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Mr. Ram Gopal

February 18, 2007

img_00711.jpgAuto rickshaws are a way of life here in Delhi, and though they are seen as a more modest means of transportation, I find them an unimaginable luxury. The zippy little green and yellow golf-cart-like taxis are simply everywhere, and navigate the (in)famous Delhi traffic with ease and elan. A 45-minute ride to nearly any spot in this gigantic city (I’ve heard jokes that it’s way larger than Rhode Island) can be had for 100 rupees and under. Most are in the 40-60 rupees range for two passengers, and one arrives at this rate through agressive but good natured haggling, knowing full-well you are being quoted the “tourist price.” (45 rupees = one U.S. dollar, by the by.)

I made the tough decision to stay in Delhi this weekend, while many volunteers embarked on long road-trips since their placements were closed Friday for a holiday. (Mother Teresa’s never closes.) I feel like I’m here for such a short time compared to others, that I wanted to really get to know Delhi, before leaving it for frenzied travel. Ten or so others stayed behind, and small groups of us have had a great time exploring.

Yesterday afternoon, two of us got into a rickshaw after initially walking away from a tough negotiation, only to be called back with a smile by Mr. Ram Gopal. What good fortune.

Mr. Gopal is a cheerful transplant from a tiny “backward” village, with a couple more thumbs than the rest of us, and a heart as big as his grin. He delighted in practicing his english with us and teaching us Hindi phrases galore. Mr. Gopal loves Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Interestingly, he’s also a big fan of Hillary Clinton, and doesn’t find that paradoxical. He cherishes Lady Diana’s memory and announces that Camilla is “Sunder? Nahi!” (Pretty? No way!) and spits at the thought. Our new friend proudly tells us how he once drove Elizabeth Hurley and her Indian fiance around the city for three hours, and she signed a currency bill at his request. This, he keeps in a small, tattered scrapbook on the dash of the rickshaw, with “autographs” of famous passengers or those who are visiting from afar. We signed his book, img_01601.jpgand added a U.S. dollar to his currency collection, which he attached next to a Nepalese bill. Ms. Hurley, he informed us boastfully, is planning a lavish Indian wedding for 5,000 guests in just a few weeks.

Twenty minutes in, Mr. Gopal, decided it was time to show us his treasure. He pulled the rickshaw over and lifted a small blanket from the seat behind us. Underneath, was a laminated two-paged article about his friendship with a young Indian chess player, who is currently ranked #2 in the world. He had driven her to a tournament one day, along with her father, and the three talked quite a bit. When the woman silvered in the international championship and was splashed all over the papers, Mr. Gopal pulled out his scrap book, and found her autograph. He spent more than a week trying to track her down to send along his congratulations, and finally passed a message through a third-party, figuring it would never get through. It eventually did, she was charmed, and Mr. Gopal is now the official rickshaw driver of the #2 World Chess Champion. He’s mine now, too.

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5 comments

  1. Kara Lou,
    Can’t tell you how touched I was to get your b-day card tonight…you are so unbelievable to remember me on the other side of the world. Your birthday wish and your Mr Kopal story brought tears to my eyes tonight. I’m in Vermont for the long weekend and your greeting topped off an unbelievable special day with Bob and my kids, a splendid snowfall and dinner in front of a warm fire. You are in my thoughts and prayers every day. Hearing your voice brings me and all of us peace and a smile. Take care…miss you tons. Love you, Sue


  2. What a delightful story, Kara. It sounds as if you’re in good hands with Mr. Ram Gopal. 🙂 Thinking of you, as always.


  3. I’m hanging on every word and reliving my own Indian travels almost 40 years ago. You write just like you talk and I’m convinced you should write a book. Only you would find a Mr.Ram Gopal in such a huge city! The world is yours missy…go for it!! Thinking of you every minute…hugs, YFG Marne


  4. What a great story; you bring out the best and the most interesting in everyone whose life you touch. I’m so thankful that you touched mine!


  5. Kayre
    Again I’ll try in vain to get a message off to you! I’ve NEVER seen my comments on line so assume nothing is going thru! I love hearing about your exploits & your writing makes those exploits so real, so poignant. Stay safe & treasure the moments. Love you, Mom



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