, in the caste they had been visiting. To start with, the effect would be no more than a slight improvement in the lives of the lowest castes, but just imagine what would happen if it lasted for years as you hope. Such a stirring up of the caste system would have to result in certain changes. It would result in the reduction of the differences between the castes and an increase in the realization of the existence and characteristics of other castes. It would then probably bring about a reaction, at least among the higher castes, and attempts to stop caste tourism before it completely destroyed the world caste system. But even if this does happen, the situation would provide suitable conditions for a real revolution which would really bring about the end of the caste system, but only if, alongside caste tourism, we start another new kind of tourism.
ENGLISHMAN: I think I know what you’re getting at.
INDIAN: Tell me.
ENGLISHMAN: Probably a kind of reading tourism.
INDIAN: I can see that you’ve been following me carefully. That’s just what I was thinking about. I’ve already said that I’m convinced that education, meaning the true, broad, humanistic education of the majority of people could bring about the destruction, or at least the humanization of castes. I read something about the education reform that’s been taking place in European countries over the past decades. Perhaps I can’t make a true assessment on the basis of a few articles, but it seems to me that this reform has brought about a narrowing and impoverishment of the knowledge available to young people in Europe and that higher education is becoming more like a master craftsman’s course. Perhaps this is happening intentionally, to prevent broader education and a break-up of the caste system. I may be exaggerating, but what I want to say is that among literate people there are very few of them who are really educated, not to mention the illiterate section of the world population. It seems that those who can read either don’t want to or don’t have the time to become truly educated, to really read and really reflect on what they have read. This is why, if your commercial is going to be so omnipotent, we must use it for this purpose. We will make commercials with the message that there is nothing more beautiful than reading, for example “Das Kapital” and ask people to pay for it. During the summer they will go on holiday in a certain caste, and spend their winter holidays in special hotel-libraries. The more serious the books offered by particular packet holidays, the higher the price will be. They will have a small room, a set of books and a tough guy who will beat the soles of their feet if they stop reading during the time assigned for reading. They will earn an extra beating if they are unable to clearly explain the ideas set out in the books they have read. Of course, here the price will also depend on the caste from which the tourist comes and for members of the lowest castes reading tourism will be free. They will be quite simply attracted by the free accommodation and food they get while reading. This way, at the moment when caste tourism shakes up the existing caste hierarchy, we will have enough educated and elevated people to bring about a true and final revolution.
ENGLISHMAN: And there will never again be any castes.
ENGLISHMAN: Nor mistreatment.
INDIAN: Nor mistreatment.
INDIAN: And so… in five minutes we have changed the world from the ground up.
ENGLISMAN (smiles): Yes, it’s reminded me of a similar situation. Of my friend from secondary school. Once when we were going home, we started talking about the girls from our generation, about which ones we liked and those that we didn’t, about those who attracted us with their personality and those who did it with their beautiful body, about those we’d like to be with, and those we’d just like to spent a night with. We talked like experienced seducers, even though in reality we’d never had much success with girls. And as we reached my building, he said, just like you: “Hey man, we’ve been talking as though we’d slept with half the school.” In the same way, through our conversation we’ve changed the world.
INDIAN: And in the same way, just like your friend and you, we’ve become separated from reality. Just as that conversation transformed the two of you into experienced lovers, so our conversation has quite simply solved eternal social problems and injustices. At one moment I was certain that it was enough for you to invite one tourist and it would inevitably bring about a logical course of events that would result in a classless society in the world. When all the time we were just fantasizing together.
ENGLISHMAN: But what if we were just fantasizing? The world can’t be changed without a bit of fantasy. If we don’t separate ourselves from reality, reality will never change – you have to get outside it in order to see something different from it. You have to have a vision and to set off towards it. If you work hard on making fantasy reality, it might very easily cease to be just fantasy.
INDIAN: Yes, but to make this work, the fantasy has to have some connection with reality. But in our case the connection is very fragile. A couple of commercials and everyone is going to rush to take the place of the unfortunates of this world. Come off it. You can see where our conversation has been leading us. It would have been better if you’d immediately sat in my rickshaw and let me take you to your hotel. That way we’d have avoided wasting time on stupidities. In fact it isn’t too late for you to climb up into my rickshaw.
ENGLISHMAN: Please let’s not start again at the beginning. We agreed that we would find a tourist together and then share the money. Be fair and stick to what we agreed. It probably won’t lead to the equality of everyone in the world, but at least relations between the two of us won’t be destroyed by mutual mistreatment. We’ll simply work together, with you investing your rickshaw and I my body. And as far as the rest is concerned, I am seriously thinking about opening a tourist agency when I get home. It may be that not all wealthy men will rush to pay to pull a rickshaw or to starve, but it would be enough if just a few of them did it during one season. Their money might save someone’s life and I assume that a certain amount of understanding of the suffering of the lowest castes will stick in their minds. Even if nothing more than that happens, we’ll have achieved something. And maybe something more will come out of our fantasizing, who knows? We can’t be certain that it won’t happen – the only thing we can be sure of is that we won’t achieve anything if we don’t try. So stop undermining everything at the very start. Give me that rickshaw and let’s start looking for a customer.
INDIAN: All right. However unrealistic it might seem, it certainly can’t do any harm. (He hands over the rickshaw.)
ENGLISHMAN: That’s what I like to hear. What direction is that square in?
INDIAN: That one. But first pull it along a bit here, to get used to it.
ENGLISHMAN: There’s no need. (He pulls the rickshaw round the Indian.) It goes by itself.
INDIAN: Even so, it would be better if you took a trip round the block, to get used to steering it. It won’t go by itself when a tourist gets into it.
ENGLISHMAN: All right, one lap. But it would be better if you got in so that I can drive you – that would be perfect training.
INDIAN: Perhaps, but let me drive you for one lap, just to show you the ropes.
They both laugh.
ENGLISHMAN: All right – I’ll practice with it empty. I’ll pull it, while you make sure we don’t miss a tourist.
INDIAN: Don’t worry. If one turns up, I’ll keep him here until you get back.
ENGLISHMAN: Agreed. I’ll be back before you know it.
INDIAN: All right. I’ll be waiting for you.
The Englishman goes off left with the rickshaw, while the Indian watches him, smiling. When the Englishman has gone, the second Indian gets up from the bench and goes over to the first Indian.
SECOND INDIAN: Hey, how much do you want for that rickshaw?
INDIAN: I beg your pardon?
SECOND INDIAN: I want to buy the rickshaw from you. How much are you asking?
INDIAN: It’s not for sale. It’s the tool of my trade – I use it for earning my living.
SECOND INDIAN: Everything’s for sale, if the price is right. And I think this is the right price (He takes out several notes and shows them to the Indian.) Am I right?
INDIAN: With that money you could by a new rickshaw – any kind you liked.
SECOND INDIAN: But I want yours – you can buy a new one if you want one.
INDIAN: I’m sorry, but I need this one right now. The Englishman who has just left with it and I carry tourists together.
SECOND INDIAN: I know, I heard what you were saying. Without wanting to eavesdrop, I heard a good deal of what you were talking about. That’s precisely why I want to buy your rickshaw. You see, actually, I want to buy your job from you.
INDIAN: I don’t understand.
SECOND INDIAN: It’s very simple. I like your idea about caste tourism and I want to buy it off you. As far as I can gather, you doubt whether it’s going to succeed. I’m certain it will, and I’m more suited to putting it into practice. No offence, but it’s immediately obvious that you have no business experience, while I’m in a position to succeed in any business venture. You won’t believe it, but recently I palmed off several second-hand stethoscopes on a cobbler.
INDIAN: I believe you, but that’s the very reason I don’t want to do business with you.
SECOND INDIAN: Why?
INDIAN: Because I get the impression that you want to palm off some stethoscopes on me, too, and they are of no more use to a rickshaw driver than to a cobbler.
SECOND INDIAN: You think I want to swindle you?
INDIAN: That’s just what I think.
SECOND INDIAN: You’re wrong. Here, take a look at these notes – they’re genuine. Look, we’ll add one more. You can buy a new rickshaw with pedals and still have enough to buy your family a good meal. Where’s the swindle?
INDIAN (looks at the notes): But what do you get out of it?
SECOND INDIAN: What do you mean, what do I get out of it? If your caste tourism catches on and develops, it will be a business to beat all businesses – with a turnover of millions. Don’t get the wrong picture of me – I want to achieve your noble aim of equality and all that, but why shouldn’t I make a bit of money in the meantime? Of course, if you want to do it yourself, I shall quite understand. But I got the impression that you thought it had no connection with reality.
INDIAN: While you’re an idealist who thinks that it can work?
SECOND INDIAN: Exactly. Maybe I don’t look like an idealist and philanthropist – I can’t help it, life hasn’t been exactly kind to me, but beneath this rough exterior beats the gentlest heart in the world… So, have we got a deal?
INDIAN: No, we haven’t. Let’s wait for my English colleague to see what he thinks about it.
SECOND INDIAN: No, that’s not on. The condition is that you sell your business immediately, and leave before he returns, or there’s no deal.
INDIAN: All right, then there’s no deal. (Returns the notes.)
SECOND INDIAN (adds one more note to the bundle): Sure?
SECOND INDIAN: But if we add this to the money? (Takes a piece of card out of his pocket.)
INDIAN: What’s that?
SECOND INDIAN: It’s the business card of a newspaper editor. Look, there’s a copy of his newspaper over there on the bench. You’ve probably heard of it – nothing special, but not bad for a start. I heard you saying that you’d like to take up writing. Well, now you have an opportunity. Get in touch with this man, tell him I sent you and you’ll get a job immediately. Maybe not the sort of articles you would choose, but it’s up to you to make your mark and progress. I’m certain you’ll be successful.
INDIAN: I’m supposed to believe you that he’s going to employ me just like that?
SECOND INDIAN: Just mention my name. Look, I’ll write him a note… (Writes on the back of the business card.) There you are. The editor happens to be fond of a substance that’s not easily obtained, but I can always get him some. Believe me, you’ll get a job as soon as you mention my name. Do we have a deal?
INDIAN: No we don’t. Now please leave me alone.
SECOND INDIAN: What’s the matter with you, man? I heard you talking about it. Isn’t it a dream come true? You can read and write in peace, send your children to school and please your wife. Why are you rejecting such an opportunity?
INDIAN: Because you insist that I leave before the Englishman gets back. That tells me that your intentions are not good, and I don’t want to get mixed up in it all.
SECOND INDIAN: Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to do anything terrible to him… Listen, I’ll be quite frank with you. I simply don’t believe in this caste tourism of yours.
INDIAN: You don’t say!
SECOND INDIAN: Hear me out. I don’t believe in all that nonsense, but I do believe that a tourist harnessed to a rickshaw could be an excellent attraction to other tourists. It’s a very good idea. I‘ll find him a couple of customers while he still believes in that idea, and I‘ll get back the money I gave you twofold. You’re satisfied, I’m satisfied, and nobody loses.
INDIAN: Except the Englishman.
SECOND INDIAN: Why do you give a damn about him?
INDIAN: Because he’s my friend.
SECOND INDIAN: What do you mean – friend? They occupied our country and treated us like cattle. Now we’re independent, but they still exploit us and alienate us from Pakistanis. And they come here to get cheap drinks and to enjoy our women for little money.
INDIAN: My friend isn’t like that.
SECOND INDIAN: I know. He’s even worse. He doesn’t want to ride other people. Now they realize that we too are human beings, and they see that their way of life is reaching its end and that in the future the horse and rider may well change places. Look, the Chinese are already preparing to be riders and surely we too can soon expect to leap into some saddle or other. That’s why they want a world without riding. There’s nothing more nonsensical. From the creation of the world everyone has been riding someone else and it will always be like that. As a rickshaw driver you know that only too well. You either ride, or they put a saddle on your back. So make use of an opportunity that offers itself to you just once in your life and throw off the saddle.
INDIAN: By strapping it onto my friend’s back?
SECOND INDIAN: So what? That’s the only way you’re going to throw off the saddle – by strapping it onto someone else’s back. Forget him and think of your wife and children. You’ll be offering them a better life – let him fantasize about caste tourism to his heart’s content; he’s got both the money and the time for fantasy. And what will happen to him if he drives a couple of people? He’ll experience at firsthand what it’s like to be ridden. It’ll be a good lesson for him – to expel some of that nonsense from his head. Then we’ll see where his idealism leads him – he’ll probably give up after the first ride.
INDIAN: And you’ll let him give up?
SECOND INDIAN: Of course. What did you think – that I was going to behave like a slave-owner in the middle of town?
INDIAN: So, if you don’t manage to convince him to drive, you’ll let him go?
SECOND INDIAN: No, if he refuses, I’ll stab him with the knife I’ve got hidden in my boot. So, yes or no?
INDIAN (after a little thought): This business with the newspaper is a sure thing?
SECOND INDIAN: As safe as houses. Have we got a deal?
INDIAN: Well… Yes we have.
SECOND INDIAN: Bravo, maestro! Here you are. (Hands over the money and business card.) Now beat it. (The Indian hesitates.) If you’re not going to go, give me back the money.
The Indian rickshaw-driver exits right. Immediately, a blonde-haired woman appears from the left, carrying a digital camera the size of a brick. She is about forty years old and weighs approximately a hundred and fifty kilograms. Exhausted and perspiring, she drags herself with difficulty to the left bench and collapses onto it.
The second Indian goes over to her.
SECOND INDIAN: Is Madam tired?
FEMALE TOURIST: I‘ll say. I’m nearly dead.
SECOND INDIAN: Well, if you will insist on going on foot instead of taking a rickshaw. Such an elegant woman shouldn’t be tiring herself out in the land of rickshaws.
FEMALE TOURIST: I know, but it’s just my luck that there’s not one to be found around here.
SECOND INDIAN: That’s why I’m here. If you want one, one will be here in less than a minute.
FEMALE TOURIST: Bring it here, please. I’ll pay you.
SECOND INDIAN: There’s no need for me to bring it here, it’ll come of its own accord very soon. My rickshaws are the best, they sense when someone needs them, all on their own. You’ll see that they’re special in another way, as well. Ah, here’s one now!
The Englishman appears from the right, pulling the rickshaw. He stops and looks around, searching for his Indian friend.
FEMALE TOURIST: But he isn’t an Indian.
SECOND INDIAN: Of course he isn’t. He’s an Englishman. That’s precisely what makes my rickshaws special. Just imagine when you get home and invite your friends in for a cup of coffee. They’ve probably all had the opportunity of riding in a rickshaw, but they’ve been pulled by Indians, or Indonesians or Chinese. Just imagine when you show them a video in which you are being pulled by a well-dressed Englishman. They’ll be mad with jealousy.
FEMALE TOURIST: You think so?
SECOND INDIAN: Of course. Have you ever heard of anything like that? They’ll all want to see your video – which I will film myself. This is one more favour that our agency for transporting ladies offers. As well as English rickshaw drivers you get your personal cameraman. That way you will have a good quality video and you can relax and enjoy your journey. Just imagine when you tell all this to your friends.
FEMALE TOURIST: All right. Bring him here. I haven’t got the strength to go to him.
SECOND INDIAN: Let’s first agree on a price.
FEMALE TOURIST: All right. (Takes out her purse and opens it.) I haven’t managed to change any money yet. Do you by any chance accept Euros?
SECOND INDIAN: Of course, there’s no problem. In fact you’ll even get a small discount. It will only cost you three hundred.
FEMALE TOURIST: Three hundred Euros?
SECOND INDIAN: A special discount for you.
FEMALE TOURIST: Are you out of your mind? For that money I could go to my hotel by plane. Find some other fool. I know perfectly well how much it costs to travel by rickshaw.
SECOND INDIAN: Yes, but an ordinary rickshaw journey, pulled by an Indian. This is a special offer, so the price is also special. Instead of a ragged Indian, you’ll be pulled by a thoroughbred Englishman.
FEMALE TOURIST: It’s too much, even if it’s Tony Blair who’s going to pull me.
SECOND INDIAN: It may seem like that. You know, there’s something else that makes our agency special. Not only do you get an Englishman as a rickshaw driver, you’ll get him until the end of your stay in India. He will remain with you and be at your service at every moment.
FEMALE TOURIST: Throughout the day?
SECOND INDIAN: Throughout the day and throughout the night. This is the best part off our offer and the reason why our customers are exclusively women. By day he will drive you round the town and by night he will satisfy some of your other desires.
FEMALE TOURIST: You mean…
SECOND INDIAN: That’s just what I mean. You said yourself that our price is rather like flying by plane. Well, that’s not without reason. With the service he’ll be offering you, you’ll feel as though your bed is leaving the ground. Just imagine when you tell your friends about your nightly adventures. They’ll turn green with envy.
FEMALE TOURIST: Call him. Here’s your money.
SECOND INDIAN: Give me your camera. So that I can film you right from the beginning. From the time you get in until…
FEMALE TOURIST: Do you also film – you know – by night?
SECOND INDIAN: If you want me to.
FEMALE TOURIST: I want you to.
SECOND INDIAN: That will be another hundred Euros.
FEMALE TOURIST: Here you are – you’ve fleeced me.
SECOND INDIAN: You’ll see that it’s worth it.
FEMALE TOURIST: All right, all right. Call him.
The Indian goes over to the Englishman.
SECOND INDIAN: Come on, I’ve found you a customer.
ENGLISHMAN: I beg your pardon?
SECOND INDIAN: A customer. You know – the first step towards a revolution.
ENGLISHMAN: But who are you? Where’s…?
SECOND INDIAN: He was called away suddenly and left me to help you carry out your plan. You’ll meet up with him in front of the hotel, return the rickshaw and share the money when this woman pays you. Come on, the customer’s waiting.
SECOND INDIAN: Do you want to let your friend down?
ENGLISHMAN: No, I don’t, but…
SECOND INDIAN: Quickly then, this is an excellent customer.
The Indian drags the Englishman and rickshaw over to the female tourist.
SECOND INDIAN: Here you are, your transport has arrived.
FEMALE TOURIST (climbing up into the rickshaw with difficulty): Are you filming?
SECOND INDIAN (raising the camera to his eye): I’m filming, I’m filming.
FEMALE TOURIST: Hotel Siddhartha.
The Englishman sets off, but can hardly move the rickshaw.
FEMALE TOURIST: But he’s very slow.
SECOND INDIAN: Come on, a little faster. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a fine lady like this and you can hardly move.
FEMALE TOURIST: Have you got a whip?
SECOND INDIAN: Whipping is against the law, madam, he’s not an Indian. (To the Englishman.) Come on, faster. Think of your friend, who you’re going to share the money with.
ENGLISHMAN (straining): I’m trying, I’m trying…
FEMALE TOURIST: It’s incredible how slow he is.
SECOND INDIAN: Yes he is a bit slow – I don’t know what’s got into him today. But he’s also slow at night. Think about that.
FEMALE TOURIST: Are you filming?
SECOND INDIAN: Yes, I’m filming, madam, I’m filming.
The Englishman somehow manages to speed up a little. He and his passenger exit right, while the Indian puts the camera under his jacket and exits on the other side.
Originally published in BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian) in Par grama drama (A Few Grams of Drama) in 2010. Translated by Timothy John Byford. Translation copyright by Kosta Tadic.