On a hot Amdavadi afternoon, when the roads were as deserted as they could be, the Sabarmati Ashram was buzzing with visitors. There were school kids, a group of old ladies and some foreigners taking a stroll around the ashram, mainly in the museum – “Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalay”. While I was roaming around, my phone rang – “Hello” – “Hello, I am standing opposite to the Ashram” – “Will be there in 5 minutes”. Just as I reached the ashram exit, I had a look at the opposite end of the road. An atypical Amdavadi auto-driver, with a Gandhi Topi, waved his hand – I wondered how he recognized me, meeting for the first time.
Udaybhai, as everyone calls him, came to me and took me and my mother (who was accompanying me, which made me a little nervous as she was witnessing my work for the first time) for a ride till Safaai Vidyalaya (a very low profile unexplored place right next to the Sabarmati Ashram). While we sat in the unique auto, Udaybhai took out two badges having a smiley and pinned one of them to my t-shirt. It was only a moment of time before he started describing his rickshaw. The energy, excitement and brightness in his eyes were very evident as he ran me through the unique features of his rickshaw.
It had facilities that are not even found in cabs. While there were newspapers, magazines and other literature to read, it also had two containers on the left and right hand side of the back saying “love” and “truth” holding snacks and water bottles for the passengers. There was also a dust bin so that the riders do not spill thrash on to the streets. However, the most unique part of the auto is that the meter always reads ZERO.
Udaybhai started “Ahmedabad no Rickshawalo” on 21st October 2010, the auspicious day of Dushhera, with the concept of gift-economy in mind. The idea behind gift-economy is that someone before you has paid for your travel; now you have to pay-it-forward for the subsequent passengers. Udaybhai, after every trip, provides the passenger with a self-written greeting card-cum-envelope in which the passenger will place the amount of his/her choice. The concept is pretty much similar to the Seva Café at CG Road. Inspired by the work of Manav Sadhna – an NGO based in the Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad, dedicated to the upliftment of the underprivileged, especially children, through love – and proximity to Padmashri Ishwarbhai Patel, the seed for the initiative was sown in the brain of Udaybhai.
Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, with a family of 10 – parents, 3 kids, wife, brother, sister and her son, Udaybhai comes from a very middle class family with a load of responsibilities. It takes a lot of guts to jump into something like this for a person with this kind of a family background. But his conviction on his beliefs, determination to add love to his work and some pleasant experiences when customers hear about his idea, drives him to continue with the concept.
Quoting one of the pleasant and memorable experiences, Udaybhai said: “Once, while I was coming back after dropping one of the passengers, I saw a blind man trying to cross the road. But he wasn’t able to do so due to heavy traffic. So I went to him and asked to hop onto the auto. He denied initially but agreed later. After taking him to the other side of the street, I asked him where he wants to go. He said, “No thanks, I would reach by my own”. He was probably hesitant to say since he thought that I would charge him. He would have never thought that he will meet somebody like this. After insisting a couple of times, he told that he wanted to reach Hirpur to his blind mens’ hostel. Once he sat, he told his entire life story to me and I shared mine to him. While talking about all this, we reached his hostel. His hostel’s warden came out running and worried since it was unusual for the hostel students to come down in a private auto till the hostel gates. However, he was pleasantly surprised once he came to know about the concept and invited me inside for a cup of tea.”
These are the kind of experiences that keep the spirits alive for such noble causes in spite of all the financial hiccups. Of course, there are bitter experiences as well but nothing compared to the pleasant ones. In future, Udaybhai intends to expand this drive and have many more such rickshaws. As what he believes, at the end of the day, it is the absolute peace of mind and not money that will bring him a good night sleep.
Besides running his auto, Udaybhai provides his services to Seva Café – a volunteer run restaurant where someone before you pays for your meal, your bill is zero, and you pay forward for those after you. He is also an active member of other activities of Manav Sadhna.