Thursday, November 24, 2005


Is it cul de sac for the legendary richshawwallahs of Kolkata?. Buddhababu's decision to ban them appears at least now to be irreversible. Says he,"People carrying other people is barbaric.The sight of a human pulling other humans on his shoulders for a pittance does not also enhance Kolkata's image in the eyes of influential visitors .Phase by phase,we will not renew their licenses". According to some in the Marxist party, the slowmoving sedanchairs give the wrong signal to foreign investors when the state is urgently chasing foreign capital. These unskilled charioteers of the "jin rik sha" are therefore doomed. Buddhababu, pragmatic as he is, is prepared to dump the rickshawwallahs for foreign money in whatever colour it comes as long as it is not black.

Designed by the Japanese in the late nineteenth century(hence the japanese name),three men have been credited for inventing the "jin riki sha".That is the name in Japanese for this man-powered vehicle. Jonathan Gable-an American missionary,Yusuke Tzumi and Ahika Daisuki. Blessed be their souls who designed and made this wooden cart with large diameter wooden wheels with shafts on either side in front with space for a man in between to pull this wonderful carrier.

It was first seen in Kolkata in 1900 and 105 years later it's obituary is about to be written. There are about 20,000 rickshawwallahs in Kolkata today.And soon,once the ban of pulling the "jin rik sha" off the Kolkata roads come into effect,they all will be jobless. And with that will disappear a mode of transport which was as useful to the Kolkattans as the bus or tram or taxi. At times even more useful. When roads were flooded after heavy rains or manouevering through the narrow lanes and bylanes of Shyambazar or Baghbazar where no other form of transport could reach. Hopefully,some alternative employment will be provided by the West Bengal Government to these unfortunate people who find their only source of earning snatched away during their twilight years.

Recently when I was in New York, my daughter took me for a sightseeing visit to the Central Park.A huge lungspace in the midst of the city and you certainly cannot do without transport to take you around.I was thrilled to see cycle-rickshaws and horse-pulled rickshaws waiting to take tourists within the park.Surely,the West Bengal government babus can learn a few lessons from New York City and gainfully employ the rickshawwallahs to do a similar job in the Maidan and other tourist spots in the city.That would be a fitting tribute to this community for the cheer,convenience and happiness they brought to their customers for a little more than 100 years.


rums said...

absolutely uncle! that's a great idea and what's more they are environment-friendly. i think both rickshaws and trams should be part of the city's transport system.

gs said...

trams in kolkata make huge losses.but it is an integral part of is a cheap means of longdistance should seriously consider modernising them and i am sure the kolkattan will not grudge an increase in tariff if it is justifiable.the first class could subsidise to some extent the second class.the impact on the lower income people will then be less.trams should remain albeit in a new avatar.

Lulu said...

very interesting to learn that rickshaw comes to us from japanese. i love learning something new everyday!

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