Friday, February 02, 2007

the end of an era

in november 2005,i had posted a blog on "jin rikisha",lamenting the decision to do away with rickshaws in kolkata.with the outlawing of rickshaws by the cpm government in west bengal recently,through the calcutta hackney carriage(amendment)bill 2006,the last nail was driven on the coffin of the hand pulled is a great irony that a supposedly people-friendly government decided to throw the baby with the bathwater.

rickshaw,the ecofriendly transport was introduced by the chinese to calcutta in the late 19th century.a few years after it was introduced in simla in 1888.we calcuttans,can now only bid adieu and remember and recall the good old days when the friendly,honest and loyal rickshawwalah transported us from home to school come strongsunshine or heavy rain.for a city interspersed with lanes and bylanes the rickshaw was a boon.and for a city which gets flooded often during the monsoon,the rickshaw met a very important transport requirement.

films like 36 chowringhee lane,amar prem,do bigha zameen and city of joy thrilled cinemagoers with the spectacle of rickshawallahs.especially the race in do bigha zamim where two two riders ask the rickshawwallah to go faster by incentivising them with offering to pay more.this was surely a negative aspect.many years later it has shamed buddhababu and compelled him to remove what he called beastly and inhuman for a man to carry another man.

shankar,one of bengal's wellknown writers wrote an ode to the rickshawwallah in the toi some time one of his novels-'gharer modhye ghar'(a house within a house),he writes about a rickshawwallah standing near free school street and soliciting customers to take them to the red light district.when shankar pulled him up for such behaviour,the rickshawallah retorted," babu,ke kothai jabe ami theek korina,je jaikhane jite chaay, taake ami sheikhane paunchchedi.keu church e jite chai,keu mandire,keu shurikhane tey, aar keu khali barite." (sir,i do not decide who wants to go where.wherever they want to go,i take them.some go to the church,some to the temple,some to the pub and some to empty houses.) that aptly sums up the philosophy of the rickshawwallahs.

buddhababu has promised rehabilitation along with removal.he said they will go hand in hand.let us hope that the two lakhs rickshawwallahs are properly compensated and that new windows of opportunities are opened to these unfortunate people.


david mcmahon said...

Well done, Gopal
Nice perspective. Enjoyed reading the post.

David J said...

Nice blog and a great post. I hope you don't mind me adding a link on my blog?

I'm really keen to gather peoples personal stories about rickshaws.

gs said...

hi david macmahon,
thanks for your comments.the wb government is embroiled in quite a few major controversies now. i am afraid that rehab of rickshawwallahs will take a back seat.

hi david j,
not at all. you are most welcome.i appreciate your empathy with the rickshaw puller.i will try to send you more info on the kolkata rickshawpullers.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gopal and David J,

Fascinating connection there. As I said, I'll be posting a rickshaw yarn on my blog in the next week or so.

David J, I'll post a link to your blog when I post the rickshaw story. Have a look at mine at and tell me what you think.


David McMahon

gs said...

hello david m and david j
a humble kolkata rickshawpuller has enabled a connection between two davids.that is the magic of the internet age!

gs said...

hello david m and david j,
it would interest both of you to know that the humble rickshawpuller of kolkata has featured in the latest issue of "the economist". titled 'colonial yokes are not bad for all',it mentions about the last ditched fight the rickshawwallah is putting against being wiped out.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gopal,
I didn't know about the coverage in `The Economist', so thank you for pointing it out.
And you're certainly spot-on about the power of the internet.

gs said...

hi david
if you have not been able to get hold of that article in the economist,i can scan it and email it to you.
i am off to kolkata tomorrow and will check out on the 'mango fool'!

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