I was waiting in a rickshaw by the roadside for my colleague Zubin. We had decided to meet at L&T junction and he was still a good ten minutes away. I shuffled through my backpack and pulled out the iPod. Just when I was about to plug the earphones, the autowalah turned around and smiled at me.

'Do you own this rickshaw?' I asked him initiating a conversation.

'Yes. I figured a couple of things out. If you want to live in Bombay, buy yourself a place. If you want to earn money driving an auto, buy yourself one. I start at 7am, drive around the city, finish at 10pm, make about 800 rupees, go home and sleep.'

He was the talkative type. 'Where do you live?' I asked him still searching the artists list for Pink Floyd.

'Borivili.'

'Chawl?'

'Yes. Chawl. I'd bought a room for Rs. 60,000. The previous owner needed money to get his daughter married. Now the builders keep coming for the place. I don't want to sell. But if everyone is selling, I will sell too. I think I can get about 6-8 lakh for my room now. It's a 20x10. If the builder constructs flats there, that place will be worth 30-35 lakh.'

He grinned and popped a lump of tobacco and choona between his gums and lower lip. I could see the million dreams in his eyes.

'It's tough to stay out there. You guys have it all figured out. A day-job. A salary at month-end.'

'That's not the case. I don't have a day-job. I run a small business,' I told him. Well, technically, I was still trying to.

'Business? What do you buy and sell?'

What did we sell? If I told him we were trying to create a C2C telephone based classifieds business, it sure wouldn't have made much sense. 'We sell information over telephone,' I told him. I couldn't simplify it further. But the answer did not seem compelling enough to him.

'Matlab?'

I decided to explain him our business. I wrapped the earphone around the iPod and packed it inside. I moved to the edge of the seat and asked him, 'So tell me … what do you want in life?'

'Life mein? I want happiness, peace, money. I want to be able to visit my folks back in village. I want to …'

'No, not at a philosophical level,' I interrupted him. 'What do you want materially? What do you want to buy next?'

'I wanted a home; I have it. I wanted an auto; I own one,' he said, a little perplexed. 'Phone! I want a phone. I have one, but I want a new one with pictures.'

'Great. So you can call up our service and say you want to buy a cell phone with camera. And if someone like you or me is selling such a phone, we will connect the two of you. You can complete the deal amongst yourselves.'

His eyes brightened a bit. He immediately pulled out a small notebook from his shirt pocket and said, 'Aapke paas kalam hai? Write down the phone number for me on this page.' I started to scribble 922 222 1947, and he continued, 'I have 2-3 old Nokia handsets at home. Do you buy those too?'

'Sure, call up the service and tell them about the things you have to sell. When buyers come across, we'll connect them to you.' I could see imagination firing away in his eyes. 'You can buy a second hand TV, DVD player, CDs with our service'

'No, no ... I have TV and DVD player,' he said disinterestedly. 'But I want to buy a bike. I can manage in the city with my auto. But back in village, I need a bike. I am looking for a good deal on a second hand bike.'

Zubin arrived and we started moving towards Kandivili from L&T.

'And a Commander, a solid one,' he said after a pause. 'Back in the village, you misuse the vehicle a lot. It has to be rough and tough. Commander will do good; will haul 25-30 people at a time,' he grinned. 'A Baleru will be good too.'

'A second hand jeep would be expensive. At least a few lakh.'

'Paisa hai mere pass! I can raise some more through the chits. I have two monthly and one weekly chits going on in the chawl. I can get the money, but the jeep should be good. Rough and tough.' With a quick jerk, he swerved the auto narrowly avoiding the pothole. 'I will call you in a week. Look out for good deals on these three: Commander, Baleru and Selundar. Yeh teen abhi tatkal quota mein hai.'

'Tatkal quota?'

'Things to be bought next.'

Commander and Bolero were Mahindra jeeps. 'Er, and you need a cylinder? As in gas cylinder?' I asked him.

'No, no ... Selundar motorcycle,' and he zipped past a Ford through traffic.

'Hero Honda Splendor,' Zubin said.

When I thought I could see the million dreams in his eyes, I was surely underestimating.


Written: May 2008