The humble cycle rickshaw is seldom seen on city roads now-a-days. In most big cities they are being withdrawn as they are considered to be unsafe and too slow for the fast moving vehicular traffic. I, personally, am very fond of this means of transport. Agreed that it is slow, but wasn’t Mahatma Gandhi right when he said “There is more to life than increasing its speed”? Is speed not the root cause of most road accidents? Are cycle rickshaws not an answer to rising air and noise pollution in cities? They are a great source of employment – physical strength is the only qualification you need to drive one! If you have ever ridden in one, you cannot deny that it certainly is a romantic ride (at least I am convinced!). Another thing which is still alive is the ‘human touch’ that you experience while you are riding it – there is usually a bond that develops between the rickshaw puller and the ‘sawaaris’ (that is you). The mundane topics like the weather, price rise and traffic woes become juicier than the newspaper headlines when discussed between the rickshaw puller and the sawaaris.
The rickshaws that ply exclusively for school children are a class apart. The rickshaw-wallah acts as a guardian of the kids and shares their pleasures and pains en route. The memory of the rickshaw-wallah who took me and my brother to school way back in the 1960s is very vivid up until now. His name was Ramesh and he had a very pleasing personality. His affectionate and gregarious nature drew kids and their parents alike to him. He sang songs for us and occasionally treated us to an ice candy too on a hot summer day! My father was transferred during summer vacations when my mother, brother and I were at our aunt’s place in a town about 50km away. Ramesh, apparently got the news from somewhere, came to meet my father, took my aunt’s address, travelled 50km in a bus and came to meet us with a farewell gift of a doll for me and a toy car for my younger brother. We were touched……so much so that after nearly 45 years the day is crystal clear in my memory!
The cycle rickshaws are disappearing and so are people like Ramesh but I don’t want either of them to!