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A requiem for rickshaw

A requiem for rickshaw
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Sawari: 'Aye rickshaw. Chalthe kya? Gudimalkapur. A Rickshaw wallah: Baitho saab. Teen rupye.A Sawari: Teen kaikoo. Do rupye bas.A Rickshaw wallah:...

Sawari: 'Aye rickshaw. Chalthe kya? Gudimalkapur. A Rickshaw wallah: Baitho saab. Teen rupye.A Sawari: Teen kaikoo. Do rupye bas.A Rickshaw wallah: Waajbee hai saab. Uparse chadhaav bhi hai naa. Achcha baitho. rikshaWhen did we in hamara shahr last come across this kind of exchange? For the post-liberalisation generation, it may sound like a dialogue from bygone times, although it was an everyday interaction for most commuters till the Seventies. The phasing out of rickshaw as a mode of transport is a telling sign of changing times. One can still find them plying in purana shahr. Auto rickshaws in their thousands are all over the road, literally. Today one finds more cars on the roads than, arguably the motor bikes. One sees an odd cyclist in a crowd of bikes. Who cares to be seen moving about on a rickshaw? It is infra dig.
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An outmoded means of conveyance, the rickshaw had its moments of glory. Hyderabad had at one time the largest number of the three-wheelers after Kolkata. With the rich and the noblemen riding cars and motorbikes, rickshaw was the popular and affordable choice for the poor and the middle class. RTC buses covered limited number of routes and areas those days. Old timers recall the thrill of travelling by rickshaw. Life was sukoon those days unlike today's frenetic pace of life. People had time to indulge in light-hearted banter with the rickshaw-puller to ease his burden or to watch life pass by. Rickshaw-pullers, who ferried school kids on a monthly basis, built special bond with them. The rickshaw capacity was two, but more often three or four persons squeezed in. Rickshaw offered purdah facility for women passengers. Sometimes passengers would get down and push it to help the rickshaw-puller negotiate a steep gradient. Cycles and rickshaws had licence until the system was abolished in the 70s. Films have celebrated the popularity of rickshaw-pullers with hits like 'Sabhash Ramudu' (Jayammu nischayammu raa�.) , 'MLA' (idenandi idenandi bhagyanagaram�.), 'Mattilo Manikyam' (Rim Jhim Rim Jhim Hyderabad, rickshaw-wallah zindabad), 'Dil Tera Deewana' (Rickshe pe mere tum aa baithe ab mera hunar dekho), 'Chhoti Bahen' ( main rickshaw-wallah) etc . Edged out of the road and out of a living by autos and other fast vehicles, the rickshaw-wallah's condition is pitiful. A few of them still slog in scorching sun or in pouring rain, more to transport goods and material than carry passengers. Some may feel infra dig to travel by rickshaw, but a good number of enlightened people feel it is 'inhuman' to ride on a fellow human being. Cycle is another ubiquitous mode of transport to fall on bad times these days. I learnt as a boy that Hyderabad had the largest number of cycles in India next only to Poona. My father had gifted a Made-in- England 'Sunbeam' to my elder brother on passing Intermediate exam in 1952. The beauty passed into my hands in the early 60s. I would take it all the way to Madina for fancy upholstering and decoration of.
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Sunbeam, which celebrated its sashtipoorthi last year it is still in use by my brother-in-law who rides daily from Nallakunta to Moulali and back! I would regularly ride it during my days in the Daily News, Deccan Chronicle and Indian Express. Some MLAs belonging to the left parties used to come to the Assembly on cycle till the Seventies. What a contrast with today's picture of the likes of Fortuner, Duster, Pajero, Safari, Bolero, Scorpio, Mercedes, BMW, Audi etc occupying every inch of parking space in the Assembly premises. As a student, I was wary of the cop springing up from nowhere and catching me for riding without 'kandil'. Such cops were contemptuously referred to as ' chor kandil'. Cycle repairers and air fillers parked themselves at junctions and main roads. Tired cyclists would drag the bike and themselves to these guys to fix a punctured tube or a flat tyre. Some of them also kept a bottle of kerosene for the benefit of Hyderabad Night Riders. Most bikes had wick-type lamps fitted to the handle. The lamp, blackened by heavy coat of smoke, was just an apology to please the cops and never served as a tool of navigation. Increasing awareness of the need for pollution-free environment is kindling revival of interest in reverting to cycles from the fuel-intensive cars and motorbikes. A welcome development. (The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad) Email: [email protected]
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