Have you ever taken a ride in a hand pulled version of the rickshaw? Or even seen one? Well, may be in Kolkotta. That is the last bastion of the original two wheeled rickshaw. The Government tried to ban this mode of transport which turns men into beasts of burden, but the rickshaw pullers would not agree.
In this type of rickshaw, the puller stands between the protruding handles of the vehicle, lifts them and once the passenger is seated, and starts running towards the destination, near or far. He watches the traffic ahead and adjusts the speed accordingly. Some rickshaws would have a bicycle bell at the end of one of the handles to warn the pedestrians.
It is not clear who invented the rickshaw or when. Anyway, it was gaining popularity in
In my younger days one had to depend on hand pulled rickshaws in
The hood made of canvass is usually pushed back unless it was sunny or raining. The rickshaw puller too preferred folded hood to avoid wind resistance. One felt like a lord, sitting at a level that was above the pedestrians and moving faster than them, and the gentle breeze on the face.
The rickshaw, those days, was a well-to-do man’s conveyance. There were only a handful of automobiles. Judges, government officers, and important people used the rickshaw. Some owned a rickshaw and employed a puller, like car and driver today.
I don’t remember when the changeover to bicycle rickshaw (pedi-cab) happened in
According to one estimate, there are over 8 million rickshaw-pullers and perhaps as many bicycle rickshaws in
After paying the rent, repairs, and bribing policemen, the rickshaw puller would be lucky to have Rs.100 left with him at the end of the day. On the average he has five dependents according to one study. 46% of the rickshaw pullers are illiterate, and live below poverty line.
Efforts are on to establish Rickshaw Banks from where the pullers can avail of loans to buy new vehicles. If efficiently implemented, the scheme should definitely improve the lot of this vulnerable group of people.
Auto rickshaw, or ‘auto’ as it is popularly called, is found in numbers in big cities, small towns and even rural areas. This automated three-wheeler can be said to be the vehicle of the lower-middle class. It costs about half the fare of a taxi, is reasonably fast, and has the maneuverability to negotiate narrow spaces. The driver sits in front. Up to three passengers are allowed in the cabin at the back.
Something new is hopefully around the corner. The Ministry of Science is conducting trials on a new model of rickshaw named ‘Soleckshaw’ with a motor powered by solar charged battery. This is expected to be in regular use by the time of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Will that make the life of the rickshaw man any better? Not unless he can own the vehicle.
Photos: Click to enlarge. Top: Wikimedia Commons.
The other two by me. Copyright reserved.