The archaic standards of a city is reflected in the way its people live and the way they are treated. Hand-pulled Rickshaws may appear to be the most crudest form to reflect that, but it definitely represents the grunt of hard labour that man can display for survival.
I have been travelling in these rickshaws since the day I actually remember my visits to my hometown Kolkata. My ability to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere may have stopped me from flinching to the pain and exertion, but I was definitely no stranger to the bumps and bruises that I often encountered. I may have been jolted awake numerous time, and I can recount the head bumps far too many times, but none of it matter in comparison to the numbing pain of pulled muscles and callouses hardened with friction.
Also known as Tana Rickshaws, hand-pulled rickshaws can be still seen on the roads of Kolkata, Allahabad and Varanasi. However, the history of rickshaws can be traced back to Dhaka in Bangladesh, the rickshaw capital of the world. Each rickshaw is decorated with elaborate paintings of wildlife representing the area or locality of the owner; some have been known to showcase Taj Mahal as an iconic representation of the Muslim art and architecture world.
Physically, the silhouette of the rickshaw resembles a fusion of various modes of transport from different pages of history,
However, that’s all where the similarity ends; while a wagon or an ox car requires the muscle power of a farm animal, the cruelty seen in the form of a man pulling the vehicle hits home hard. While Kolkata aspies to be modern like rest of the metropolitan cities of my country, the grit beneath the polish can be seen when you hit the streets. Despite the numerous attempts by the government to ban the rickshaws, monsoon with its improper city planning underscores the necessity of these rickshaws. As per the estimates provided by Action Aid India, there are approximately 18,000 rickshaws present on the streets of Kolkata. Due to its unique availability to keep passengers above flooded grounds during the monsoons, these rickshaws have managed to fair well in a city with colonial legacy when the rest of the country is trying to move ahead in terms of planning, development and technology.
Why am I talking about this? After reading Camel Xiangzi by Lao She, I decided to enrich my film knowledge today by watching a famous India movie called Do Bigha Zameen (translation -“two-thirds of an acre of land”) Directed in 1953 by Bimal Roy, the movie is a beautiful rendition of the disturbing state of poverty in a newly independent India. The setting of the two story (book and the movie) may have been different, however the negative portrayal of rickshaws and their owners definitely paints a grim picture.